When I was a kid back in the early 80s, I spent countless afternoons flipping through the metal section of the local record store near my house. Every now and again, someone would mistakenly file an album from a southern rock outfit called Molly Hatchet in the bin, likely because of said band’s inclination to adorn their early works with triumphant Frank Frazetta paintings that were positively H-E-A-V-Y. Despite not being familiar with their sound, I eventually let one of those album covers coax the hard-earned cash from my pocket, and the results were less than favorable. Needless to say, I was expecting something heavier, meaner, and more akin to something you might expect an old biker to crank while ripping through a sixer of shit-canner beer. I wanted Iron Will.
The three Swede’s that make up Grand Magus have slowly morphed the slow doom sound laid down on their 2001 debut to a style that’s densely infused with traditional heavy metal and a newfound desire to hit the gas with fiery hard rock. 2005’s Wolf’s Return took the initial steps, but Iron Will soars to new levels. There’s still a hint of classic doom to be found, but for the most-part, this record is born to ride alongside a pack of rippers kicking their way through an uproarious bar fight.
When it’s slower, Iron Will builds a heavy groove that’s extremely condusive to fist-pumping in a decidely old-school 80s Manowar kind of way. This type of Battle Hymns stride hits its peak with the DeMaio-inspired bass instrumental “Hövding,” and it rolls right on through the epic title-track and into one of the album’s strongest cuts, the immensely catchy “Silver Into Steel.” The only thing missing is an interlude featuring Orson Welles, and in his unfortunate and terminal absence, Grand Magus gets one point taken away for not at least seeking out Brian Blessed for council.
We also get tunes that hustle faster than anything we’ve come to expect from the Magi. “Fear is the Key” is what I want blasting in my head when I hit some slim, cheatin’ sucka over the head with a pool cue, and “The Shadow Knows” serenades the perfect getaway when his friends finally jump to his aid and I bolt out the door.
I’d be loco if I didn’t mention how incredible JB Christoffersson sounds here. Not to take anything away from the skilled manner in which Fox and Sebastian keep the rhythm galloping, but JB’s leads are absolutely exquisite front-to-back. Plus, this dude fucking SINGS. He sings like he’s got The Fire in his belly; his deep, soulful voice is clearly one of the biggest selling points of this fine album.
Grand Magus has an innate ability to craft simple, heavy songs that are triumphant and infectious, and what’s particularly refreshing is that they achieve all this trad/hard rock throw-back while maintaining a decidedly modern tone. In other words, Iron Will sounds 80s without sounding 80s. Staunch fans may still hold Monument slightly higher out of stubbornness, but Iron Will is as strong as the title suggests. Grand Magus just keeps getting better and better with age, and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.