Grand Magus - Iron will 4.5/5

Reviewed: 9-5-08


1. Like the oar strikes the water
2. Fear is the key
3. Hovding
4. Iron will
5. Silver into steel
6. The shadow knows
7. self deceiver
8. Beyond good and evil
9. I am the north

Sweden's Grand Magus have heretofore been an unknown quantity to me. Although my affinity for classic doom a la Solitude Aeturnus, Candlemass and Trouble knows no limits, that favorable predisposition has never spilled over into stoner rock, aside from a short-lived weakness for The Obsessed in the mid-90s. While I was dimly aware of Grand Magus's 3 previous CDs released between 2001 and 2005, I had never purchased any of them because I'd summarily dismissed them as the output of a stoner band. Shallow and superficial on my part? Absolutely, but in a world where we find ourselves awash with high-quality steel, arbitrary distinctions must be made at times, and Grand Magus were a casualty of that expedient reasoning process. Until now. So glowing has been the press for this power trio's 4th CD, 'Iron will', that I finally snagged a copy so I could hear for myself whether Grand Magus really are the saviors of heavy metal in anno 2008.

Just to clear the air from the outset, it would be a grave error to categorize 'Iron will' as stoner rock. Nosirree, Bob, this is earthshaking, tooth-rattling, bonecrushing metal from the old school. Imagine bulldozing guitar riffs that could have been written by Tony Iommi or Leif Edling at their most inspired, circa 'Dehumanizer' for the former and 'Nightfall' for the latter. Or even think Manowar riffage circa 'Into glory ride' and you'll be in the ballpark. Imagine a sledgehammer rhythm section that propels the songs forward with relentless intensity, hypnotically pulverizing everything in its path. Imagine a vocalist who sounds like no one and compensates for his limited range by pouring his heart into every syllable with the kind of emotionally charged delivery that one expects from a Tony Martin or a Johnny Gioeli (not that JB's voice sounds like either of these guys, but he emotes like they do). Most importantly, imagine superlative songs that are intensely memorable, catchy, and heavy slabs of no-frills traditional heavy metal, consistently punchy and straightforward, with a knack for never overstaying their welcome. There are no needlessly drawn-out epic parts, boring noodly parts or faux-epic symphonic bits, just highlight after highlight packaged in compact, stripped-down songs.

The band's philosophy seems to be as follows: Fuse a killer riff to a monster groove and a catchy chorus, and ride it for 3-4 minutes. This strategy works flawlessly. It's no lie and no exaggeration to say that 6 tracks on 'Iron will' are bona fide classics, with at least 3 of them being legitimate song-of-the-year candidates. "Like the oar strikes the water" is a head-turning opener, fueled by an amazing vocal performance from JB, several guitar parts that are simply divine, and an uptempo instrumental section in the middle that is guaranteed to send you to your friendly neighborhood chiropractor, all in the span of a 3-minute song. "Silver into steel" is a slow lumbering elephant of a song with another top-shelf riff and a doomy, marching-off-to-war type of chorus that might be at home on a Battleroar CD. And don't even get me started on "The shadow knows", which is pure genius, as the uptempo "Prowler"-type riff gives way to a bludgeoningly heavy chorus riff of the Iommi school, with JB bellowing every word like his life depends on it. Beware: "The shadow knows" will own your soul. Don't say I didn't warn you.

'Iron will' is such a consistently brilliant CD that I am hard-pressed to find fault with it. Track 7, "Self deceiver", isn't quite of the same quality level as the other songs, and perhaps gets a bit too doomy for its own good. And the 36-minute running time (plus a few minutes of dead air before a short ending crescendo) is too damn skimpy, virtually assuring that the listener will be left hyperventilating, frothing at the mouth, and begging for more when the thing fades to a close. But Grand Magus have delivered a triumphant CD. 'Iron will' is proof positive that hand-crafted, organic, old-school doomy heavy metal delivered from the heart can sound fresh and exciting in 2008. Believe the hype on this one, folks, because Grand Magus deserve every word of it.




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