Swords gleaming in the sun, banners battered by the wind as men fight and die, a shoreline awash with red: all images vividly conjured by the punchy, but regal music on Grand Magus‘s last three albums. Though their style resists easy classification and has shifted and squirmed between the cracks of several genres over time, they’ve always been a band you could count on to release classy, high quality music. While the power and glory of albums like Iron Will and Hammer of the North cannot be denied, many felt 2012s The Hunt was a step backward, too tame and lackluster. Your friendly neighborhood Steel Druhm spat on such opinions and I still find that platter an addicting spin.
Triumph and Power sees them refining the style heard on The Hunt and moving even further from their doom/traditional metal roots into something more epic and atmospheric with a heavy theme of battle and bravery. Imagine a mix of latter period Manowar, Doomsword and Falkenbach performed by bikers and you may be in the ballpark. While this leads to a few cool tunes full of chest thumping and testosterone, it isn’t a wholly successful fusion and feels like the work of a band in the midst of a major transition and still working out the kinks.
This is a deceptively front-loaded affair beginning with several quality cuts, thereby masking the album’s issues at first blush. Opener “On Hooves of Gold” is vintage Magus with powerful, bruising riffs, a larger-than-life, epic attitude and JB’s excellently commanding vocals. Some of the guitar accents channel Cirith Ungol and all seems right in the world. “Steel Versus Steel” keeps the manly factor high with a simple, mid-tempo rumble-fest loaded with hints of Saxon and old Virgin Steele mixed with Manowar-esque bravado. In much the same style, “Fight” bobs and weaves with choppy, meaty riffs that alternate between classic Magus and Running Wild.
The album standout to these ears is the title track, which smashes together “Iron Will” and “Son of the Last Breath” for a real storm-bursting slab of metal with more heart than the Mayo Clinic on National Organ Donation Day. JB’s vocals are so damn good and compelling and when he backs them up with thick, authoritative riffs like these, its pure metal bliss.
Sadly, things begin to slip after this promising start and “Dominator” is a rather weak tune that smacks of filler despite some earthy and convincing vocals. “Holmgang” is better and has a battle-ready toughness and some Viking friendly chanting, but still falls short of the typical Magus song quality. The same malady afflicts the remainder of the album, with closer “The Hammer Will Bite” being the most generic and unsatisfying example.
Despite my fanboyish love for JB’s singing and riff writing, nearly half the material here feels incomplete and underdone. As I spun and respun it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the album lacks depth and I was left with a “is this all there is?” kind of vibe. It’s also too laid back and of one tempo, like it was intended for marching or repetitive forced labor, and there isn’t a lot of content here, with eight songs and two short musical interludes.
Though the songs let me down, the band sounds as good as ever and JB continues to be one of my favorite singers in metal. The man has a big, charismatic voice and really knows how to get a mood across. He also throws out some huge riffs that walk the line between doom, epic doom and traditional metal and almost always satisfy. Ludwig Witt bashes the skins with his usual power and establishes his personality even in the slower, more sedate moments. If only the songs were just a bit more consistent….
Hey, even the best bands have an off album where things don’t come together fully. I get the feeling they want to head in a more moody, dramatic direction and hopefully this album helps them figure things out so they can get back to the business of kicking my ass. Even though this is a letdown by Magus standards, it’s still a worthwhile spin and the first half is rock-solid and metal as Hades.