Following the release of their ‘Princess Alice & The Broken Arrow’ album in 2007, Magnum settled into a vein of huge, sometimes bombastic melodic rock that carried a little more of a European flavour than the sounds of their eighties peak. The songs became bigger, longer, even more narrative, and although the hooks weren’t always as immediate as the best parts of the beloved ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ or ‘Vigilante’, at their heart, there was always something “distinctively Magnum”. Obviously, this had much to do with Tony Clarkin’s song writing, having written the lion’s share of everything since the 70s, but Bob Catley’s friendly vocal presence could never be undervalued. Over the years, other band members came and went – each one bringing something great and different to the Magnum sound – but it was often the work of these two creative friends that kept the heart of the band pumping, much to the delight of fans.
Ever since the CD boom in the 90s, the market hasn’t been short of rock compilations. There have been literally thousands of collections of 70s rock classics flooding the market, often very similar in nature. You’d think they’d only be a finite amount of people willing to put their hands in their pockets for discs containing Rainbow’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ and Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’, but still they come…and in huge numbers.
‘Master of Illusions’ comes five years after Khymera’s previous studio album ‘The Grand Design’, making the wait for new material almost as long as the band’s seven year hiatus following 2008’s ‘The Greatest Wonder’. It’s not like band leader Dennis Ward has been resting, of course: he’s continued to be one of the busiest men in the melodic rock scene, working with his other band Pink Cream 69 and moonlighting with Place Vendome (both of whom released albums in 2017), making an album with Gus G in 2018 and even stepping in for bass duties on Magnum’s 2020 opus ‘The Serpent Rings’. You have to wonder if he ever sleeps.
The all round quality of Khymera’s ‘Master of Illusions’ doesn’t suggest that Ward has spread himself too thinly, either. The album has more than enough top drawer material to make it stand up with the band’s earlier works. In ‘Follow The Sun’ and ‘After All This Time’, there are a couple of career bests, which is reason enough to check out this long player.
Magnum’s debut album ‘Kingdom of Madness’ had a long and somewhat difficult birth. An album had been completed by the end of 1976, but for reasons best known to themselves, the Jet Records label sat on the tapes. Magnum continued to write new material and gig constantly, and subsequently, the album was given an overhaul. A few older tracks were sidelined for newer songs and a rejigged long-player eventually appeared on record shop shelves in August 1978. This possibly didn’t help the album’s fortunes in the short term; instead of being released at a time when the record’s prog and pomp styles were still in vogue, Magnum were left with a fantasy themed album drifting in the unsure waters of punk and new wave bands. It only scraped the UK album chart’s top 60.
Looking back, the three years between the disco and pop oriented sounds of 1976 and the majestic jumble of influences that fill 1979 are a huge gulf. By 1979, disco was on it’s last legs, punk had firmly given airtime to what we now think of as new wave and the pop music of the day was about as strong as it had been since 1975.