I came to Sweden’s Grand Magus fairly late, only first listening to them when someone played me their 2008 album Iron Will. I guess my reluctance to check them out previously was the fact they were on Rise Above Records – nothing wrong with that label, but its doom/retro/stoner output had never been to my taste and I’d mistakenly assumed Grand Magus to be more of the same. More fool me, I suppose, but better late than never!
After a short intro the album the starts proper with the title track Wolf God, the opening stabs highlighting one of the finest floor tom sounds I’ve heard, before settling into their default solid, mid-paced groove. It’s when the voice comes in that you understand what makes Grand Magus leapfrog their peers. JB‘s smooth, earthy tone is a gift from the metal gods, encapsulating the very essence of the genre. Tonally, the closest comparison would be later-period Chris Cornell, and JB makes it appear similarly effortless. And he’s a great guitar player too, the bastard.
I’ll admit the sample of a howling wolf raised a chuckle, but presented here without irony I quickly realised the joke was on me. Of course heavy metal is ridiculous, but viewed without cynicism it’s also the greatest thing in the world.
A Hall Clad In Gold picks up the pace and veers slightly into Dio-esque territory, but it’s Brother of the Storm that has been on repeat play for me and is the highlight of the album. A rousing, chest-beating classic of the type that Manowar wished they could still write (perhaps they could if they weren’t otherwise engaged in extracting every last coin from their fan’s pockets?).
The rest of the album continues at a similar lick, and with only a couple of missteps, The first being Spear Thrower, a song that seems more akin to that era of Maiden that everyone wishes they could sweep under the carpet, and the frankly hokey He Sent them all to Hel which wouldn’t be out of place on an old Thor album.
This isn’t a standout album in their catalogue, but it’s yet another very solid release from a band that is comfortable in their stride and have no good reason to change it. It’s also beautifully produced, especially the drums, the hugeness of which would have given Eric Carr a lazy lob. Some bores would probably try and tell you that Grand Magus are ‘true’ heavy metal, but it’d be difficult to argue against it.
Wolf God is out now.