'Escape From The Shadow Garden - Live 2014'
Release Date: May 11th 2015
Roger Berzerk Fauske
This is one of those reviews where I can pretty much skip a general introduction to the band – if you aren't sure who they are, then the chances are you have stumbled across MetalTalk.net while searching for a forum all about steel or iron fabrication.
But in the interests of anyone who has recently arrived from another planet... their first album, 'Kingdom Of Madness', was way back in 1975 and since then the band has pretty much become an iconic part of British rock history with the last studio album, 'Escape From The Shadow Garden', having come out last year. They have been responsible for somewhere in the region of 36 album releases, if you include live and compilations, as well as touring on a more than regular basis.
So to this one and firstly to clarify what is on the album, in case the title is misleading. It is not just live versions of the tracks from last year's studio album, but from full shows and features songs from seven of the band's albums, going back to 'Kingdom Of Madness'.
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Live albums, especially in the topsy turvey world of rock, can sometimes be less than live with more overdubs than originally recorded material in some cases. This most definitely does not fit into that category – live is what it says on the tin here.
From the very beginning, the whole feel of it is as live as a CD gets, which is after all the point of the exercise. It is all very well recording a band live but so many seem to forget that what makes a live gig something special is the atmosphere created by the crowd and that is captured perfectly on this one.
Think superior quality bootleg feel and that is the effect here – not just a general crowd noise but you are right in the middle of the audience, hearing individual shouts and screams. Credit for that goes to Mark Stuart from Madhat Studios who recorded all the live sound and has the ambience about as good as it gets.
It all kicks off, as the gigs did, with 'Live Till You Die' taken from last year's album. Synth beginnings before the rest of the band hits leading to the familiar and unique tones of Bob Catley's vocal delivery. I guarantee those that went to a gig on the tour will revisit it in their mind within seconds.
'Black Skies' from 2011s 'The Visitation' comes hot on its heels, slow synth intro with Harry James chiming in, Bob stretching his vocal chords, Tony Clarkin's powerful and meaty guitar driving it all along with Al Barrow and his bass keeping things in check. The liveness again stands out especially with the drum kit ring rather than the sometimes overdone studio noise gated effect and the quieter mid section that really brings the gig to your living room – or car/MP3 player/holiday villa (delete as applicable).
'Freedom Day' from the same album has some lovely interplay between emotive guitar and Mark Stanway's keys before Catley's equally emotive vocals add to the mix, the thundering chorus a real gem bringing visions of Bob and his familiar hand gestures on stage. A dynamite version of a very good song.
2012s studio release, 'On The Thirteenth Day', gets a visitation next in the shape of 'Dance Of The Black Tattoo', a barnstorming up tempo track and this live version is equally as barnstorming, Zeppelin-esque rhythm the mighty engine behind it, courtesy of Harry and Al with some clever keyboard patterns that do it even more justice live. If you add in some sterling guitar work and vocals, with a few whoas thrown in to get the crowd even more involved, you have a certified winner.
Staying with the same album 'Blood Red Laughter' carries on the theme. This is a stirring piece of music and those who have seen the band live will know what I mean when I say Bob Catley lives every lyric every night – you can hear it especially on this with the feeling in his voice transferring the emotional content perfectly to your speakers.
Back to last year's album for 'Unwritten Sacrifice' and another in a long line of superbly written Tony Clarkin compositions (he does them all if you weren't aware). Pounding rhythm, classic keyboards behind it and again an injection of Catley inspired feeling bringing even more out of the song in the live arena. As it winds its melodic way towards the end, the audience is again invited to the party and does its bit as a choir of many.
I am quite sure at least one of the tracks so far will in time become a Magnum classic, but the first bona fide one of that description comes next in the guise of 'How Far Jerusalem' from their 1985 album 'On A Storytellers Night', the album that some will say propelled them to another level. This version is a full ten-plus-minutes long and has a long, atmospheric keyboard intro, superbly done by Mark Stanway, each ringing note the cue for more cheers and yelps from the assembled throng (no, not thong).
