A long time ago, Swedish three-piece Grand Magus were primarily a doomy stoner band. In the years since their 2001 self-titled début, an increasingly large proportion of their sound has been dedicated to bombastic heavy metal. With the release of their eighth album, Sword Songs [Nuclear Blast], the transformation is basically complete.
Magus can still write a chunky riff, the solos still invoke the best kind of air guitar and JB’s vocals still have a Dio-esque quality about them, but there’s a worrying sense that every new album is case of diminishing returns. The songs aren’t bad; far from it, but it’s lacking the heaviness or the spark that made some of their previous work so enjoyable.
There are occasionally occasional great moments; opener ‘Feja’s Choice’ is classic Magus; thick slabs of doom combined with wailing choruses and a heavy dose of guitar solos. The latter half of ‘Last One to Fall’ is heavy with a tinge of Iron Maiden running through it, ‘Born for Battle (Black Dog of Brocéliande)’ mixes a rocking stomp with another epic sing along chorus, while closer ‘Every Day a Battle to Fight’ is probably the album highlight; a mid-paced belter that shows off the best of what the band can do.
But there’s plenty of forgettable or just plain naff moments. Lead single ‘Varangian’ is a perfectly passable sing along number that will no doubt get the fists pumping live, but there’s a definitive aura of cheesy heavy metal about it. ‘Forged in Iron – Crowned in Steel’s chant of “Viking Metal” is probably the worst example of over-egging the Viking aesthetic. It just doesn’t sound like their hearts are in it a lot of the time.
Sword Songs feels like an album to drink mead and sing along to. But as fun as it is, there’s a real lack of memorable songs, the Vikings and war shtick is overplayed, and ultimately it’s definite step down from some of the band’s past glories. Go listen to Iron Will instead.
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