Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Grand Magus' 'Triumph and Power' - Album Review

Swedish heavy metal band Grand Magus have been working tirelessly since forming in 1996 and have cemented their reputation as an excellent live act. Starting out with a more bluesy, doom influenced, sound they have moved down a more traditional heavy metal path on their last couple of albums: 2010's Hammer of the North and 2012's The Hunt. I love these two albums but I have not heard much of their material that came before them but you can be assured that I will investigate the rest of their albums as soon as possible. Triumph and Power is their seventh studio album and builds on the sound the band created on their last couple of albums. This a traditional metal record clearly influenced by early Rainbow and Judas Priest. For a three piece, Grand Magus make a lot of noise. Founding members Janne 'JB' Christoffersson on vocals and guitar (fresh from his contribution on last year's well-received Ayreon album The Theory of Everything) and Fox Skinner on bass have an excellent chemistry and drummer Ludwig Witt keeps it simple and powerful to bring the whole sound together. This is an album that will appeal to a lot of metal fans. It has enough melody and hooks to appeal to people who like classic and traditional metal but is not cheesy or overly polished so it will not alienate those who are more into doom or metal that is just a little heavier overall. There are plenty of sing-a-long choruses to be found here, but they never feel forced or trite. It is not the most original album but it is honest, powerful and extremely memorable. The riffs will stick with you and the choruses will make you wish you were at one of their concerts singing it at the top of your voice with a bunch of other metalheads. The album's production is also very good and Nico Elgstrand has done an excellent job getting the band's sound just right. It is raw but very tight, which is quite a hard sound to nail. Having an album that sounds too raw often sounds messy, but polishing up Grand Magus' sound would ruin the power and simplicity of the music. The drums in particular sound excellent. In a world of overly produced drums and triggers, these sound like the real deal. They are deep and booming and feel live. This is how drums should sound on this sort of traditional metal album and they have gotten it right here.

The album opens with the excellent On Hooves of Gold which is likely to work really well as a set-opener live. Sounds of rain, thunder and a galloping horse are the first things you here before some delicate, slow clean guitar and a tormented choir come in over the storm. The song slowly builds up and becomes a solid mid-paced rocker with plenty of rumbling bass and JB's deep, booming vocals carrying the melodies. The chorus is a real fist-pumping affair with simple lyrics that will go down a storm live. The guitar playing in Grand Magus is never flashy but JB's solos are always enjoyable and melodic. Steel Verses Steel is another really good song. The riff is really memorable and is probably the best on the album overall. The chugging verse is cliché but satisfying and at just the right pace to be able to headbang comfortably to. The chorus is very strong too. Songs about battles are quite commonplace for Grand Magus but the fans know that going in and will lap up powerful songs like this. The guitar solo is short but right out of the top drawer of traditional bluesy metal soloing. Fight follows but does not quite pack the same punch as the first two songs. It is a faster tune that is enjoyable but the melodies do not quite stick as well as the others. Skinner's bass sounds ridiculously big on this song. The thing about being a three piece is that the bass must also play the part of rhythm guitar and fill all the space left by the sole lead guitar. Skinner manages that well and his bass playing is an integral part of what makes Grand Magus sound so big. This song does have the best and longest guitar solo of the album so far though and the chorus is still pretty catchy. The title track is probably my favourite song on the album. The big riff sounds really dirty, almost like something you would expect to hear on Black Sabbath's Dehumanizer album, and the stripped back verses where Skinner's bass guitar dominates are in stark contrast to the really epic chorus. What a chorus it is! I defy anyone to listen to it and not feel the need to sing it stupidly loudly! The key change in the final chorus is also awesome. JB is not a singer with a massive range but he still manages to pull it off without sounding strained. Dominator is another solid metal song with a chugging riff and pretty predictable lyrics. It steams along at a good pace but it not up to the quality of the excellent song that came before it.

After a short bluesy acoustic instrumental Arv, we are treated to the heavy Holmgång. The choir from the first song returns (which just sounds like JB's voice layered opon itself many times). The guitars are really scratchy here which really helps with the overall mood of the song. The chorus is, again, massive and features some cool melodies and vocal phrasing to create something very catchy and aggressive. The Naked and the Dead is another excellent number. Driven by a simple, pounding beat from Witt, the guitar riffs are choppy and heavy. The chorus really sounds like something Ronnie James Dio might have come up with and is another one full of melody and big hooks. After another short instrumental Ymer, which is very similar to Arv, we get to the album's closing number The Hammer Will Bite. Some really nice clean guitar heralds the song's beginning before morphing into a heavy, plodding song that is the perfect end to the album. JB's voice really soars throughout this song. I really like the doomy section about two thirds of the way through where acoustic guitar cuts through the sludgy electric guitars and JB uses the lowest register of his voice to sound really menacing before letting rip with a short guitar solo. The last section of the song is an instrumental with some really melodic and hypnotic clean guitars that slowly fade out, bringing the album to a very melancholic close. It might seem like an odd way to end a metal album, but it brings the album full circle as it slightly echoes the introduction to On Hooves of Gold and the two small instrumental passages. At first, those two little pieces may seem pointless but they fit in with the overall theme of the album and give you a break from all the pounding metal as there are no ballads or slower tracks to really break up the pace. The fact that the sound occationally reduces back to a basic acoustic guitar line gives the album a certain flow and consistency that is welcome and interesting. Overall, this is another solid album from the Swedes that will please many a self-respecting metalhead. Sure, we might have heard it all before and this is not anything terribly original, but it's immensely satisfying and is sure to down to an absolute storm live!

The album was released on 3rd February 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Triumph and Power.

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