Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Album Review: Grand Magus - Sword Songs

Deja vu. You know that feeling you get when you swear you've done something before, but you just can't remember it. That's sort of the feeling I'm having right now, as I sit down to review Grand Magus' latest album. It feels as though every time I turn around, I'm finding myself staring at a new Grand Magus record. This would be the third album of theirs I've had the chance to review, which makes them the most frequent big-name band of them all. Don't get me wrong; I'm never going to complain about a band being prolific. I respect the work ethic to continually be creative, and to not take five years milking a single album, just because you can. The problem is that, despite having reviewed two of their albums before, I just can't remember them. I liked them, I enjoyed them, and I have since forgotten them.

This time out, Grand Magus has said they wanted to make an album with a bit more speed and energy than their last few records. That is indeed the case, but there's something else that I find the defining feature of this album; the production. I'm not going to fault a record for not being polished to here and back (as much as I laud Graveyard, that should be clear), but there is something in the sound of "Sword Songs" that isn't quite right. The guitar tone is fuzzier than it should be, where he muted riffs lack the power and chunk to sound as heavy as they should, but worse is the drum sound. The kit is tuned in an odd way, reverberating with a loose sound that makes the whole come across sloppy, even when it isn't.

But that is all forgivable if the songs are good enough. Grand Magus is certainly capable of that. JB has a voice that is perfect for their brand of rough and tumble heavy metal, and he puts in another performance that oozes with charm. His voice has that quality to it where, even when he doesn't do anything especially interesting with it, you would be hard pressed not to enjoy it.

Take a song like "Varangian", for example. There's a nice guitar run that has a hint of neo-classical flair to it, heavy chords, and a chorus that takes its keys from the few moments of glory Manowar had before they turned into a colossal joke. Actually, it's hard to listen to "Forged In Iron - Crowned In Steel" and not think of the loin-clothed metal 'warriors'. The chorus JB comes up with is so stark, and blunt with it's message of "Viking metal", that I have a hard time taking it seriously.

Ultimately, by the time the short 34 minutes are up, I'm left in the same position that I always am with Grand Magus. The record is thoroughly enjoyable to sit down and listen to, but there is something deeper missing in their songwriting that would keep me coming back. I'll never turn off a Grand Magus record, because they are a good enough band to always deliver a record that is worth the time you invest in it, but I can't see myself going back to them very often. After you've heard "Master Of The Land" once, you've heard it enough. The melodies have been so sanded down into chants that I'm convinced there's nothing to discover on a second listen, fifth, tenth, and so on.

"Sword Songs" is a Grand Magus album, so it's quality heavy metal. Even when they aren't at their best, they do it better than most of the 'true metal' bands that have no idea how to write a song. This isn't my favorite Grand Magus record, but it's still a good listen.

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