Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear. So says the disclaimer as you look to see how close the approaching headlights are while you speed through the dark. You may think you can, but the past cannot be outrun. It is in this spirit that Grand Magus catches me. One of the more interesting developments, to me, of recent years has been the growth of traditional metal. There are more bare-bones, stripped-down metal bands churning out the kind of music that filled the early 80's than at any point since the days of big riffs and even bigger hair. It's refreshing to see that while metal has in large part been moving in a direction of ever-increasing technicality and complexity, there's still a segment of musicians out there who believe in the power of the riff to save the world.
Perhaps none of the traditional metal revivalists has received the level of critical acclaim as Grand Magus. Every note the Swedish three-piece has played has moved them further up the ranks of the exalted, giving their music an authority few traditional metal bands can boast. “The Hunt” is not a departure from the music Grand Magus has been making, it is a continuation of the previous albums movement in a more streamlined direction. Gone are the elements of traditional doom metal that early works exhibited, replaced by a driving sense of melodic power that begs the question; how did this kind of music ever go out of fashion?
“The Hunt” is metal in its purest form, full of thick riffs and enough melody to sing along to. “Starlight Slaughter” provides the blueprint, sounding like a lost outtake from Ronnie James Dio's time with Black Sabbath. What the riffs lack in speed and sheer volume of notes played is more than made up for with groove and heaviness. Coupled with guitarist/vocalist JB Christofferson's muscular delivery, the song is both powerful and memorable. “Sword Of The Ocean” doesn't deviate from the formula, another excellent amalgam of traditional riffs with a well-placed multi-tracked chorus. The music opens up the chords in the middle, allowing the guitar solo to bring a new mood to the song, a wonderfully executed bit of songwriting.
Things open up further with “Valhalla Rising”, which gives JB's vocals more room in the mix, upping the melodic quotient to great effect. His vocals aren't classically trained, or able to peel the paint off walls, but they drip with power and character. His voice is his, and it is certainly metal. Grand Magus isn't trying to do anything revolutionary, or sound like anyone else. They know who they are, and it comes through in the music.
Finding fault with “The Hunt” isn't easy. Perhaps the melodies aren't all as strong as the standards we measure them by, and it's true that the riffs aren't as instantly memorable as the best ones Tony Iommi burned into our brains all those years ago. But none of that makes the best Vivian Campbell riff he never wrote, “Storm King”, any less of an accomplishment, nor does it make the album any less fun to listen to.
Yes, I said it, an album of unrelenting heavy metal with plenty of Viking lyrical themes is nothing short of fun. It's pure raise-your-fist metal that reminds us why we love this kind of music. Very few people fall directly in love with the finger-twisting riffs, obscure modes and scales, and screamed and growled vocals that populate so much of today's metal. We fell in love with heavy metal as it was, as it is on “The Hunt”, as it should be. All is well with heavy metal.