Swedish trio Grand Magus treads similar lyrical territory that metal knows and loves. Hell, they tread similar musical territory, as well. But what’s not to love? Vikings are, put simply, fascinating and powerful historical figures with compelling victories and rich beliefs. And classic heavy metal is driving and operatic. Sometimes bands need not reinvent the wheel to do something well: they just need to weave their dramatic flairs throughout.
Grand Magus does this masterfully. Alongside their love of traditional heavy metal, they weave doom and neo-folk, and the result is always consistent. On their upcoming seventh full-length, Triumph and Power, they’ve dialled down the Rainbow worship and upped the Viking history influence. The result is excellent, as per usual.
“There is a very strong Norse framework for the album, but not specifically focusing on history. It’s more an outlook that I use also to comment on what’s going on in society and the world today,” writes guitarist and vocalist Janne “JB” Christoffersson, who caught up with BeatRoute via email from his home in Sweden.
It’s a recurring approach for the band, since their 2001 Rise Above Records debut. Throughout their history, they’ve changed more musically than lyrically. Early on, doom audibly dominated their sound, but on their third album and arguable best release Wolf’s Return (2005) they settled into an approach more akin to Iron Maiden.
“I think you just pointed out the biggest shift we’ve done, namely between Monument (2003) and Wolf’s Return. Monument was very slow and heavy and we basically felt that we didn’t want to go further in that direction, but rather turn up the speed a bit and head on a more straight heavy metal direction, which resulted in Wolf’s Return. Also this illustrates quite clearly the way we operate, so to speak, our music is purely a reflection of what’s going on in our hearts and souls… When we went in the direction we did at that time, it was the most unfashionable thing in the world to play.”
With the new wave of traditional heavy metal back in vogue, Grand Magus is perfectly positioned to receive more recognition. They are powerful amalgamators of galloping riffs, lush soundscapes of crackling thunder, and powerful, stentorian vocals, and are backed by intimate knowledge of their Scandinavian heritage. This materializes on Triumph and Power in the striking artwork featuring a warrior yielding a sword while the dying rays of the sun melt into the horizon, and the lyrics, including one on the specifically Swedish/Norse/Scandinavian duel dubbed “Holmgång.”
“That signifies the following: two or more people have a dispute that has to be settled. The elders or the existing byalag (village council) would try to judge this without bloodshed, but realize it has to be settled by combat,” explains Christoffersson. “They would then row the two antagonists out to an island small enough so that you couldn’t run or hide (if you jumped into to the water it is forfeit, and you would probably drown since it was deep and back then most couldn’t swim anyway). The two would then have at each other (armed combat) until only one was left alive or the other yielded.”
Of course, the lyrics are just a sliver of Grand Magus. Essentially, the package is this: triumphant and violent war songs written for centuries past. Ignore them at your peril. The time for Triumph and Power has arrived!
Buy Triumph and Power from Nuclear Blast on Tuesday, Feb. 4 (North America) and Friday, Jan. 31 (Europe).
By Sarah Kitteringham