MAGNUM — Chase The Dragon (review)

MAGNUM — Chase The Dragon album cover Album · 1982 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Warthur
Recorded in 1980 but only released in 1982, Chase the Dragon is a landmark album for Magnum for many reasons. For one thing, it's the first of their albums to be graced by the delightful fantasy artwork of Rodney Matthews, who'd work closely with the band on numerous later releases and here establishes striking images which he'd keep coming back to in the Magnum cosmos - why, that combination of distant city, desolate plain, and spooky tree would be reflected on the cover of Escape From the Shadow Garden.

In addition to being the album where Magnum's distinctive cover art aesthetic really came together, Chase the Dragon is also the album where their sound came into its own. In retrospect, perhaps 1982 was the perfect year to release something like this, with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal wave riding high and the neo-progressive rock movement bubbling up through the underground.

It's not that Magnum quite belongs to either of those movements, but they seem to occupy a unique musical space all of their own which hovers in a somewhat AORish region partway between the two styles. They have enough synthesisers, fantasy lyrics, and occasional instrumental flair to put one in mind of neo-prog, without ever quite leaning enough on prog influences like Uriah Heep or embracing long, complex song structures sufficiently to really be any flavour of prog, neo- or not.

Likewise, whilst they have a boisterous energy reminiscent of the NWOBHM and traditional heavy metal (which are also fields not averse to fantasy lyrics), they don't quite go heavy enough to cross the boundary between hard rock and metal. (If they did, it feels like they'd land somewhere near Dio.)

On paper, it feels like such an act would end up falling between two stools, failing to be sufficiently one thing or the other and pleasing nobody. Instead, Chase the Dragon is a delightful album which will have something to appeal to fans of the lighter ends of traditional heavy metal or neo-prog alike - and if you happen to dig both, as I do, you'll probably absolutely love it. Soldier of the Line is an excellent album opener, one of those songs which will have you reaching for the "back" button when it ends so you can listen to it over and over again despite yourself, and the rest of the album retains a high standard throughout.

This was apparently a make-or-break moment for Magnum, due to the shaky reception of Magnum II throwing them off-kilter a little; in retrospect, they pulled out exactly the album they needed to produce here. You can count me as a freshly-minted Magnum fan on the strength of this album alone.
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