Grand Magus is one of those bands you expect a lot from. They’ve released a series of top-notch traditional metal albums with elements of doom, and their past few albums were some serious masterstrokes, loaded with catchy, classy tunes. Their style is like a mix of Dio era Black Sabbath and Candlemass with hard rock bands like Fireball Ministry, and they have the knack for writing killer riffs that rattle around in the cranium for days. While I didn’t think they could top their excellent Iron Will opus, they did just that with 2010’s Hammer of the North. Stupidly, I didn’t think they could top that one either, but once again Steel Druhm has egg on his steely face. That’s right folks, The Hunt is even better still! It features a slightly different style with less doom influence, and things are more straight ahead and rockin. It also features some interesting folk elements which stand out and work very well. As per usual, things are very catchy and man, those riffs!! They’re solid gold. I really have to stop being surprised by how good these guys are.
Things kick off excellently with “Starlight Slaughter,” which has a simple, slightly 70s hard rock vibe like Rainbow, but heavier. The riffs are super solid and the outstanding vocals of JB Christoffersson shine brightly and take things to a whole new level. The chorus is hooky and has some nice references to Viking vengeance (which always make a song better). The Viking theme continues with “Sword of the Ocean” and “Valhalla Rising,” both are great examples of what Grand Magus does so well. The song writing is very simple but so well executed and with a huge emphasis on hooks and melody. I love how they can be so catchy, but still so heavy and powerful. The one-two punch of “Silver Moon” and The Hunt” will flatten any resistance and force you to love what the Magus is doing. Both are uber memorable and that riff in “The Hunt” is impossible to ignore or forget.
The standout is a folk-infused track (about Vikings) called “Son of the Last Breath.” JB’s vocals take on a whole new sound as they simmer and roil over some soft, soothing acoustics and strings, and the song slowly builds into an epic monster with Viking war chants and promises of bloodletting in the name of Thor. It’s both beautiful and powerful and it’s guaranteed to inspire the raising of your own raiding party for plunder and horrid depredations against your neighbor folk. If you only hear one song from this album, hear this one! From there, Magus goes into full attack mode with the excellently anthemic “Iron Hand” and the moody, mid tempo rumble of “Daksadd.” The Hunt is a winner from start to finish and not one track fails the test.
Since JB handles both vocals and guitar, this is pretty much his show and it’s a damn good one. Few are the individuals so gifted at singing, riffing and song writing. The man just knows how to craft a guitar lead that will stick in your skull like an axe, and his powerful mid-range roar makes everything sound authentic and classy. I’m a shameless fanboy and I admit it (without shame). Ludwig Witt and Fox Skinner (ha ha, epic name) provide a thick heavy foundation for JB’s skills and I really like the hard rock style drumming Ludwig showcases throughout The Hunt.
My only real complaint is the with the production. It’s less thick than on past albums and at first I was a bit put off by that. The guitar lacks the raw power it had on older tracks like “Iron Will” or “Hammer of the North.” As great as the songs on this album are, I can only imagine how much more impact they would have with a more devastating guitar tone. Still, the sound and mix are more than adequate and won’t impair the listening experience. In fact, it has a nice, old school rock sound and a warm, non-modern flavor. Wow, even when I try to criticize these guys, it ends up as a compliment. Fanboy alert!!!
This is a great great album and easily one of the top releases this year. If you haven’t listened to Grand Magus yet, you’re as foolish as the village idiot and as confused as the town drunk. Stop being that person and grab the past few Magus albums and experience some of the best metal out there. Trust your old pal, Steel Druhm. He knows a thing or two. Hail Viking-themed albums and hail fucking Sweden!