Bob Catley - When Empires Burn
As a truly dedicated and die-hard Magnum fan it's way past time to finally for real introduce one of the absolute best vocalists ever in the hard rock/melodic metal genre, Bob Catley, to the readers of this site. To those of you already familiar Magnum you have probably also already heard Catley's three former solo-albums, The Tower, Legends and Middle Earth and should need no further introductions to his capacities. For you still uninitiated there's a chance that the name of this legendary vocalist rings a bell since he almost completely stole the show on Avantasia- The Metal Opera pt II. Nevertheless here we have Bob's latest solo recording and I can honestly say that When Empires Burn is besides his heaviest also his best and finest effort to date. On previous solo albums he's worked together with Gary Hughes from Ten but it was obviously time for a change and this time he's chosen to instead join in with main song writer and keyboarder of Hard Rain, Paul Hodson. This collaboration obviously has turned out to be very successful indeed and Hodson's composition skills seem to be right up Catley's alley since not only the songs themselves truly rock but Catley also produces one of his best vocal efforts ever and that's a statement that definitely says a great deal about what goods When Empires Burn delivers. The guy doesn't stand that high above the ground but he's got a voice instantly recognisable among thousands and when using it in this magnificent fashion it's a very enjoyable ride we're invited to.
No matter that Tony Clarkin isn't the song writer here there are still of course strong influences of Magnum besides that it's Catley providing the voice. Many of the tracks bear such a strong Magnum signature that if you didn't know differently they could have been taken from any modern album of that band. However, it's the songs not most similar to the traditional Magnum sound that I think makes What Empires Burn what it is. While Gonna Live Forever, I'll be your Fool, Every Beat of my Heart, and Meaning of Love are as typical Magnum they can possibly be it's the others much heavier, faster and more dramatic than these aforementioned that truly shine.
Children of the Circle is the perfect starter that sets a great tone with its heavy solo intro, rhythmic verse and very strong and catchy chorus. The Prophecy is one of the heaviest songs Catley has ever sung on one of his own albums and once again a formidable chorus stays recorded by the brain for a long time. Along the same formula you can also categorize This is the Day which is followed by probably the fastest track Bob's put his signature on, Someday Utopia. But the absolute highlights of the album are the title track and the epic grand finale, My America. When Empires Burn starts off with the sung chorus and the main keyboard theme that makes the thoughts drift to Demon's Taking the World by Storm release and easily also would fit in perfectly on Magnum's masterpieces On a Storyteller's Night and Wings of Heaven. The track compiles one of the better verse melodies I've ever heard in this genre and the chorus is a superb affair that really sticks for days. And last but definitely not least My America has to be given special attention. One the topic of the Irish emigration to America Hodson has written an epic mid tempo / half ballad masterpiece closer that's got to be considered as one of the better tracks ever in the Bob Catley history. The folk music flavoured song begins with a slow and beautiful Irish/Celtic theme and to simplify you can say that this track is a melodic metal version of Auld Lang Syne (New Year's Song). The verse section is just fantastic and when the chorus hits home and Catley better than ever sings "My America (pronounced ameri-cay), land of dreams so far away" you're pretty sure it's the soundtrack of melodic metal heaven. The following interlude section after the second chorus provides one of the strongest melodic power metal sections recorded and adds more super attributes to an already amazing track. The rest of the songs rounded up the domino bricks with When Empires Burn as leading piece and My America sets them all off crashing down in a cloud of fire.
There are absolutely some true masters of their chosen calling here and despite that it's Cately especially that really stands out he's definitely in good company. The keyboard playing by Hodson is just as excellent as the world class production while Vince O'Reagan provides many memorable guitar runs in shape of solos full of feeling and lots of heavy supporting riff sections rich in detail. His playing style actually reminds quite strongly of guitar icon Michael Schenker which absolutely is a comparison to be very proud of. The only real minor downsides with this release are the ballads Every Beat of My Heart and Meaning of Love where the cheesier side of Magnum and a too strong flavour of Ten not at their very best dominate the sound picture. But with the rest of the album so great this is very far from a fatal flaw and doesn't affect the final grade too negatively.
For fans of melodic metal / epic hard rock Bob Catley's When Empires Burn is just one of the better albums you can ever own with its well thought out and arranged music and infectious melodies. I've had it in my possession for over a year and a half already and I still listen to it countless times a week. I certainly hope that the collaboration between Catley and Hodson continues for at least one more album' cause this is just a smasher. Bob Catley plain and simply adds another jewel to his crown with this formidable release.
also review of: Immortal