Look, I love Grand Magus, have done since 2008’s epic Iron Will opus bust them screaming for vengeance out of the doom ghetto and into the wider metal consciousness; That was a truly great slab of traditional heavy metal, not only iron willed but iron clad too, each song polished to a deadly gleam and ready to kill for the cause… Since then, it seems to me that JB and company (longtime bassist Fox Skinner and more recent drumming acquisition, former Spiritual Beggar Ludwig Witt) have been, if not coasting then at least struggling to make any new or significant headway. As a three piece, they are limited by what the format can do as juxtaposed with the simplicity or otherwise of their vision, with the result being a sort of involuntary coagulation of the original idea into what we see today with the release of eighth studio release Sword Songs.
It’s not bad, of course, far from it. Songs like Master of the Land are stirring, Manowaresque calls to battle that can’t fail to get the juices flowing, JB’s excellent voice rousing any rabble it stumbles across into unquestioning obedience and willingness to ride into glory. His riff work is splendid on this album too, wringing memorable riff after memorable riff out of his axe – Varangian’s main riff in particular is a winner – whilst Skinner and Witt – Witt in particular – both put in Stakhanovian shifts in support.
However the template seems to be wearing a little thin in places. Whilst the uptempo Last One to Fall sounds fresh and bursting with metallic vigour, Forged in Iron – Crowned in Steel and Born for Battle (Black Dog of Broceliande) seem to be sharing the same chorus, at least in part, and though none of the songs on offer are actively stinkers, there are little flashes of déjà vu starting to creep in in places.
That said, Sword Songs is probably the most instantly accessible album the band has made in some while; Despite the epic themes tackled in the songs ideas are never allowed to go stale or outstay their welcome and there’s always a chorus, riff or even solo – JB plays some of his best lead work ever on this album – for the casual ear to latch onto. If this is the future for Grand Magus I think it’s gonna be a bright one, and it’s probably up to me to get with the programme rather than the other way around. First time listeners already warm to Viking metal will lap this up, and old timers like me will come round in the end I guess. So we’re all winners!