Grand Magus

Hammer of the North

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Few of those who bothered to investigate Grand Magus' inauspicious eponymous debut album in 2002 could have possibly predicted the Swedish trio's inexorable rise from run-of-the-mill doom purveyors to one of the style's most exciting entities (with 2003's Monument), nor their subsequent transformation into anthemic trad-metal powerhouse (on 2005's Wolf's Return and 2008's Iron Will). And so, it was with great anticipation, and some trepidation, that fans awaited the group's fifth album (and first for heavy metal's most commercially inclined label, Roadrunner Records), Hammer of the North, whose title appeared to suggest another wholesale reinvention was in store, only this time as a cheesy power metal band. Luckily, such fears were totally unfounded, and the album in fact boasts the same modern take on the classic heavy metal trademarks of old, whether those see the band galloping into carnage on iron-shod steeds like "I, the Jury" and "Northern Star" or grinding out a hard-won victory on the fields of grief via skull-crushing sonic scimitars like "Black Sails" and "Savage Tales." Along the way, Grand Magus incessantly delve into their Viking forefathers' exploits -- and never more so than with "Mountains Be My Throne," the majestic title track, and the absolutely epic "The Lord of Lies" -- thus making the entire Hammer of the North cycle play like a Scandinavian vacation brochure circa the year, oh, 1319 or thereabouts (you know, raping, pillaging, dying, etc.). In all seriousness, although the Viking metal gimmick has been done to death over the previous decades, Grand Magus' unusually infectious songwriting and top-notch talents (singer/guitarist J.B. is quite simply as good as they come on both of his instruments) easily elevate these songs above the countless bands operating in the niche. That's why listeners would do well just to leave their suspicions at the gates of Valhalla and accept the righteous northerly hammering awaiting them here.

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