Album Review – Grand Magus / Wolf God (2019)

It’s time to worship the almighty Wolf God together with one of the most talented and hardworking bands of the Swedish metal scene.

Hailing from the stunning city of Stockholm, Sweden, Heavy/Doom Metal three-piece act Grand Magus has been delivering a powerful and thrilling amalgamation of styles such as Blues, Hard Rock, Heavy and Doom Metal since their inception in the now distant year of 1999 (or even 1996 if you consider their years under the name Smack as part of their current career), gathering a respectable fanbase through the years around the entire world of heavy music. For instance, their self-titled debut album Grand Magus, released in 2001, stirred up the underground to the point it is now considered to be a cult favorite, and now in 2019 the band comprised of Janne “JB” Christoffersson on lead vocals and guitars, Mats “Fox” Skinner on bass and backing vocals, and Ludwig “Ludde” Witt on drums returns in full force with Wolf God, the ninth album in their solid career and undoubtedly one of the most interesting and epic albums of the year. Drawing influence from bands such as Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Manowar, Grand Magus are absolutely focused, sharp and heavy-as-hell in Wolf God, blasting hymn after hymn for the delight of all lovers of the golden years of classic metal music.

With the majority of the songs being recorded on the first take at The Sweetspot Recording Studio in Sweden together with producer Staffan Karlsson (Arch Enemy, Firewind, Spiritual Beggars), Grand Magus achieved an honest, diverse and yet down-to-earth sound that envelops the trio’s true power, letting the music flow naturally throughout the album’s almost 40 minutes of undisputed Heavy Metal. “We decided to let go of the current philosophy to record drums first and then bass and then guitar etc. This time, we met up, jammed and created together during the last six months with the goal to record basic tracks live,” said the band about their newborn opus, and by enfolding it with the old school, aggressive artwork by American artist Anthony J. Roberts (Blackmindseye) the trio finally reached a new level of epicness that will certainly save a spot for them among the gods of metal.

Featuring orchestrations by Swedish musician Nico “Dyngwie” Elgstrand (guitarist for Entombed A.D.), who has already played acoustic guitars in a couple of tracks from their previous albums, Gold and Glory is a classy and epic intro to the howling title-track Wolf God, where Ludde pounds his drums in great Manowar-inspired fashion while JB delivers his trademark potent vocals, resulting in an old school metal song perfect for banging our heads while worshiping the Wolf God itself. And Fox’s thunderous bass take the lead in the also majestic A Hall Clad in Gold while Ludde continues to smash his drum set vigorously, not to mention all the passion and energy flowing from JB’s vocals, especially during the song’s absolutely catchy chorus.

Traditional, utterly metallic lyrics (“Ancient forces / Sleeping deep within my heart / Been searching / Through the ages in the dark / A secret / That will put me to the test / And guide me / So much stronger than the rest”) are the main ingredient in the headbanging tune Brother of the Storm, where JB fires pure electricity from his riffs while the beats by Ludde get more rhythmic and imposing, and you better keep banging your head like there’s no tomorrow in the incendiary Dawn of Fire, another classic, stylish Heavy and Doom Metal hymn led by JB’s crisp riffs and Fox’s rumbling bass. On a side note, I saw those guys playing this excellent tune live when they opened for Amon Amarth  here in Toronto, and it sounded beyond powerful and inspiring. Then putting the pedal to the metal the trio offers the circle pit-catalyst Spear Thrower, where we can enjoy Ludde’s berserk beats supporting the always pleasant vocals by JB, being tailored for fans of classic Heavy Metal while all is spiced up by JB’s piercing solos; whereas To Live and to Die in Solitude, one of the best songs in Wolf God with highlights to JB’s passionate performance and the unstoppable drums by Ludde, couldn’t be any more epic, vibrant and electrifying, or in other words, simply close your eyes and savor each and every note of such distinct ode to metal music.

A cryptic, semi-tribal intro evolves into another riff-fest titled Glory to the Brave, a beer-drinking, headbanging creation by the trio with Fox filling all spaces in the air with his bass jabs, perfect for raising your horns in the air together with Grand Magus, whereas in the thrilling He Sent Them All to Hel the skillful JB declaims the lyrics about a hero dealing with death and darkness in the aftermath (“First light in the morning – Foul smell of decay / He stands in silence – Nothing to say / Black ravens are calling / Flying high over head / Their wine is served by the dead / Once they rode together / Now he’s alone / Filling his soul with rage”), boosted by spot-on instrumental parts, endless stamina and the classic beats by Ludde, resulting in what’s in my humble opinion one of their best battle hymns of all time. And there’s nothing better than the pure Heavy Metal flowing from Untamed to close the album on a high note, showcasing a classic riffage and wild guitar solos by JB, while Fox and Ludde are on absolute fire on bass and drums, with the music flowing smoothly and powerfully until its epic finale.

