By now, a considerable chunk of the metal community has listened to Grand Magus, or at least heard of them. The band has become a heavy metal juggernaut from their inception in 1999, standing out as one of the most prominent names of the modern doom metal movement. They have always relied on a blend of heavy metal and classic doom metal, resulting in an interesting sound full of groove and personality, which appealed to a lot of people and made their work respectable and likeable. Being a fan of these guys for about a decade now, I was excited to hear what the Swedish pagans had in store for us in their new adventure, ‘Sword Songs’, as their last entry, ‘Triumph and Power’, was somewhat lackluster and kind of flat compared to their better albums.
As JB Christoffersson, Fox Skinner and Ludwig Witt always had a soft spot for pagan and folk themes, it was no shocker that this new output was going to be similar lyric-wise to almost everything they have created so far, which is not exactly a bad thing. But what about the music itself? Is it good? Is it awesome? Is it a piece of junk (unlikely, but hey, it can happen)?
‘Sword Songs’ is a very, very ‘regular’ album. This is the best adjective I could find to describe it, and being regular can mean that the album is either really good or really bad all the way till the end. Luckily, it’s not bad, but unfortunately is not a masterpiece either. I kept waiting for the album to sweep me off my feet with a glorious riff, master-crafted chorus or a mesmerizing atmosphere, but instead, JB and co. give me a somewhat flat – but solid, nevertheless – album with no ups and downs, and no climax. This rarely happens, as symmetric regularity is almost impossible to achieve, but don’t get me wrong: in this case, it’s actually motive for praise.
While not being a masterpiece like ‘Iron Will’ – or even as good as ‘Monument’ or ‘The Hunt’ – Grand Magus have delivered yet another quality album. It starts with “Freja’s Choice”, a mid-paced tune with cool riffs, double-pedal drumming and an equally cool chorus. “Varangian” takes the mid-paced approach again (used throughout the whole album) but adds a groovy sound to the work. Allied to a sing-along chorus and a good performance by JB, this makes for one of the better songs here, alongside “Hugr” (an instrumental) and “Everyday There’s a Battle to Fight”, which closes the album.
“Forged in Iron – Crowned in Steel”, “Born for Battle (Black Dog of Brocéliande)” and “Master of the Land” combine to keep the album in that regular fashion stated earlier, with some similarities between each other. While not one song actually stands out from the others, they all have their place, each with their own construction and nuances. “Last One to Fall” is the most energetic song of the album, with a constant pounding and groovy atmosphere once again, with special attention to the chorus; simple but powerful. The band members are all at their best here, and every instrument is audible. “Frost and Fire” is the weakest of the bunch though, and although being fun at first, it can quickly be discarded as filler after a few listens you.
So, ‘Sword Songs’ is good; it’s not awesome. What we see here is just a band completely at ease doing their thing. Like I said earlier, this is a regular effort. Professional but hardly passionate, it doesn’t have wonderfully crafted songwriting or a stellar moment, but will keep hardcore fans of the band close and maybe gather a few more for their ranks. It seems sometimes that they are on autopilot, mainly because everything flows easily in their sound, and the production is rather raw. This results in the album’s aforementioned flatness, but is nevertheless a solid and honest output. Even at half-mast, Grand Magus can kick ass.