Friday, 20 May 2016

Grand Magus - "Sword Songs" (Album Review)

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 13/05/2016
Label: Nuclear Blast


This is certainly their best and heaviest record since “Iron Will”- going one better than “Triumph and Power” (all the way to 11!) and several leagues ahead of “The Hunt” and even the very good “Hammer of The North”. They are one of the best metal bands in the world today, no question. In fact, if you look at their discography, they may be one of the best of all time. An idle boast? How many bands can you name who have four or more classic albums to their name? Grand Magus' tally now stands at five. An impressive spectacle of might.

“Sword Songs” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Freja's Choice (3:59)
2. Varangian (3:41)
3. Forged in Iron - Crowned in Steel (5:38)
4. Born For Battle (Black Dog of Brocéliande) (3:41)
5. Master Of The Land (3:51)
6. Last One To Fall (4:00)
7. Frost And Fire (3:16)
8. Hugr (Instrumental) (2:07)
9. Every Day There's A Battle To Fight (4:30)

The Review:

One of the greatest bands in heavy metal return with this, their eighth (!) album. Starting out as a more bluesy/stoner rock outfit, Magus went through trad doom on “Monument” and transitioned to being something altogether more... traditionally metallic from “Wolfs Return” onwards. Indeed, after the shaky (in my view) “The Hunt”, the band hit a real return to form with “Triumph and Power” back in 2014. Essentially, “Sword Songs” is a continuation of “Triumph and Power”, but with some new elements. After all, the band has often experimented with their sound so it should come as no surprise to hear the nods to Slayer in the record, or the more extreme elements in the riffing generally.

Once again, the Kings of Metal influence proceedings here. You may think that Manowar are ludicrous, they may be easily lampooned... However, they are also one of the greatest metal bands of all time and embody the genre in all its glory AND ridiculousness. Grand Magus channel those heavy metal gods to perfection here (even more so than on “Triumph and Power”).

The opening “Freja's Choice” sounds like Magus imbued with the spirit of thrash via the Valkyries referenced in the song. “Varangian” (look it up; an interesting historical feature of the Vikings was how far they actually travelled) has the Manowar influence writ large- big chorus, big riffs. Straight away, the memory of the hard rock of “The Hunt” is banished in favour of metal anthems with muscles of steel.

“Forged In Iron- Crowned In Steel” is even more over the top. This is Grand Magus 2016; take Priest, Manowar, Dio-era Sabbath and mix them together and this is what you get. Glorious and anthemic, this material is some of the band's best! Cracking solo, great vocal in the middle eight, too. The production is stellar- live sounding with a killer drum sound that is both live sounding and polished. Ludwig Witt turns in a tour de force performance as per, Fox supplies his usual gnarly bass lines and tones while JB excels in riffs, solos and vocals (the true heir to Dio in our world, as it goes). The trio are firing on all cylinders this time around.

“Born For Battle is catchy in the extreme; no subtlety, no dynamics. Just power. “Master of the Land” again references more extreme fare in the opening riffs and throughout the song. It is great to hear the band expanding their sound a little- the record is certainly more aggressive than “Triumph and Power” and certainly on a par with “Wolfs Return” or “Iron Will” for bombast.

The nine track playing time plays to the band's strengths; each track is focused, lean and mean. There is no filler here, the album can easily be digested in one sitting and there are lots of riffs, changes and nice production touches to savour. With the faster material, such as “Last One To Fall”, the Priest trick of chords for the verses while the more intricate riffage is to be found without vocals. Superb breakdown section as well.
Frost and Fire is a rollicking ride through a great vocal hook and expertly crafted verses and a great chorus. This is truly heavy metal of the finest quality and of such a vintage that had it been released in 1984 would have conquered the world, no question. You might have thought that heavy metal bands no longer made records like this, but if Iron Maiden don't, then Grand Magus do.

The obligatory instrumentalHugr” follows and sets the tone for the rather maudlin “Every Day There's A Battle To Fight” which makes a very fitting end to the record; the aftermath of the carnage of the battle is to be found here. To say that Grand Magus have excelled themselves is accurate. This is certainly their best and heaviest record since “Iron Will”- going one better than “Triumph and Power” (all the way to 11!) and several leagues ahead of “The Hunt” and even the very good “Hammer of The North”. They are one of the best metal bands in the world today, no question. In fact, if you look at their discography, they may be one of the best of all time. An idle boast? How many bands can you name who have four or more classic albums to their name? Grand Magus' tally now stands at five. An impressive spectacle of might.



“Sword Songs” is available here


Band info: facebook

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