Every few years, Grand Magus ride out from the snowy wilds of Sweden to wave the flag of epic heavy metal and crusade for genre supremacy. Over the years their sound has shifted from a doom-centric approach to one increasingly informed by the likes of Manowar and Visigoth, and on their ninth album, Wolf God, they find themselves repeating familiar refrains and similar ideas to those heard on recent outings. It’s still 100% chest thumping, more manly than thou ego metal, brought to us by a trio of talented, well-traveled musicians led by one of my favorite metal vocalists, J.B. Christoffersson. It’s also exactly what I’ve come to expect from the band over the past few years, and less than I hoped for, especially considering the band’s past few albums haven’t lived up to the legacy of earlier works like Iron Will and Hammer of the North.
After a very Renaissance faire-y intro that drew giggles from yours Steely, the glory ride kicks off with the title track, and when those big, burly doom-ish riffs arrive, heralded by booming war drums, the table is set to… copy the riff from their near-legendary song “Iron Will.” This is a troubling way to launch the latest recruitment drive. Things do self-correct though, and become their typically mid-paced epic metal tune with J.B.’s baritone bellow telling tales of wars and gods as he churns out fat riffs that plod mightily as drums thunder dramatically. It’s the exact formula from the past few albums, but it feels less inspiring this time. Things improve on “A Hall Clad in Gold” which effectively leverages their masculine sound profile for a rough, stoic ode to sword measuring and ax weighing. J.B.’s vocals have a bit more passion and energy and the chorus is tailor-made for pre-battle stretching and beer tasting. Several other songs cling to this successful wheelhouse as well. “Brother of the Storm” sounds like Visigoth should get a partial writing credit, and “Dawn of Fire,” pulls out every trope from the epic metal war chest, but also features a riff I swear I’ve heard on another Grand Magus album.
Other solid moments include the machismo-encrusted “To Live and Die in Solitude,” which comes closest to recapturing past glories. “Glory to the Brave” is perfect for gym playlists with a big, rousing chorus, and closer “Untamed” is fairly righteous with one of the album’s best and most trve choruses. Then there are the misfires, like “Spear Thrower,” where the band ups the urgency only to be laid low by a terrible chorus. “He Sent Them All to Hell” isn’t bad, but its similarity to “Steel Versus Steel” from their Triumph and Power opus cannot be ignored, and the weak chorus is just J.B. repeating the song title. Although I like the bulk of Wolf God, it’s impossible not to notice the band is in a creative rut and plagiarizing themselves a whole lot. Their past few albums have all sounded very similar with only slight fluctuations in quality, and Wolf God is stuck in the same groove, but with more sub-par songs and recycled ideas dragging it downward.
This is all the more irritating because the band is so talented and know how to play this style of metal well. J.B.’s riff-craft is generally rock solid and that big, beefy guitar tone is a pleasure to hear. His voice has always been great, but on the past few albums he’s had an increasing tendency to sound laid back and overly restrained. A fellow AMG staffer describes him as sounding bored, and at times I’m grudgingly inclined to agree. This time out it’s Ludwig Witt’s drumming that’s the highlight for me. He borrows a big page from the Scott Columbus (RIP) style of metal drumming, pounding the skins like Thor, thereby making everything sound like a march into Ragnarök. His kit smackery injects much-needed life and energy into material which at times can feel a bit too lethargic to be trve.
Just shy of 39 minutes, Wolf God is a short and enjoyable enough outing likely to satisfy the craving for some gym appropriate trve metal, but its got issues and is part of a troubling trend for Grand Magus. It’s more and more apparent that the band is locked into a deep comfort zone and no longer willing or able to strive for the greatness heard on past works. This is a tragedy as I’m not sure I need any more albums with so similar a sound and approach. It’s high time to sheath the Sword of Sameness and raise the Sword of Risky Aspiration. My friend Iron Will demands it!