With each chorus, you can almost feel the floor shaking, the band and audience letting rip in unison, before the long mid-section features some delicious blues infused virtuoso six string chicanery from Tony Clarkin, Harry's drum accompaniment in particular the perfect foil for the main man, quickening tempo interspersed with shouts again from the audience. As it powers its way to the end there is one more rollicking chorus for all to sink their teeth into as the crowd show their appreciation for a classic song with a performance to match.
Keeping with the 'Storyteller...' album and 'Les Morts Dansant' is delivered with all the sentiment the song deserves. This is about as powerful a piece of song writing as can be penned, simple in a way but its message about one of the real horrors of the First World War (soldiers suffering from shell shock being shot by firing squads for apparent cowardice) cannot fail to move and if it does then you really have no soul.
Bob's voice is more subdued at the beginning, accompanied by Stanway's delicate piano tones and the spoken words Catley adds: "They're going to kill you boy" and "It's allright, it's allright" more than adds to the whole feel before the rockiness takes over without ever taking away from the meaning and the mood.
'Falling For The Big Plan', another one from last year's studio outing and is a case of Magnum doing what they do best – up tempo, melodic rock tunes. As with any band worth their salt, the live version of a song is a self-evolving entity and this is no exception.
So to the last three on offer and they all come from the band's extensive back catalogue. 'All England's Eyes' is another one from 'On a Storytellers Night'. Ironically this one is recorded in Sweden and is yet another stirring performance of a classy song. Bob adds a few pieces of improv aimed at the crowd including an inquisitive "can you dance?". We will have to wait for a DVD to get the answer to that particular question but again it all adds to the live feel and the audience noise at the end leaves you in no doubt what they thought of it.
The two closers on this album, also two of the live set finales, I doubt any Magnum fan, self-respecting or otherwise, doesn't know off by heart as they are a couple of songs that have defined the band over the years. The first one is 'Vigilante', the title track of the 1986 album and this is once again an impressively stonking version of it. The band is in full flow, Clarkin's catchy riffs propelling it along as the audience once again is a perfect choral backing for Mr Catley. Supreme song and performance.
The last one is definitely one worth saving until the end and if they ever drop it from their live set I imagine public unrest would ensue. The song goes back to their very first album – I am of course talking about 'Kingdom Of Madness'. Again a mighty impressive performance and it says a lot about the band that even after thousands of performances of the song live, they approach and play it with such youthful vigour and enthusiasm. The crowd too has the same outlook and it is a stirring way to finish up a live set.
So that is that for the latest Magnum live album. Everyone has their opinions about live albums but personally I am in favour of them, especially when, as in this case, it captures the essence of a live show.
The tracks were chosen by the band members themselves, free from record company pressure, so it is no surprise all the performances are as good as they are.
They have also got the mix of new and older material about right so everyone should be happy.
I have touched on it before but the production is so vital when it comes to a live album and this is a winner. Everything was done by Mark Stuart and Sheena Sear, along with the band, at the previously mentioned Madhat Studios so hats off to them (pun probably intentional) for a damn fine job.
This may well be the closest you get to Magnum live during 2015 as the band are mainly ensconced in the studio this year recording material for the next album, which is due out in 2016. If you cannot get to any of the shows they are doing this year, then you could do a lot worse than locking the door, turning off your phone, sticking this CD on and letting your flight of fancy take place.
The release is available in two formats - Super Jewel Case CD and double gatefold LP + CD.
1. Live 'til You Die
2. Black Skies
3. Freedom Day
4. Dance Of The Black Tattoo
5. Blood Red Laughter
6. Unwritten Sacrifice
7. How Far Jerusalem
8. Les Morts Dansant
9. Falling For The Big Plan
10. All England's Eyes
12. Kingdom Of Madness
17/7/15 Rock & Bike Festival, Derbyshire, UK
18/7/15 Vasby, Sweden
31/7/15 Skogsröjet, Rejmyre, Sweden
01/8/15 Rock Of Ages Festival, Germany
08/8/15 Brienzersee Rockfestival, Switzerland