It is probably hard to measure, but it seems that the mighty Grand Magus go further back into hard rock and heavy metal’s past with each and every release, so much so that opening track ‘starlight slaughter’ from forthcoming album ‘the hunt’ could just as easily slot into a Deep Purple release as an album released in 2012 and it sounds, not unsurprisingly, fantastic. Like Rival Sons, Grand Magus have pulled off the grand trick of stepping back into the classic age of music whilst still managing to sound fresh and invigorating and as the riffs of ‘the hunt’ pile up and JB’s vocals flow out in a haze of sweet-smelling smoke it’s clear that the band have once again come up with a monster.
As referenced above the very first thought as ‘starlight slaughter’ rings out is of Deep Purple, the opening riff backed up by bluesy bass before morphing into a hard-driving number that conjures images of an open-top Cadillac cruising across huge sections of Arizona’s scorching desert sands with nothing but beer and a guitar for company. It’s a song that has a beautifully simplistic chorus that just cries out for an audience to sing along to it, and a gloriously analogue feel that stands apart from the many pro-tooled, auto-tuned identikit bands that clog up the racks today. It’s a song, and a record, made for vinyl’s warm crackle and encased in the atmosphere of a long-gone decade that is kept alive in the hearts and souls of these fine musicians via the nine songs that comprise ‘the hunt’. ‘Sword of the ocean’ is a heavier beast – a chrome-plated, fuel-guzzling monster that has takes a thuggish chugging riff and fleshes it out with JB’s soulful vocals and a gloriously laid-back solo to great effect. ‘Valhalla rising’ has the quietest of openings before a seriously heavy riff scratches over the top for one of the records stand-out highlights – a brutal cross between Black Sabbath’s heaviest efforts, Deep Purple’s blues-laden soul and Led Zeppelin’s mysticism all wrapped up in a devastating production that has the guitar apparently tearing up the very centre of your room whilst you listen. This is traditional metal at its very finest and JB’s voice is simply the icing on the cake – a voice that drips with soul and conviction, he is one of metal’s great vocalists and his performance here is one to treasure indeed. Faster paced, but rather less oppressive ‘storm king’ boasts a stunning central solo not to mention a blinding opening riff and thunderous drum performance courtesy of new boy Ludwig Witt whose devastating percussive skills are perfectly complemented by Fox’s gloriously rich bass work.
‘Silver moon’ has a great riff backed up by another fine vocal performance for a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ album with its fast paced riff and bluesy solo, whilst the echoing drums of the bridge are just made for fists pumping the air in unison. The title track appears next with a stunning acoustic intro that soon builds into a fiery blast of molten riffs and epic story-telling with a painfully memorable chorus. After the false flag intro of ‘the hunt’, the band genuinely slow the pace for a truly stunning folk-tale in the form of ‘son of the last breath’ which is part David Gilmour, part Led Zeppelin III part traditional folk lore. It’s a beautiful work that shows the band are unafraid to take risks with their sound, and it pays off handsomely with ‘son of the last breath’ proving to be the album’s epic highlight, especially as hard rock returns in the latter stages of the song with a searing vengeance, made all the heavier by the pastoral elegance that flowed before it. A staggering sonic achievement, there is no easy way to follow such a track and thus Grand Magus opt for almost the polar opposite for the ferocious blast of’ Iron Hand’ which recalls the punkish, bullish energy of Paul Di’Anno-era Maiden with its hard-edged vocals and iron-clad riffs. Final track ‘Draksadd’ bizarrely is the most modern-sounding track here, recalling Monster Magnet’s grand stoner rock with its chugging riffs and taut vocal harmonies.
At fourty-four minutes, ‘the hunt’ is a perfectly condensed traditionally styled metal album with all the attitude and power that you can expect from a Grand Magus release. With no track outstaying its welcome and no weak link at all across the nine tracks on offer here, this is pure, elemental heavy metal played by a band who just keep getting better. JB’s voice is a thing of wonder – gritty and yet tuneful, he is the heart and soul of the band, Fox and Ludwig his mystical armour, repelling all comers and laying down an almighty groove in the process. For all that Grand Magus have achieved in the past, this is a monumental achievement and one that highlights just how outstanding JB and his motley crew truly are. ‘The Hunt’ is indisputably a hard rock masterpiece.