Released: 2005, Rise Above Records
I never bothered checking out Grand Magus. Why? Well, I was left with the impression from their album covers that I probably wouldn’t be much of a fan of their style of doom, and yes, I know that’s absolutely no reason to check out a band but nonetheless that’s what I did. Not that I never planned to check Grand Magus out, just that they were near the bottom of the list of bands to look into. That was until a fellow poster on the Metal Rules message board uploaded the song “Kingslayer” from this year’s “Wolf’s Return”. Now I have to say that the new Grand Magus is growing to become one of my favourites of the year.
Now from what I’ve been told the two prior Grand Magus albums are rather different from this one as well as being pretty different from each other. The earlier two albums were described to me as pure doom, straight up from the bowels of the 70’s style of Black Sabbath which is rather different than the traditional metal swagger found on 2005’s “Wolf’s Return”. With their new album Grand Magus create a rocking heavy metal landscape that certainly lends itself to being a bit doom but more often than not is just straight up heavy metal with hints of something just a bit more grandiose. Vocalist/Guitarist J.B. Christoffersson has a very clean, deep, open voice just meant for this more rocking approach yet he can hold a note to keep up with the slower moments.
“Kingslayer” gets the album off to a rocking start with a chugging metal riff with minor accents and double bass to add to the rolling feel of it. Things, of course, open up for the verses, letting J.B.’s voice take over and the guitars take a more subdued role moving into open chords which let the bass and drums push the music forward. When the chorus hits its epic feel is noticed immediately, almost making me think of Manilla Road. The bridge section had me banging immediately with it’s guitar/drum accents with each syllable of the spoken/sung line, “KING SLAY ER RISE!”. Opening with a simple enough guitar melody, “Nine” sets the stage for a much slower, plodding number; one that’s meant for a gentle swaying along with the melody. When the song really gets going one finds that the verse is based around thumping bass and drums and light guitar work that leads into the heavier more guitar-oriented chorus, using the tried and true dynamic of softer verse/heavier chorus, but it works so why complain?
Guitars start off epic enough in the title track, “Wolf’s Return”, with a marching riff that’s not far from what I’ve heard a hundred other bands use, but yet again, it’s definitely enjoyable in this context, especially with J.B.’s warm vocals set overtop, soaring. Things slow down shortly with an extremely heavy riff, vocals and guitar working together to create an ominous feel (not to mention that melodic section between verses). It’s when the opening section repeats before the solo that the sense of tension created with the rather slow verses is released and the full potential of the song is realized. The more rocking side comes back in “Blood Oath” before the “Järnbörd”/”Repay in Kind” tandem create an altogether different atmosphere. “Järnbörd” plays with different folky melodies using different sounds of the forest as the backdrop which leads nicely into the heavier side on “Repay in Kind”. For “Repay in Kind” the song is certainly heavy, churning throughout, yet it still retains a certain sense of melody through its melodic, yet somehow chaotic chorus and abundant use of lead guitar overtop of the rhythm.
Grand Magus is definitely working with a winning formula. Their change over to straight up heavy metal definitely works extremely well with the combination of J.B’s extremely powerful voice, churning heavy guitar, and more than adequate rhythm section. “Wolf’s Return” is my biggest surprise release so far this year.