without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Grand Magus are a really great band who have put out consistently average albums. That may sound very strange, but that's exactly how I feel about these Swedes. They are capable of being very exciting when they get it right and yet their recorded material is plagued with the same problem more often than one would like to see - they can't nail their sound for an entire album. I wonder if this perhaps comes as a result of some genre confusion on the band's part, since they have always teetered between traditional heavy metal and doom metal, without fully giving themselves over to either. The conclusion of that indecision is that, for the most part, they play slow heavy metal with a lot of power and emphasis on vocals, though without the aggression and drive that can give rise to the pure excitement of metal at its best.
The same issue dogged the following album, 2012's 'The Hunt', as this one: the faster-paced songs stick out a mile from the slow material and are almost exclusively better. The likes of 'The Lord of Lies' and 'Black Sails' aren't bad by any means, but just stay too relaxed to have much impact. They aren't heavy and crushing enough to satisfy in the same way as doom metal, nor do they have the same foreboding atmosphere, so the pace is really a problem. On the other hand, the bounding likes of 'At Midnight They'll Get Wise' and 'I, the Jury' incite the listener to raise a fist or plunge headfirst into the moshpit, depnding on where they are. These songs don't have better instrumentation or more complex ideas, they simply don't waste any time and sound vital to witness.
Most of the songs here are put together from the same elements, which means that 'Hammer of the North' could be described as a samey album if none of the songs stood out from one another. However, the basic pieces have enough variety to make most of the songs memorable and individually distinct, with a certain degree of catchiness that is arguably the album's greatest strength. The songs generally have a couple of main riffs, most of which can be called to mind very quickly, while JB's vocals are usually a focal point, providing choruses and hooks that you will be lucky to clear from your head for a week or two. On the other hand, those similar elements mean that every song must be catchy to succeed, since there isn't the amount of musical innovation or experimentation to hold attention because of curiosity. All the instruments are played in a classic style and some of the ideas are very simple indeed, such as the stop-start power chord verses in 'Mountains Be My Throne' and 'Bond of Blood'. The rhythms aren't anything special, although there are a few nice bass parts that bolster the one-guitar sound; the riffs are catchy yet simple; the solos are adequate, but nothing to get too excited about. 'Hammer of the North' is a little underwhelming at times.
All that said, we have here a very enjoyable album. It doesn't matter too much that these guys don't want to reinvent the wheel, because there's a reason why people like it and that's often the best reason to do something. Though not very intense, almost every song here is fun and worth a headbang or two, except 'Mountains Be My Throne' and 'Ravens Guide Our Way', which are a little forgettable. When Grand Magus go bounding away on a quicker section, it sounds like dogs playing in the snow due to the freedom and release that those parts offer; then, there are some of the slower sections (usually slower sections in faster songs) that work very well, like the refrain from 'Savage Tales' or the brooding menace of 'The Lord of Lies', which brings the atmosphere more than the other numbers here. My personal favourites are those two, plus the faster songs I mentioned earlier, 'I, the Jury' and 'At Midnight They'll Get Wise'. Ultimately, there's no need to take 'Hammer of the North' too seriously, nor expect too much from it, but it's a worthwhile and positive album of old school metal.
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