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  GRAND MAGUS
'Wolf's Return' and 'Iron Will'
(Metal Blade Records/Rise Above Records)


Phil Kane

phil kane

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At the bar down here in the hole we do love our blues slide and country picking. Fuck, even The Mumfords and Cash get the occasional look in.

Yet there comes a time when things get a bit bluesed out and the yearning for a dose of top quality full bore Metal becomes a screaming need. Well here's a sure fired, steel coated, hollow pointed fix provided by this trio of very rowdy, cool as fuck Swedes. Oh yes indeedee!

'Wolf's Return' is a re-release of the band's third album and at the time marking the first transitional steps from the doom of their first two albums to full on screaming Heavy Metal. In spreading their wings the band seems to have been written off by a lot of doom merchants who at the time of its original release in 2005 expected 'Wolf's Return' to carry on where 'Grand Magus' and 'Momentum' left off.

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These critics were wrong. Rather than taking a step away from the doom thing, the band kept its roots and threw in a whopping big dollop of Metal instead. Grand Magus had taken a step forward and allowed its sound to evolve into something that really had some fucking kick to it.

An album that is based on the old Scandinavian myths and tales, it has to be said that the band's roots remain there for all to see and ironically it's during these slower doomier moments that 'Wolf's Return' comes close to falling flat on its arse, epitomised by the slug slow 'Hamnd' (that's Swede for vengeance to you guv). With the possible exception of the bluesy stomp of 'Ashes' you get the feeling that the album has been kept too tight on its leash though Janne 'JB' Christoffersson vocals are pure Metal, being remarkably Halfordesque at times.

Yet it is on the very odd occasion when the momentum picks up that things start to get real interesting. Opener 'Kingslayer' kicks off the album as if Hel herself has a yearning for its dick and must have been like a poke in the eye with a blunt fork to the doomers when they first heard it and the jittery, drum driven chug of 'Repay In Kind' must have been like a bolt of lightning to the bollocks.

The title track is a mid paced wrecking ball of a song, as is 'Blood Oath' and 'Ashes' chugs along even daring to throw in a mandolin (or lute) to give the song that bit of extra depth. The medieval strum of 'Jarnbord', track six, shows up slap bang in the middle of the album as if to signal some sort of turning point but I cannot figure out what that turning point would actually be.

There is a peppering of short instrumental tracks, ranging from folk to super heavy dirge and with none of the tracks lasting more than five and a half minutes, the doomers were on a losing wicket when this emerged.

'Wolf's Return' signalled the point where Grand Magus decided to spread its wings a bit and sample the delights of Metal's broader church. It is bitty, hesitant even, like a child dipping his finger in the sugar bowl for the first time and though the kid knows he'll get bollocked if caught, the rewards are oh so good.

So a transitional album then, and one that wears its yearning for change, as well as its roots, on its sleeve. What 'Wolf's Return' did was exorcise any doubts ready for the next album and what an album that would turn out to be...

If 'Wolf's Return' was like a poke in the eye with a blunt fork for the doomers, 2008s 'Iron Will' must have been like the final, merciful bullet to the head. With 'Iron Will' the band had pretty much left the doom thing way behind and grasped the full on Metal nettle with both hands.

By no means original, this sort of Metal is more about how it's done rather than what it does. On 'Iron Will', Grand Magus not only keep it simple, they keep it simple with style. Whilst giving their doom past just a smidge of room the Metal here is of the more traditional sort. It's not as polished as say the Germans, nor as catchy, but it still possesses the grunt to drive a fleet of long ships to foreign shores; loud enough to not only bother the neighbours, it'll bother the whole damn neighbourhood.

The album's killer tracks have to be the title track, 'Fear Is the Key', 'Like The Oar Strikes The Water' and 'The Shadow Knows'. Great slabs of Priest informed Metal that has been forged in the great halls of Valhalla. There's a hidden, rather redundant track at the end which could've made way for another proper tune but hey, y'all can't have everything.

Neither of these re-releases would have won the Nobel prize for innovation in Metal and they definitely were not likely to get a mention in the N.M.E. at any time but for straight down yer throat, honest to goodness Viking Heavy Metal, these two albums are difficult to beat.

As far as I can see neither of these rereleases have been tampered with. No add ons, no added value of any kind. Just wysiwyg reissues without even a particularly excited fanfare of any kind which is quite fitting in view of the music on offer here.

I fully commend these two reissues to you all and as you lend each your ear may your ships never sink and yer flagons never empty. Wassail!

30.7.12


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