Released: 2003, Frontiers
What would inspire a modern metal fan in 2003 to check out a Bob Catley solo album of all things? In fact some folks might even inquire..who the HELL is Bob Catley? Good question and for those of you who need to know, Catley is the former vocalist for long standing and revered UK prog-metal band, Magnum.
I like Magnum. I have about 5 of their albums over a twenty year career and the new re-union album was average. I reviewed here and gave it a 3 out of 5. Accordingly I never rushed out to buy any of his four previous solo albums. Well, now I’m going to!
From what I have heard, (which admittedly is only parts of his career) this is BY FAR the best work he has ever done. WHEN EMPIRES BURN, easily blows Magnum’s reunion album BREATH OF LIFE away. I was so surprised and happy when I heard this album. I had no idea Bob had this in him.
As a vocalist his range and power have never been better. He really pulled out all the stops. This is a surprisingly dark and heavy album with many additional musical elements added for flair such as the delicate closing ballad ‘My America’, a celtic inspired power ballad, that is stirring and inspirational.
The guitars courtesy of Vince O’Reagan (Hard Rain and Pulse) are thick and full yet, so super smooth and well produced and layered it adds an enormous sound. Bob Catley’s band features Al Barrow from Pulse as well. The key difference in sound perhaps (pun fully intended is Paul Hodson the keyboardist. (also of Hard Rain) Not that this albumis heavily dominated by keyboards, far from it, but Paul wrote all the songs and produced the album as well. I feel it is his songwriting that really made the difference.
The opening cut, following a dark and ominous but pleasing and orchestral intro, is a track called, ‘Children of The Circle’ which could easily fit on an album by Star One or Ark. Many of the songs border on progressive power metal but that description might not do justice to the songs that are rich in tone and tempo. The structures and arrangements are by no means sing-along or anthemic but lots of solos and driving beats keep this in the heavier end of the scale for this type of music. I’m not fooling anyone by suggesting it is thrash or pure speed but there is an intensity that many bands like this lack.
I certainly hope this excellent CD does not go unnoticed as it is very entertaining. Excellent production, great vocals, lots of lyrics about love but far from sickly sweet, in fact I haven’t heard ‘love songs’ (so to speak) this dark for along time. A dense and rewarding album for those fans who are brave enough to look past the history and pedigree of the musicians. You will be pleasantly surprised.