Review : GRAND MAGUS – "Hammer of the North"

Grand Magus Hammer of the North
Release: 2010Jun23 (EU)/2011Jan25 (US)
Label: Roadrunner Records
Rating: 4/5

The Metalverse has Sweden to thank for vital inspiration over the last couple of decades. While most attention is paid toward their contributions to death metal, Grand Magus eschewed that template with their stripped-down, no-nonsense, traditional doom. Roadrunner Records picked them up and did a European release in June 2010; Metal Blade reissued their first two albums—Grand Magus and Monument—in September 2010 through their partnership with Grand Magus’ original label, Rise Above Records; now in early 2011, we get the full brunt of the band’s fifth album, Hammer of the North. They retain the same lineup from 2008’s Iron Will, which was the first to feature drummer Sebastian “SEB” Sippola.

The immovable distinguishing aspect of this band is frontman Janne ”JB” Christoffersson. Not only is the man a solid guitarist, but he dominates his vocal range. While he may not possess the full dynamic of, say, Rob Halford, he actually channels the same timbre on more than one occasion—check out “I, The Jury” or “The Lord of Lies” for proof. If I’d liken the band to anybody, a safe bet is the Indiana trio (and former label-mates) The Gates of Slumber. Both are reverent of their first- and second-generation ancestry in Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus, but Grand Magus go further to set themselves apart in this 21st century fog by also invoking their Swedish homeland.

The title track comes crashing like a judge’s gavel, following the mighty opener. This is where you really hear bassist Fox Skinner finger like Geezer, who further guides the ravens at album’s end. And thematically, this is also where Grand Magus makes the most sense. Observe “Northern Star”, with all its internal empowerment that maintains there is “no one up above and no one below” and encourages “don’t resort to prayer”. However, directly following is “The Lord of Lies”, which may be interpreted to mean Satan himself (a seeming contradiction for non-believers) but could refer to Loki, considering the source.

There is no trickery found here, though. Hammer of the North is set to smash your face in, and doesn’t require a hint of death metal’s brutality or technical wizardry to do so.

FCC OK
Try 1, 2, 3,  5, 6, 8, 10

01. I, The Jury
02. Hammer of the North
03. Black Sails
04. Mountains Be My Throne
05. Northern Star
06. The Lord of Lies
07. At Midnight They’ll Get Wise
08. Bond of Blood
09. Savage Tales
10. Ravens Guide Our Way
11. Crown of Iron (bonus on MP3 download, get it below!)

~MetalMattLongo

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