It’s time for us all to praise the Wolf God, and we can do that by enjoying one of the best albums of 2019 in full on Spotify or by purchasing a copy of it from the Hamburg Records webstore or from the Nuclear Blast webstore. At this point of their career, we can all happily rest assured Grand Magus will never sell out, which means they’ll keep offering us all, lucky metalheads, precious gems of the underworld like Wolf God, bringing all their passion and respect for the gods of metal with each and every song of their albums and, more important than that, continuing to fight for Heavy Metal no matter what, always in the name of the almighty riff.

Best moments of the album: A Hall Clad in Gold, Brother of the Storm, To Live and to Die in Solitude and He Sent Them All to Hel.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2019 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. Gold and Glory 2:18
2. Wolf God 3:49
3. A Hall Clad in Gold 5:02
4. Brother of the Storm 3:16
5. Dawn of Fire 5:12
6. Spear Thrower 2:55
7. To Live and to Die in Solitude 3:41
8. Glory to the Brave 5:15
9. He Sent Them All to Hel 3:37
10. Untamed 3:46

Band members
Janne “JB” Christoffersson – lead vocals, guitars
Mats “Fox” Skinner – bass, backing vocals
Ludwig “Ludde” Witt – drums

Guest musician
Nico “Dyngwie” Elgstrand – orchestrations on “Gold and Glory”

Concert Review – Amon Amarth (Rebel, Toronto, ON, 10/09/2019)

A night of epic battles, endless circle pits and heavy-as-hell anthems offered by a horde of Swedish bands to all of us “Vikings” in Toronto, spearheaded by one of the biggest names of the current metal scene.

OPENING ACTS: Grand Magus, At The Gates and Arch Enemy

What a fun night, my fellow Vikings! The Swedish invasion that took the city of Toronto by storm last night at Rebel was beyond entertaining, and I can’t find the right words to describe the heaviness and power from all four bands of the night, Grand Magus, At The Gates, Arch Enemy and the almighty Amon Amarth (all hailing from Sweden, of course). There was a lot of beer drinking, endless mosh pits, lots of screaming, horns in the air, the encounter (although playing at different times with their respective bands) of the talented “Erlandsson Brothers” Adrian and Daniel, and a humongous dosage of our good old Heavy Metal.

The first band of the night was Stockholm-based Heavy/Doom Metal power trio GRAND MAGUS, which I confess I didn’t know much before last night. And let me tell you they kick some serious ass with their fusion of classic doom with Nordic themes, setting the stage on fire with their crisp and thunderous performance. Currently promoting their new album Wolf God, the band comprised of vocalist and guitarist JB Christoffersson, bassist Fox Skinner and drummer Ludwig Witt thanked all fans that were able to arrive early at Rebel to witness their fantastic concert, with their closing song, the battle hymn entitled Hammer of the North, being the icing on the cake to their flawless performance. I hope they return to Toronto soon for another killer concert, and if I were you I would search for their music right now on Spotify or on YouTube as it’s definitely worth it.

Setlist
I, the Jury
Dawn of Fire
Like the Oar Strikes the Water
Iron Will
Hammer of the North

Band members
JB Christoffersson – vocals, guitar
Fox Skinner – bass
Ludwig Witt – drums 

After a very short break it was time for Gothenburg’s own Melodic Death Metal institution AT THE GATES to bring to Toronto all their rage and darkness, inspiring the fans that were already filling up all the spaces at the venue to ignite some serious circle pits. Also, although the band has recently released two EP’s named The Mirror Black and With the Pantheons Blind, it felt like they “ignored” that and kept playing the same setlist used during their tour to promote their 2018 album To Drink from the Night Itself, with songs such as To Drink From the Night Itself and The Colours of the Beast being among my favorite ones of their solid performance. Needless to say, Tomas Lindberg was amazing with his harsh, desperate vocals throughout the entire concert, as well as Adrian Erlandsson, who was perhaps trying to “set the tone” for his brother Daniel with Arch Enemy right after that. A great warm-up concert as usual, and a great band for anyone who loves violence and mosh pits from the bottom of their blackened hearts.

