"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Grand Magus - "Grand Magus (reissue)" (CD)

Grand Magus - "Grand Magus (reissue)" CD cover image

"Grand Magus (reissue)" track listing:

1. Gauntlet (3:48)
2. Legion (3:48)
3. Never Learned (4:46)
4. Black Hound of Vengeance (4:50)
5. Coat of Arms (3:34)
6. Generator (5:32)
7. Wheel of Time (5:16)
8. Lodbrok (4:13)
9. Black Hole (5:03)
10. Mountain of Power (5:54)
11. Tale of the Unexpected (4:00)
12. Grand Magus (3:43)

Reviewed by on February 3, 2011

"The band’s moniker conjures every metal fan’s ultimate fantasy: four Tony Iommi’s - one for each instrument and vox, of course – cranking away on our quivering, submissive brains."

Band names are important, if just for the pre-judging they elicit. Never heard Rotting Christ? Would you believe they are German power metal? Me either. So a decade ago, instead of naming itself something like Riff Monster (good choice), Grand Magus was a bit more optimistic. The band’s moniker conjures every metal fan’s ultimate fantasy: four Tony Iommi’s - one for each instrument and vox, of course – cranking away on our quivering, submissive brains. And while any mortal band would be hard-pressed to live up to that particular fantasy, Grand Magus gives it a real good try.

The first thing that stands out about Grand Magus’ self-titled, and in this case re-issued by Metal Blade, debut album is how much they sound like Soundgarden. Be it the guitar tones, vocalist JB’s Chris Cornell-like shouts and croons, or just the (relatively for doom) short songs of sludgy-doomy-bluesy hard rock, these guys are a pretty good followers of aural plant noise. But since Soundgarden itself owes a lot to Mr. Iommi, Grand Magus does too. Particularly in the extended blues licks that wind through each track like a drunk John Lee Hooker.

“Black Hound of Vengeance” combines Temple of the Dog-era Cornell wails with distorted Kenny Wayne Shepherd licks into meaty and tender slow-cooked beef. “Coat of Arms” sneaks a little Hammond Organ into the mix, JB’s vocals are now David-Allen-Coe-meets-a-calm-Phil-Anselmo, and JB’s riffs (he does double duty) wander toward Skynyrd. I could go on like this all day, finding different blues-doom-southern-sludge stars and mixing them together into interesting combos. “Generator” is a fine “Ultramega OK” ballad outtake(!), but I’ll stop.

But let’s not get carried away with the Soundgarden thing. The band has (finally) reformed, and Grand Magus is just a fan, not a tribute band. This is a blues-doom trio that pounds out great riff after great riff with a strict adherence to Occam’s Razor. From the bass crawl of “Lodbrok,” to the speedy pep of “Legion,” and all the way back to the brief, syncopated and drum-driven atmospherics of the album closing eponymous title track, Grand Magus isn’t an Iommi clone, but the band sure has got the rest of it down.

Highs: The slow, bluesy grooves on “Black Hound of Vengeance” and the title track are fantastic jams.

Lows: The production is nicely crisped, but sometimes gets too clean for these tunes.

Bottom line: Swedish blues-doom trio reissues fantastic debut full length.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)