It’s 2016, and it’s time for pure metal warriors Grand Magus to sweep down from the frozen Northlands and lay waste to all before them with their latest offering, the appropriately named ‘Sword Songs’, an album of nine tracks dedicated to the mighty mythology of their Norse homelands, each being a tale of warriors, demigods, invasion and glorious battle.
‘Freja’s Choice’ opens the album in classic Grand Magus fashion, NWOBHM riffs on top of Foxy’s thundering bass and Ludwig’s drum battering setting the mood before JB adds his own clean, soaring vocals, all the elements coming together with the punch of a fist wrapped in a studded leather glove, the early doomy elements of the band consigned to the past and replaced with a metal pomp like that of early Iron Maiden, delivered without the flabby self indulgence that now seems to permeate the work of those classic titans of the genre. The pure Viking theme continues is ‘Vagarian’, a song that pays homage to its spiritual ancestor in the form of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ with its theme of seafaring marauders sweeping all before them. ‘Forged In Iron – Crown of Steel’ briefly lowers the pace with a gentle acoustic opening that is washed away in a sea of unashamed bombast, the “Viking Metal” refrain of the chorus guaranteed to have pumped up audiences chanting at the top of their collective lungs, the number tailor made to whip up fans into a frenzy. Yes, if you thought that Amon Amarth had the sole right to the title of Viking, you’d be wrong, and the ability to write an irresistible hook is one that Grand Magus has always managed to exploit, the likes of ‘Iron Will’ being a mainstay of their live set, and this is surely a worthy successor. Yes, some may say it’s cheesy, but not all metal is meant to be shoe gazing introspection, and Grand Magus revel in music that energises and entertains.
‘Born For Battle (Black Dog of Brocéliande)’ continues the unstoppable assault on the neck muscles of all who hear it, grabbing the throat of the listener and shaking it to the chugging beat of the song, the same hammering continuing unabated in ‘Master of the Land’, until the bleak near country tones of stripped back instrumental ‘Hugr’ becomes a welcome rest before the album closes with ‘Every Day There’s A Battle To Fight’, the opening refrain of which had me fully expecting Biff Byford’s vocals to come rushing out after opening bars, such was the classic Saxon sound.
Having looked at this review, it has surprised me just how short it is, as being a long time fan of Grand Magus, having seen them at all manner of shows from lowly support slots to festival main stages, I thought I’d be likely rambling on and on as I waxed lyrical about ‘Sword Songs’. However, the brevity of the review pretty much matches that of the album which comes in at barely over half an hour on the standard edition. That’s not to say it lacks quality in any way, it was just a surprise. That said, the special edition I have on pre-order (yep, us reviewers do spend our own money), has another two tracks listed, so I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see me revisiting this review and upping the score if they are of the same quality.