Setlist
Der Widerstand
To Drink From the Night Itself
Slaughter of the Soul
At War With Reality
The Colours of the Beast
Cold
Heroes and Tombs
El Altar del Dios Desconocido
Death and the Labyrinth
Blinded by Fear
The Night Eternal

Band members
Tomas Lindberg – vocals
Martin Larsson – guitars
Jonas Stålhammar – guitars
Jonas Björler – bass
Adrian Erlandsson – drums

The venue was already packed when the one and only ARCH ENEMY hit the stage and began their high-octane, incendiary concert, and within a few seconds the entire floor section was already turned into a massive circle pit for our total delight. The multi-talented frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz was absolutely brutal and unstoppable, reminding us all she was the only Canadian in this tour and, consequently, asking us all to show those Swedish guys how awesome Canadian metallers are. Their setlist was quite solid for the time they had available, mixing a few songs from their latest album Will to Power, released in 2017, with some of their older classics. Also, I guess I don’t need to say how brilliant both Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis were with their axes, right? And if you were there last night, I bet you know what the words Ravenous and Nemesis mean to your neck, elbows and throat.

Setlist
Set Flame to the Night
The World Is Yours
War Eternal
My Apocalypse
Ravenous
The Eagle Flies Alone
First Day in Hell
Saturnine
As the Pages Burn
Nemesis
Enter the Machine

Band members
Alissa White-Gluz – vocals
Michael Amott – lead guitars, backing vocals
Jeff Loomis – lead guitars, backing vocals
Sharlee D’Angelo – bass
Daniel Erlandsson – drums

AMON AMARTH

After all those insanely heavy and electrifying bands warmed us up really well on a not-so-cold Torontonian night, we were more than ready to join the berserkers from AMON AMARTH on their musical journey to Valhalla, and that journey was perfect from start to finish, no doubt about that. Playing a good chunk of songs form their 2019 opus Berserker, which by the way worked really well live as the whole album kicks ass, such as Raven’s Flight, Crack the Sky, Fafner’s Gold and one of my favorites of the night, the battle hymn Shield Wall, the Swedish horde spearheaded by Johan Hegg showed us everything they got, including a Viking ship, a Viking battle, a demonic entity that looked like a skeleton version of Loki, and their traditional beer drinking horn during the party anthem Raise Your Horns.

Not sure if you noticed what I’m about to say, but all my photos of the concert are really bad, and that’s solely because it was impossible to stand still and try to take any decent pictures in the floor section due to the never-ending, gigantic and brutal circle pits happening. There was a bit of everything into the pit, from giant Viking guys to tiny (but still violent) Chinese girls, proving how big Amon Amarth are getting and how their theatrical performance combined with their powerful music is attracting more and more people to their concerts. And what can I say about what the fans did during a good part of their all-time classic Twilight of the Thunder God? I would say more than half of the floor section simply sat down on the floor and started rowing all together, as if they were true Vikings on a Viking ship sailing towards battle! That was a memorable and extremely fun moment of the night (and I don’t recall seeing that happen anywhere else, unless it’s a new thing during Amon Amarth concerts that I’m not aware of), and something that only proves how strong the band has become since their inception.

The entire band was more than happy with the reception they got from us here in Toronto, smiling back to us and banging their heads nonstop, and only stopping all that devastation to say THANK YOU, TORONTO! a thousand times. If that wasn’t a statement that they’re coming back to our city again and again, and every single time with a bigger and better concert, I don’t know what would be. Would Amon Amarth be the next “metal giant” after dinosaurs like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and Slayer call it quits? Will those classic bands pass the torch to our beloved Swedish Vikings? Well, only time will tell, but based on the quality of their discography and, above all, the high energy and epicness of their live performances, they more than deserve that place among the metal gods. All hail Amon Amarth, and may Toronto witness their epic, heavy-as-hell metal hymns and onstage battles countless more times in the coming decades!

Setlist
Raven’s Flight
Runes to My Memory
Deceiver of the Gods
First Kill
Fafner’s Gold
Crack the Sky
The Way of Vikings
Shield Wall
Guardians of Asgaard
Raise Your Horns
The Pursuit of Vikings
Twilight of the Thunder God

Band members
Johan Hegg – vocals
Olavi Mikkonen – guitar
Johan Söderberg – guitar
Ted Lundström – bass guitar
Jocke Wallgren – drums