[5 February 2014]
To offset the alchemists striving to twist metal into shapes unknown, we need artists who dig their feet into the ground to fight for the traditions that made metal an arena-prowling concern only a couple of decades ago. Leading the charge for traditionalism in metal in 2014 are Grand Magus, a band who have consistently summoned the heavy thunder of their idols since their 2001 self-titled debut. Grand Magus’s ascent from doom worshippers at the altar of Sabbath to modern metal warriors has been worthy of celebration. Never ones to take heed of or be affected by what’s transiently popular, the Swedish trio have always delivered in the studio and through their live shows by sticking to their principles of might and melodicism. And for all their steadfast efforts over the years Grand Magus’s 2010 debut for Roadrunner, Hammer of the North, is now regarded as a modern metal classic in the truest sense of the word.
The strength of songwriting on Hammer of the North was a bold, fist-raising affirmation of what defines metal. So much so that it cast an intimidating shadow across its follow-up, 2012’s The Hunt. The Hunt was a more withdrawn album by comparison, with emphasis on its pacing rather than all-out blazing glory. It brought back the weight of doom that pinned Grand Magus’s earlier releases to the ground and even implemented subtle features of folk without actually venturing outside of the band’s molten standard. Now two years on, Grand Magus have returned with a call-to-arms to compete with Hammer…, an album (released by Nuclear Blast) that lives and dies by its Manowar-worthy title: Triumph and Power.
As a title Triumph and Power is a statement of intent encapsulating what you can expect from their seventh studio album as well as Grand Magus’s career thus far. From the second “On Hooves of Gold” gnashes its teeth and gallops forward to the last forceful swing of “The Hammer Will Bite”, Grand Magus’s power is in full flight and the end result as you would accurately suspect is another sure triumph. What makes this band so special is the life-affirming positivity that beams from their anthems. In a genre that feasts and thrives on negativity and misanthropy, positive themes of figuratively standing up against your adversaries, although time tested, can sound cheesy in the wrong hands. Sincerity is what separates Grand Magus’s tales from the rest. As usual the vocals delivering these tales of defiance are so commanding and catchy that you will immediately find yourself singing along to songs like “Steel Versus Steel”, “Fight” and “Triumph and Power”, with their fantastical themes announced with a universal bent not heard since Dio passed away.
Dio’s influence on Grand Magus’s music is nothing new; comparisons to the characteristics of the diminutive icon with pipes of gold have followed vocalist Janne “JB” Christoffersson for years. But with each passing album JB authenticity has proven him to be worthy of respect in his own right. In addition to his granite-hewn vocals chords, JB’s riffs are consistently memorable and when backed by thumping drums and sturdy bass there is a heaviness to them that a thousand shredders couldn’t muster if they were locked in a cage with a guitar, fed amphetamines and forced to play until their fingerprints melted. Channelling the likes of Blackmore, Iommi, Tipton and Downing is no easy feat, but JB does so while keeping within the confines of Grand Magus’s signature cause. The chugging riffs that lead “On Hooves of Gold” rage like a stampede; the Judas Priest-isms of “Fight” and “Dominator” are infectious slabs of traditional metal; and “The Naked and the Dead” and “The Hammer Will Bite” would have fought their way bloody into Hammer of the North, such is the incisiveness of the riffs and the rousing call of the chorus of each song.
With the exception “Arv” and “Ymer”, two basic interludes that take away from the energy JB, bassist Fox Skinner and drummer Ludwig “Ludde” Witt (Spiritual Beggars) muster without really adding anything to your listening experience, Triumph and Power will lift even the weariest of hearts with the power found in its mountain-shaking riffs, rhythms and vocal hooks. On the whole this album is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Grand Magus—and if you approach this album hoping for anything other than pure heavy metal made for any decade, you’ve found yourself on the wrong longboat destined for Vahalla.