Grand Magus // Hammer of the North
Rating: 4.0/5.0 — Sweden hammers the World!
Label: Roadrunner Records
Websites: grandmagus.com | myspace.com/grandmagusrocks
Release Dates: EU: 21.06.2010 | US: 06.29.2010 (?)
It seems a sad fact that when one anticipates something and really looks forward to it, the chance of being disappointed increases exponentially. After Grand Magus unleashed their wildly impressive Iron Will album in 2008 (which was one of my favorite albums that year), I was extremely stoked for a follow up by this cadre of Swedish metal mongers but wondered if they could match or top the quality of that massive platter. Now that I have the anxiously awaited follow up in the form of their fifth album, Hammer of the North, my fears of being let down seem silly, because once again Grand Magus shows that they know how to craft top quality traditional heavy metal songs with a slight doom tinged edge.
For those unfamiliar with the Grand Magus sound, it revolves around crunchy, heavy Black Sabbath inspired riffs and excellently melodic but strong vocals, both of which provided by Janne Christoffersson (Spiritual Beggars). In short, the man is a multitasking metal dynamo! Mr. Christoffersson isn’t blessed of the most mammoth pipes nor does he command the largest octave range, but he is great singer and always seems to find the right way to bring a song over and give it that extra heft. As impressive as the vocals are, the riffs Christoffersson crafts to propel the songs along are equally worthy or praise. While previous albums had a more doom metal sound, the riffs here are way more traditionally metal in style. Their sound is unique enough that no particular band comes to mind to compare them to but fans of traditional and classic metal will feel right at home here.
From the opening moments of powerhouse opener “I the Jury,” you can just feel the class. Between the aforementioned great riffs, well placed vocals (that remind of Rob Halford in his low range) and a chorus that adds an extra needed punch, this song screams winner. Top shelf traditional metal all the way but not dated or “retro.” Grand Magus follows this triumph with track after track of solid, memorable, crunchy and classy metal. At times epic (“Black Sail”), at other times just straight up traditional metal (“Hammer of the North”) and sometimes veering back toward their stoner/doom roots (“Mountains by My Throne”), it all works! No filler is to be found anywhere, yet there are many things to admire for fans of classic, classy metal.
The production here does nothing to take away from the stellar compositions and is appropriately large and powerful yet not too polished or clean. The guitars have real bite and a larger than life dimension and the drums have a satisfying thuck! Christoffersson’s vocals are layered over the top of it all but not so as to overpower the music itself.
Grand Magus just have that “it” factor that sets a band apart from their metal brethren. Maybe it’s something in the water in their homeland of Sweden, maybe it’s just that certain magic chemistry, but whatever the cause, these guys are on a real tear and if you haven’t heard Iron Will yet, do yourself a favor and track it down and then get Hammer of the North. These are two truly great metal albums that complement each other well and both deserve your attention.