A common misperception in today’s world of remorseless hot air and pointless bickering is that you must to be a dreary old fart to hold traditional heavy metal in higher esteem than any of its more contemporary offshoots.
Metal has changed, the argument goes, and while old-school bands have their place, you miserable purists need to get out more and get with the shiny, pop-metal programme (and get your hair cut while you’re at it, Methuselah!). And, yes, metal has changed. But it’s also stayed in constant touch with its roots, because that’s how heavy metal works and why there will never be a shortage of bands wanting to keep the spirit of the genre’s formative years alive. And that’s where Sword Songs comes in, riding a mighty, snarling steed and brandishing an assortment of barbaric weaponry.
The eighth Grand Magus album is not so much a celebration of old-school heavy metal values, both musical and lyrical, as a sustained declaration of the genre’s ongoing relevance, virility and importance to the wellbeing of those who subscribe to its ethos. It’s an album full of beautifully crafted and unashamedly bombastic heavy metal anthems that recall the very best of Sabbath, Priest, Manowar and Maiden while still retaining all of the Swedes’ long-established character and unique vibe. JB Christofferson remains one of the finest vocalists in metal. His muscular bellow proves more versatile here than ever before, with shades of Dio and Coverdale in his more melodic moments adding yet more layers of authenticity and charisma. But it’s the ensemble performances that propel the furious likes of opener Freja’s Choice and Varangian (with its laudable refrain of ‘Warriors! Defenders of steel!’) along with such undeniable gusto. In particular, drummer Ludwig Witt exudes the intuitive brilliance of Rainbow legend Cozy Powell, never losing a sense of fluidity and groove, even when Grand Magus are at full pelt on the raging call-to-arms of Last One To Fall.
The two finest songs here seem to magically encapsulate everything that’s great about heavy metal. Forged In Iron, Crowned In Steel is simply an instant classic with a chorus so insanely epic and rousing that you’ll be howling along within seconds, assuming you haven’t already been scared off by the sheer, unapologetic metal-ness of the whole thing. Similarly, the closing Every Day There’s A Battle To Fight echoes the stately thump of Dio-era Sabbath with a dash of power metal pomp thrown in for added oomph. It’s a wonderfully proud and dramatic end to an album that is far too exciting, vital and meticulously crafted to be dismissed as just another amiable nod to the old school.
Grand Magus have never shied away from their influences in the past, but this time it feels like they have stripped metal down to its purest, most concentrated and potent essence. It’s not the music of yesterday. It’s the music of right fucking now and it’s going to make a lot of metalheads very, very happy.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE THE MESSAGE BEHIND THESE SONGS?
“We want to give the listener a feeling of power and strength. This, to me, is the essence of heavy metal.”
WHAT DID YOUR BANDMATES BRING TO THE TABLE?
“Ludwig wrote the chorus for Every Day There’s A Battle To Fight, Fox wrote Hugr, and of course they brought their playing skills and passion.”
WHAT INSPIRED THE OUTRAGEOUS DRUM SOUND?
“We wanted the drums to be really powerful and muscular. We liberated the toms, made the snare explode and set the kick drum free. Roberto Laghi who recorded the drums and mixed the album had a huge part in the end result.”
IS THIS YOUR MOST METAL ALBUM TO DATE?
“Ha ha! I think that is a fair assessment, yes.”