There are bands that write albums that are wildly inconsistent in quality, and there are bands that seemingly make the same album over and over again. Then there are bands like GRAND MAGUS. Throughout their career they’ve done nothing but put out consistently great records, proving without a doubt their rock-solid songwriting chops. If you’re a fan of the band, you’ve already put down your money for the upcoming Sword Songs, out May 13 on Nuclear Blast Records, and it is well deserved.
Immediately of note compared to previous outings is a rawer edge to the songs production-wise. This lends a certain heft to the massive first 40 seconds of opener “Freja’s Choice”, which will make you stand up and take notice and then knock you right back on your ass! The lead section that kicks in three quarters of the way through the song and leads to the solo is pure IRON MAIDEN, and don’t ask me whether that’s a good thing or not. You know the answer. Another winner follows afterwards with the folky intro of “Varangian” and a fist-pumping chorus that will have you embarrassing yourself in the car on the way to work, guaranteed.
After a melodic intro, “Forged In Iron – Crowned In Steel” bursts into some meaty riffing and I’m totally on board until the chorus comes in. I can’t take the chant of “Viking Metal” seriously at all, given how much AMON AMARTH fans ran that particular label into the ground. It sounds more like a marketing phrase than a MANOWAR-esque affirmation, unfortunately. Also, this makes two choruses in a row about steel. Still, you put on a GRAND MAGUS album knowing what you’re getting into lyrically, and the second half of the song redeems it handily.
“Born In Battle” and “Master of the Land” follow, and are serviceable if not wholly outstanding songs, with the latter being the far better of the two. For an album that clocks in at only 35 minutes, it may seem strange to have two largely unremarkable songs, but they’re solid enough to keep the momentum going and definitely aren’t filler tracks to be skipped upon repeat listens. The rawer sound of the disc lends itself really well to “Last One to Fall”. It speeds ahead like a MOTÖRHEAD song but with a powerful, uplifting melody to go along with it. And the track after that, “Frost and Fire”, is totally killer from start to finish.
Normally I don’t like instrumental interludes, but the relatively brief “Hugr” manages to pique my interest with its introspective acoustic melancholy. Unfortunately, the album ends on a weak note with the thoroughly tepid attempt of an anthem in “Every Day There’s a Battle to Fight”. But even if you skip that one, Sword Songs still provides a thoroughly enjoyable half hour of the powerful riffs and soaring melodies you’ve come to expect from GRAND MAGUS, and should not be missed.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Freja’s Choice”, “Varangian”, “Last One to Fall”, “Frost and Fire”