A venerable Birmingham, England-based melodic hard rock outfit, Magnum emerged in the early '70s, and over the decades developed a sound that straddled the line between heady art rock and commercial pop.
Tangentially tied to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement of the late '70s and early '80s, the band found success in 1982 with the release of their third studio LP, Chase the Dragon, which spawned a handful of hit singles in the U.K. They reached their commercial zenith in 1988 with their seventh effort, Wings of Heaven, which cracked the Top Ten at home and also made a strong showing in the European market. The band ceased operations in 1995 after co-founders Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin decided to strike out on their own under the moniker Hard Rain, but they re-formed in the early 2000s. Beginning with 2002's Breath of Life, Magnum 2.0, with Catley and Clarkin the sole original members, issued a string of well-received albums like The Visitation (2011) and Lost on the Road to Eternity (2018), that found favor both at home and across Scandinavia and Western Europe.
Formed in 1972 by Tony Clarkin (guitar, songwriter) and Bob Catley (vocals), Magnum initially served as the house band at Birmingham's famed Rum Runner nightclub, and would occasionally operate as the backing band for more established artists, including Del Shannon. In 1976 the group inked a deal with Jet Records, headed out on tour in support of Judas Priest, and began work on their debut album. The resulting Kingdom of Madness, released in 1978, debuted at number 58 on the U.K. Albums chart, and drew favorable reviews that compared the band to contemporaries like Jethro Tull, Styx, and Kansas. Produced by ex-Ten Years After bass player Leo Lyons, Magnum II arrived the following year, but it was the group's third studio effort, Chase the Dragon, that would bring Magnum into the spotlight. Released in 1982 and produced by Jeff Glixman, who helmed Kansas' quadruple-platinum-selling Point of No Return, the album reached the Top 20 on the strength of the singles "Soldier of the Line," "The Spirit," and "Sacred Hour," all of which would become staples of the group's live sets for years to come. In keeping with the times, the LP's artwork was made by noted fantasy illustrator Rodney Matthews. Denied the funds to bring in a big-time producer for album number four, Clarkin elected to handle the duties himself, but tension between the group and Jet would make the ensuing Eleventh Hour their last outing for the label. A one-off deal with FM Records yielded 1985's On a Storyteller Night, which helped break the band in Europe, where it found enormous success. They moved to Polydor for 1986's Vigilante, which was co-produced by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, and in 1988 they issued their most commercially successful set to date, Wings of Heaven. Featuring the hit singles "Days of No Trust," "Start Talking Love," and "It Must Have Been Love," the album reached number five in the U.K., number eight in Norway, and number two in Sweden. 1990's Goodnight L.A., which was recorded in Los Angeles with American producer Keith Olsen (Whitesnake, Foreigner), performed well in the U.K. and Europe, but failed to break in the United States (it was never even distributed there), resulting in the group parting ways with Polydor. A concert album, The Spirit, arrived in 1991, followed by the studio LP Sleepwalking (1992) and the acoustic album Keeping the Nite Lite. The band signed with EMI for their 11th full-length effort Rock Art, but despite peaking at number 57 on the U.K. charts (it was their lowest rating since Magnum II), Magnum opted to call it a day the following year.
Adopting a more alternative rock style, Catley and Clarkin debuted their new project, Hard Rain, with an eponymous debut album in 1997. A stylistically diverse sophomore effort, When the Good Times Come, arrived two years later, and added elements of funk, jazz, and blues into the group's oeuvre, causing Catley to depart to embark on a solo career, citing musical differences. Clarkin and Catley decided to re-launch Magnum in 2001, and after signing with German hard rock juggernaut SPV, released the band's first set of new music in six years, 2002's Breath of Life, which delivered an amalgam of Magnum's melody-driven hard rock and Hard Rain's more adventurous approach to pop music. 2004's Brand New Morning jettisoned any Hard Rain influences in favor of a more classic, Wings of Heaven-era Magnum sound, an aesthetic that was applied to 2007's Princess Alice & the Broken Arrow, 2009's Into the Valley of the Moonking, and 2011's The Visitation as well. The band's 17th studio album, On the 13th Day, arrived in 2012, and peaked at the number three slot in the U.K. Rock & Metal Albums chart. Released in 2014, the well-received Escape from the Shadow Garden saw the band achieve its highest chart positions in Germany and Sweden since 1990, and in 2015, Magnum issued a new concert LP, Escape from the Shadow Garden: Live 2014. Wasting no time with a follow-up, early 2016 saw the release of Sacred Blood, Divine Lies, and in 2018 they issued Lost on the Road to Eternity, their 20th studio album, which became the first Magnum release to crack the Top 10 in the German charts and the second to do so in the Swiss charts. Longtime bassist Al Barrow left the fold the following year and was replaced by Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69), who made his studio debut on 2020's The Serpent Rings. ~ James Christopher Monger, Rovi