File this under Great Lost Albums. Grand Magus is a Swedish power trio that sounds like a four- or even a five-piece band; their music combines the heaviness of biker doom acts like The Gates of Slumber and The Obsessed with the anthemic riffs and powerful vocals of late ’70s Judas Priest, and it will crush you like an avalanche. This disc, their fifth in a decade-long career, is their first for Roadrunner Records after four albums on Rise Above, and I’m no indier-than-thou snob, but I can’t call it a good move, given that Roadrunner has seemingly chosen not to release it in the U.S.. The band’s not even listed on Roadrunner’s artists page.
Grand Magus’s 2001 self-titled debut was a bass-heavy, psychedelic throb session that barely hinted at their true talents. Its songs were sludgy stoner boogie, okay if you’ve got a real taste for that stuff, but generally speaking, all it revealed was the power of singer/guitarist Janne Christoffersson, whose voice fell somewhere between Down‘s Phil Anselmo and Soundgarden‘s Chris Cornell. The follow-up, 2003’s Monument, was more of the same, but the songwriting seemed to be improving a little, and the mix was clearer, allowing guitar and bass to wander hither and yon in the darkness before coming together again to wham it all home. The psychedelic guitar work on the album’s most aggressive track, “Food of the Gods,” makes it a definite highlight.
Things changed—a lot—on 2005’s Wolf’s Return. The band abandoned their stoner-doom beginnings and kicked off this disc with the crushing, classically metal “Kingslayer.” This track, almost reminiscent of early Manowar in its head-down, full-speed-ahead power, set the pace for an aggressive album, broken up by three short interludes and a couple of slower songs (the two-part title track, “Ashes”). Grand Magus’s 2008 release, Iron Will, was even faster, a warlike album bridging the gap between latter-day Manowar and High On Fire. It’s a hard, chest-beating album with some really great, headbanging riffs (“The Shadow Knows”) and two absolute crushers (“Beyond Good and Evil” and “I Am the North”) closing it out.
Hammer of the North opens with “I, the Jury,” a fast-paced, almost Motörhead-like anthem on which Christoffersson’s voice sounds uncannily like that of Rob Halford (admittedly, Halford operating in the middle of his range). As the disc progresses, pounding rockers like “Bond of Blood,” “Mountains Be My Throne” and “At Midnight They’ll Get Wise” (the video for which can be seen below, along with the video for the title track) alternate with slower, doomier tracks like “Black Sails,” “The Lord of Lies” and the closing “Ravens Guide Our Way.” The label’s money was clearly well spent, as this is Grand Magus’s best-sounding album ever; the production gives every chord and drumbeat an epic power. The performances measure up to the mix, too—the songs are some of the best the band has ever written. Roadrunner is making a big mistake not releasing this in the U.S.
Here’s the video for “At Midnight They’ll Get Wise”:
And here’s the video for “Hammer of the North”: