Grand Magus pour tales of war, Vikings, steel into their classic metal on bloody ‘Sword Songs’

GRand MagusWhat’s more metal than swords, war, and Vikings? That’s the magic formula, if we’re being honest. Any combination of those three elements gets you pretty damn close to ticking all the boxes you need for an authentic metal album, and all three together is a mind explosion.

Sweden’s Grand Magus mash of that together on “Sword Songs,” a record emblazoned with artwork depicting an eagle flying with a sword in its talons, which really does let you know everything about the music contained inside. And really, if you’re even remotely aware of what the band has accomplished over nearly two decades together and seven records now, you’d be aware of their blood being pretty much 100 percent pure metal. How do their bodies survive? No idea. But they do, and with each passing year and new Grand Magus opus they prove they’re battle tested and ready to unleash glory that would please metal’s old gods and the new.

Grand Magus - Sword Songs - ArtworkGrand Magus started in earnest in 1999 (granted, they operated under a different name for a few years before this), and right away it was obvious their mission of classic heavy metal mixed with a little doom already felt tried and true. While many Swedes at the time were dining from black and death metal tables, these guys were more than satisfied to feast on morsels left by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Cirith Ungol, Candlemass, and bands of that ilk. On “Sword Songs,” the band—guitarist/vocalist JB Christoffersson, bassist Fox Skinner, and drummer Ludwig Witt—offer nine more tracks of the good stuff, stretching great riffs, soulful singing, and battle imagery over nearly 35 minutes, making for a perfectly served, awfully catchy presentation.

The record kicks off with “Freja’s Choice,” a song that chugs open and begins lighting the torches, with Christoffersson howling, “Falcon wings, forever soaring,” and paying homage to “blood-stained wings of war.” There are great dual leads that strike, and they begin to scorch down the home stretch, burning toward “Varangian.” There, winds begin to push, while tasty, Maiden-style guitar runs bleed in, all building toward a great, simple chorus of, “We are warriors, defenders of steel!” that should make you instantly pump fists toward the sky. There is more fun guitar interplay, along with the drums kicking up and driving the final chorus, before this crusher takes a bow. “Forged in Iron – Crowned in Steel” has some clever word play over the chorus. Yeah, any time someone wails, “Viking metal!” it sounds like another reference to Nordic warriors. But no, here we’re talking Viking swords forged of metal, turning the thing in another direction, and it’ll be a damn rousing one to sing back live. “Born for Battle (Black Dog of Broceliande)” reaches into Arthurian legend (or at least I assume it does), with battle chants cried, a more rock-style tempo unleashed, and punchy verses leading to crunchy choruses. The war anthem also is dashed with great soloing and a sweltering pace to hammer out the tale.

“Master of the Land” is hard and crunchy, with rhythmic drums pulsing, and the band building nicely to another massive chorus. They kind of have a knack for that, and it never gets old. “Last One to Fall” has Witt pummeling away to start before a Thin Lizzy-style riff kicks in, and the band starts to trudge ahead. “Marching on, you’ll be the last one to fall,” Christoffersson vows, as the band hits a high-energy gallop, driving up dust and chaos, before the reminder that, “Blood is the price of the brave.” “Frost & Fire” is the one lower point of the record. It’s not a bad song, really. It’s just not up to competing with what preceded it and what follows. But it’s fine enough as it is. “Hugr” is a quick instrumental with winds haunting, a clock ticking away, and steely guitar picking its way down the path. Closer “Every Day There’s a Battle to Fight” is a total curveball. I was expecting thunder and fury, but instead the song is more mid-tempo and introspective, a more sobering piece that urges bravery and reminds of the price attached to any battle. “Never let fear stand in your way,” Christoffersson urges in a deeper tone than usual, while the band keeps things even tempered but heavy nonetheless, bringing this record to a really surprising, but ultimately satisfying end.

The next time Grand Magus steer us wrong, it’ll be the first time. It’s a shame that being on such a big label like Nuclear Blast that they don’t get more of a push, because frankly, they’re one of the best bands on that entire roster. Trends will come and go, sounds will change, and allegiances will shift, but Grand Magus always will remain true to their sound and heavy metal as a whole. This band keeps making killer, easily digestible records, and it’s about time more people caught onto that.

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