Every self respecting hard rock fan should be familiar with the band Magnum – a group that since 70’s has released many great albums filled with good, melodic hard rock. And if you’ve never heard the band, getting acquintaced with their material is strongly adviced. Magnum’s frontman has always been one Bob Catley, a talented singer with an easily recognizable and pleasant voice that has always been a vital element of the band. And in addition to working with Magnum, Catley has also released a number of solo albums – of which “When Empires Burn” was released in 2003.
Catley’s always been a good singer, but songwriting has never been his forte; Magnum’s songs were usually written by guitarist Tony Clarkin and Catley’s previous solo albums by Gary Hughes, mastermind behind the group Ten. Catley’s solo releases “The Tower”, “Legends” and “Middle Earth” range from good to excellent although the overall standard of the three decreased slowly after each other – where I consider “The Tower” being a perfect hard rock album, the one before “When Empires Burn” – “Middle Earth” was, while containing some great tracks, a definite sign that Hughes/Catley -duo had reached a point where fresh ideas would be needed.
In stepped Paul Hodson, a Ten keyboardist, who rather surprisingly took songwriting duties for “When Empires Burn”. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptic about this as I had never heard any of Hodson’s compositions before. It didn’t take long, however, to notice that this switch of songwriter was indeed a good move, the tracks on “When Empires Burn” are all very well written, and give some needed variation to Catley’s solo career, making WEB rise almost up to par with excellent “The Tower”
Starting with a symhonic intro “The Torment”, WEB draws the listener to a ride that keeps it’s grip until the final notes of the album. The first “real” track “Children Of The Circle” shows properly what lies ahead – heavily driven song starts with steaming guitars before letting Catley take over the vocals – which he does with full force. Add a brilliant chorus and an addiction to this song is complete.
Overall, Hodson brought a certain heaviness to the songs – the album is at points even surprisingly heavy, compared to Catley’s previous albums, still retaining great melodies that were an essential parts of both Magnum and Catley’s previous solos. Where Hughes-written Catley albums had obviously a very Ten-like sound, here the style is closer to Magnum, happy rocker “I’ll Be Your Fool”, for instance could well be from one of Magnum’s latter releases.
The overall quality of songs on WEB is really good and the album has taken a regular place on my CD player. The two ballads “Every Beat Of My Heart” and “Meaning Of Love” are a bit too sugary and fail to stand out from the rest of the songs, leaving them as my less-liked tracks on the album. But the rest of the stuff more than makes this up – the title track, aforementioned “Children Of The Circle” and heavier cuts “The Prophecy”, “This Is The Day” and “Someday Utopia” rock like hell with their addictive melodies, talented playing, stand-out choruses, cool vocal harmonies etc. The album closer “My America” is one of the best tracks, taking you staright to the shores of Ireland with it’s garymoore-ish melodies… Pretty impressive stuff, like most of the album.
But not to make this Paul Hodson’s solo album, Bob Catley really gives his best as a vocalist – making the songs truly alive and proving that he is one of hard rock’s premier vocalists, yet maybe an underrated one.
Magnum fans should run to the stores to get this one. As should any fan of melodic quality hard rock. And while you’re at it, make sure to get a digipac version, as it includes two bonus tracks.
01. The Torment
02. Children Of The Circle
03. Gonna Live Forever
04. The Prophecy
05. I’ll Be Your Fool
06. Every Beat Of My Heart
07. When Empires Burn
08. Meaning Of Love
09. This Is The Day
10. Someday Utopia
11. My America
Digipack bonus tracks:
12. Heaven Can Wait
13. When The Earth Lies Still