While it has been out in Europe for quite some time now, Roadrunner in January released "Hammer of the North" from Sweden's doom-inflected trad-metallers GRAND MAGUS in North America as a digital-only album, which includes unreleased track "Crown of Iron". If you've held off buying the import, then you can rest assured that these legends-in-the-making have once again delivered the goods.
The genius of yet another outstanding GRAND MAGUS album comes from the act's ability to get more out of three instruments than seems possible through the crafting of steel-belted riffs and Fox Skinner's sinewy bass lines that in partnership with drummer Sebastian "Seb" Sippola hold the whole thing together in one unbreakable bond. The "X" factor as you surely know are the vocals of guitarist Janne "JB" Christoffersson whose style brings to mind a mix of Rob Halford's (JUDAS PRIEST) lower register and Ian Gillan (DEEP PURPLE) at his classiest. JB squeezes out every lyric as though it's the last one he'll ever sing. The title track is representative of the group's penchant for penning simple, yet stunningly catchy choruses. For that matter, listen to Christoffersson belt out the verses of "Black Sails" as though every word was of immense importance to the integrity of heavy metal itself. The latter song's chorus impacts for different reasons, mainly the manner in which it seems to gain strength until escape from its clutches becomes an impossibility. Several songs on the album have a similar effect.
In terms of comparison to 2008's "Iron Will", the new album is more of a grower whose brilliance becomes apparent after a couple of spins. It is not so much that one "gets it" after those spins as much as the realization hits that it has gotten into the bloodstream. What else could explain those heroin-addiction level cravings for more "Hammer of the North"? The difference is you'll have no interest in rehabilitation nor will your family members or closest friends plan an intervention. On balance, "Hammer of the North" doesn't boast as many immediate standouts, as was the case with "Like the Oar Strikes the Water" — an absolute classic — and "Fear is the Key" from its predecessor, but these points are relatively minor in the larger scheme.
Few bands can so ably meld NWOBHM greatness with shades of doom and in the process generate such deeply impacting songs. Easily one of the most consistently good heavy metal bands on the planet, GRAND MAGUS has created a worthy follow up to the untouchable "Iron Will". If one were forced to choose, "Iron Will" is probably the better of the two, but "Hammer of the North" is a very close second.