The name Grand Magus is a name that is surely familiar upon the lips of anyone who has bowed low at the altar of metal over recent years thanks to the band having released a seemingly perfect run of albums which began with 2008’s ‘Iron Will’ via 2012’s astonishing ‘the hunt’ and continuing with the quite excellent, and aptly titled ‘triumph and power’. Now comfortably at home on Nuclear Blast, Triumph and power’, the band’s second album for the label, sounds every bit as imbued with pagan mysticism and warrior spirit as the warlord depicted on Anthony Roberts’ beautifully designed cover and over ten tracks (eleven if you buy the limited edition CD or vinyl versions) the band demonstrate once again quite why they have become one of the most revered names in metal. Pressed on a beautiful, 180gm platter on virgin black vinyl, the limited edition LP makes full use of the excellent artwork, whilst Nuclear blast once again demonstrate their mastery when it comes to pressing records, as the disc is whisper quiet with very few pops and a wonderfully full dynamic range. As an added bonus you even get a sizable poster of the artwork, and there is no question that vinyl is the way to truly appreciate ‘triumph and power’.
What is it that makes Grand Magus so special? There is no one obvious factor but rather a perfect storm of elements coming together to form what can only be described as the perfect metal band. From JB’s amazing vocal prowess, which here seems honed to a point so fine it could pierce the strongest of armour, via the rampant riffs, to the song writing, which seems entirely immersed in the classic spirit that saw Dio write ‘Holy Diver’ or ‘Tony Iommi unleash the riff to ‘paranoid’; there’s simply a timeless quality inherent in the band’s compositions that is utterly irresistible. Making the case for the latter claim is the remarkable opening track ‘on hooves of gold’. Delivering on that patented Magus groove, JB unleashes possibly one of his greatest vocals yet whilst Fox provides plenty of depth with his equally impassioned backing vocals. A ride as wild as the song title suggests, this is classic metal delivered with a clear-eyed passion and denim-clad love of the genre that i8s utterly infectious. ‘Steel versus steel’ is a faster paced song that, weirdly, shares a good deal of its melody with Freddy Mercury’s ‘living on my own’ (seriously – sing the verse over the hard driving riff and you’ll find it marries up with remarkable consistency)! It’s a song that captures the road warrior spirit of the band with its chugging riff and blazing solos and it gives JB an even greater opportunity to give his not inconsiderable pipes a workout. Rather more doom laden is ‘fight’ , a song that initially sits somewhere between Metallica’s ‘for whom the bell tolls’ and Sabbath’s ‘Iron man’ in terms of primal heaviness, before charging into heavier pastures as JBs molten riffs take flight over Ludig’s powerhouse drumming. The album’s title track’ features a rather more downbeat vocal approach than you might typically expect with JB sounding like a demonic cross between Dave Wyndorff and Nick Cave over Fox’s throbbing bass line, whilst the chorus harks back to the days of massed ranks of Vikings sitting in beer-soaked halls, chanting raucous toasts out under flickering candlelight. ‘Dominator’ gives you the sort of raging adrenalin that listeners must have felt when Sabbath unleashed their unholy sound upon the masses for the first time, as it cruises on a riff that can only be described as the pure sound of metal. The LP rounds out side one with ‘arv’, a short instrumental, that perfectly draws the side to a close with its gentle acoustic plucking and folky percussion.
Side two of the LP opens with the eerie massed vocals of ‘Holmgang’, an epic song that moves from its richly textured beginnings to a full on metal groove that swings with all the might of Thor’s hammer. It’s a highlight of this excellent album and it will undoubtedly slay in the live arena. ‘The naked and the dead’ is a fast-paced blast of heavy metal magic which ends with the oddly eerie sentiment “while the blood seeps on the ground, only the chosen will rise”. Taking a moment to take stock is the oddly beautiful ‘ymer’, an instrumental that pits martial drums against layers of unconventional instrumentation in a manner that is strangely affecting. The final track of the album (for those without the bonus track), the hammer will bite’, is also the longest. At over seven minutes in length it’s a true epic that brings the curtain down on this stunning record in style with its hard-driving riff perfectly underpinning JBs memorably melodic vocals which are delivered with such vim and vigour that it is surely possible to argue that JB is one of the finest vocalists currently treading the boards in metal. A remarkable work, ‘the hammer will bite’ draws the line between epic metal and progressive rock with its lush soundscapes and uncompromising riffs and it is one of the finest songs Grand Magus have ever recorded. For those with the special edition of the album, a final track appears in the form of the Deep Purple worshipping ‘blackmoon’ and it’s a short, blinding blast of pure rock ecstasy, making the extra expense of the special edition more than worthwhile.
Grand Magus are one of those bands who seem to go from strength to strength. Guided not by corporate concerns, but by a fervent self-belief that underscores the fact that JB, Fox and Ludwig are heavy metal fans first and foremost, what makes Grand Magus so special is not just their remarkable skills and musicianship, but also the fact that they blur the line between fan and artist. With their wild-eyed joy in making music and their patched denim jackets, Grand Magus understand the burning passion of the metal fan because it burns brightly in them too, and as such their records speak to the very spirit of the committed metal fan. Best heard on LP, this is a near-perfect pressing of a near-perfect album and it provides a potent reminder of Grand Magus’ understated genius.