Hammer Of The North
21 June 2010
by Tom Dare
On first glance, Grand Magus’ recent move to Roadrunner might raise an eyebrow or two. Yet within 20 seconds of their first release under that powerhouse label’s banner, you immediately realise why the home of Trivium, Killswitch Engage et al wanted them. By the end of Hammer Of The North, it is likewise clear why they wanted to be there. Although they may not necessarily fall into the stylistic brackets you might normally equate with one of the world’s biggest metal labels, one listen to this reminds you of the strength and breadth of their appeal, and how they have they could be so much bigger, given the right backing.
While Sweden is generally regarded as fertile territory when it comes to producing top-class metal bands, Grand Magus are perhaps not the first name that springs to mind when that country is mentioned. This is probably because they are not so heavy as to leave your ears bleeding and the neighbours ringing the council to complain. Despite releasing four previous albums over the last decade – and despite these records varying from the good to the great – they have not quite achieved the success and popularity their ability deserves. The label switch may be what they need.
Right from opener ‘I, The Jury’ it is clear that this switch has not led to any major changes- this is still very much Grand Magus. Firmly rooted in the classic metal bands, the emphasis is very clearly on songwriting. Hammer Of The North is more than just a collection of riffs and vocal hooks- every song is memorable as an entity. The obvious single-in-waiting ‘Mountains Be My Throne’ could almost serve as a microcosm for the album as a whole- memorable, chugging riff gives way to a swaggering verse, varying the intensity but not letting any of the component parts dip in quality, before the balls-filled yet sing-a-long chorus completes the piece. The individual elements are all great, but the compound they form is stronger still.
The emphasis on song-writing is a significant part of Grand Magus’ appeal, not only in terms of quality but stylistically. While much of mainstream metal has dipped into the extreme territories, the song – the kind you can actually sing – has somewhat faded in popularity. While plenty of people join in with the chorus of Killswitch Engage’s ‘My Last Serenade’, most leave Howard Jones to scream the verses. Not so with Magus’ frontman JB, whose soulful baritone is as committed yet catchy as ever. Whether it be the obviously Judas Priest-influenced opener, the slightly ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’-esque title track or the rapid Motörhead attack of ‘Northern Star’, there is always something to sing back when Magus next come to town.
Obviously, a bigger label brings slightly higher production values. Hammer… is slightly cleaner in sound than previous outing Iron Will, but this arguably serves the music better, giving the individual elements of the songs a little room to breath and balancing them nicely. Anyway, Grand Magus may be labelmates with Nickelback, but JB wears Bathory t-shirts, Venom pendants and lots of leather – he is very fucking metal, and so is his band.
Watch the video to ‘Hammer Of The North’ by Grand Magus:
Grand Magus have, once again, delivered a record full of songs to satisfy a broad spectrum of rock fans. Whether you want fat riffs, big sing-a-long vocal lines or simply something that makes you want to bang your head, Magus have it. Varying the tempo nicely and with a total absence of filler, Hammer Of The North is the kind of record that makes you wish the band had been booked for a summer festival – you want to see these songs in a sunny field with some mates and beers, and you want to do so now. If Grand Magus have the ambition to match their new label, this is a great way to start off the partnership.
Sounds like: Black Sabbath, Kyuss, Judas Priest
Top tracks: I, The Jury, Mountains Be My Throne, Bond Of Blood
Grand Magus – Hammer Of The North tracklisting:
I, The Jury
Hammer Of The North
Mountains Be My Throne
The Lord Of Lies
At Midnight They’ll Get Wise
Bond Of Blood
Ravens Guide Our Way