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This album is a curious mix of biker rock, doom and modern metal. The opening lines of “I, The Jury” set a mid-tempo pace that seems to carry through the majority of the album, with a “chugging” low-E riff that returns from time to time. The majority of the riffs throughout the album rely heavily on sustained chords - nothing new, but it really works in creating catchy songs. The album bears a strong resemblance in this sense to Hail to England-era Manowar, albeit a trifle slower. To add to that, the bass guitar is nicely-present in the mix, and there are even a few moments (in “Mountains be my Throne”, for instance) where a bass lick overpowers the guitar riffs.
The album doesn't particularly push any boundaries, but it doesn't need to. I have no real comments to make about the singer, guitarist(s), or drummer. They all play solidly, there are few guitar solos, and those few are the most part an extension of a vocal line, melody, or some such. A notable exception is that in “At Midnight They'll Get Wise” - strong prog-rock/NWOBHM feel and a competent, unpretentious solo. The singer bears a small resemblance to Messiah from Candlemass, complete with those little vibrato touches, which are used a little more sparingly than Messiah's. The production, unlike the majority of big-label metal, is crystal clear yet not overly-produced; the album's overall production sounds a lot like Edguy's Rocket Ride, although that may be coincidence. This album's ability to combine “old-school” (i hate that term, but hey) songs with modern recording techniques ideally make it accessible to fans of both NWOBHM and ....Rhapsody? And as an added bonus, I think the cover art is a Necrolord piece.
Overall, however, the album does suffer a little in its “samey” sound. Each song follows the exact same formula, and while it's a good one, I can't see it holding everyone's attention. I haven't heard any of their earlier works (although I know they are fairly well-regarded among the “true metal” crowd) so I can't compare this album to the band's “signature” sound, but this, in my opinion, would ideally be a one-album affair; by the end of Hammer of the North you'll feel that this particular path is explored sufficiently. Another album along the same lines would most likely fall flat. But as it stands, this album is great in its simplicity and catchiness - to really sum up my feelings, I would say this is what I like to hear just after midday at a music festival, while those first few beers in the sun wash away the hangover.
Grand Magus is one of those bands you have heard, but have probably put off listening to for a while for some unknown reason. For me, I didn't really look into these guys till late '08, when I went on my doom and heavy metal rampage. These guys were perfect for that time too because it was like an ungodly love child of the two genres. I think the first album I ever got was the 2008 release, Iron Will, which to this day, alongside the self titled release, is my favorite of theirs.
Hammer of the North is the newest addition to Grand Magus' discography. I noted the exact date on my calendar, because I was all hyped at the fact that a good band was putting out a record. I've noticed that since the 80's and maybe the early 90's, not many good releases have come from the heavy metal genre. Maybe Improper Burial (Holy Grail, 2009) or Master of the Moon (Ronnie James Dio - RIP, 2004), but not many, so this band has sparked my interests heavily. I can't believe that a post NWOBHM band is so good, yet so influenced by sabbath and other doom bands.
This record was unlike any other that they have released. This one was strictly heavy metal and even on the verge of power metal sometimes. The album starts ferociously with a great heavy guitar riff that chuggs its way into a poly-tempo drum beat. I think this song was the strongest on the album, but it had the weirdest name out of all the songs - The Jury. For me the album seemed to focus solely on the fact that their singer is a beast and can carry a tune and make it seem easy and their guitarist's skill level being far above average.
For me, the guitars were perfect for heavy metal. The drums probably needed more double bass in them, but the guitars were flawless. Often this album seemed almost like Orange Goblin, but at the same time it hit sounds that Judas Priest or Iron Maiden would play. I loved that aspect more than anything else in the release.
This release is up there in the top albums of this year for me. Hell, after Ihsahn and Lantlos, it's probably my pick of the year. Give this album a listen and you wont regret it.
Highlights: The Jury, Hammer of the North, Mountains be my Throne, At Midnight They'll Get Wise, Bond of Blood