Metal Blade is re-issuing Swedish “traditional metal” band Grand Magus’ 2008 CD Iron Will (originally out on Rise Above) on June 5th. This is my first exposure to Grand Magus so I can’t compare the music on this record to any of the band’s other discs. I’ve read though that Grand Magus started out as “doom” but this disc predominately sounds like Ian Gillan fronting early Iron Maiden.
Grand Magus is a power-trio that was formed by vocalist Janne "JB" Christoffersson and bassist Fox Skinner. After his tenure in Spiritual Beggars, Christoffersson’s vocals are immediately recognizable but his stellar guitar playing comes as a pleasant surprise. I guess it is hard to get noticed as a guitar player when you are playing alongside Michael Arnott. Iron Will was the band’s fourth disc and the lineup this time out includes newcomer Sebastian "Seb" Sippola on drums. For most of the last decade, Christoffersson split his time between Spiritual Beggars and Grand Magus but decided to focus on Grand Magus exclusively after the release of 2010’s Hammer of the North.
While Spiritual Beggars is more groove-based stoner rock, Grand Magus emphasizes driving guitar riffs and melodic leads overtop of a galloping rhythm section. There isn’t a lot of ‘excess’ (guitar heroics, vocal histrionics) on this disc as the songwriting emphasizes the powerful guitar riffs and Christoffersson’s bluesy vocals. The lyrics mostly seem to be focused on pagan/sword-in-stone imagery (the problem with digital promos is one can never be completely certain of the lyrics) which drive to fist pumping, sing-along choruses.
The songs on the first half of the disc are all epic ‘tradition metal’ tracks – in the middle of these songs is a short (under a minute) rumbling bass track (“Hovding”) which serves as an intro. to the grinding riffs and anthemic choruses of “Iron Will”. Starting with “Silver into Steel”, the tone of the disc becomes a bit darker. This track starts with strings playing overtop of a brooding undertone and the track hits full-steam when its grinding Sabbath-ish riffs kick in. The guitars seem to have been “turned up to 11” for “The Shadow Knows”, which brings in more of a thrash/punk sound that is comparable to the sound of Iron Maiden’s first disc. “Self Deceiver” is full-out epic doom number that features down-tuned riffs, a heavy bass line and pounding drums. The band then takes a step back from the darkness with the Alice in Chains sounding “Good and Evil” and the disc ends with the morose “I Am the North”. (Note: this last track runs 5 minutes, not the nine minutes listed. There is a ‘hidden’ minute-long guitar riff at the end of the song.)
Grand Magus' new album, The Hunt, is due out on June 5th on Nuclear Blast.