Originally written by Jordan Campbell
While overshadowed in most circles by Profound Lore‘s irresistible sexiness, Metal Blade has been quietly rebuilding themselves into a pure metal juggernaut. With metalcore waning, Slagel and Co. have put out some incredibly stout stuff, both new and reissued. One of their coolest ventures has been the reprinting of the first two Grand Magus albums, the second of which, Monument, is not only the band’s finest hour, but one of the most accessible doom metal albums ever crafted.
The Magi’s profile has been steadily increasing over their past few albums; beginning with Wolf’s Return, the band has been injecting more power and trad into their swagger-laden doom formula. They perfected the balance on 2008’s Iron Will; however, 2010’s Euro-only Hammer of the North fell prey to over-simplification and sterilization. Magus kinda-rookies that didn’t get a whole lot of nourishment out of Hammers should fear not, as Monument‘s rebirth comes swathed in steroids and rocket fuel.
Perfect storms are difficult to dissect, and Monument proves no different. It’s a work of accidental genius. It’s almost as if they set out to create a straight-up doom album, but their cracking energy simply couldn’t be contained within such borders. Their power metal aspirations were but a glint in their collective eye, a result of circumstance rather than of ambition. As such, Monument represents the best cross-section of what Grand Magus has to offer: deceptively-simplistic anthems, doomed-down crawlers, and that oh-so-glorious happy medium.
Opener “Ulvaskall (Vargr)” is among the most rousing door-busters ever penned, a crushing merger of epic whimsy and barroom brawl. In short, it captures the essence of classic heavy metal with nary a whiff of reachback or self-referentialism. And what tone, people. You know that sweltering swagger JB is renowned for pumping into his soaring choruses? On Monument, it’s also packed into his roiling riffery, resulting in one of the decade’s crispest, heaviest tones. Magus rides this rock n’ roll tide into the breezy “Summer Solstice,” before hunkering down and putting that crushing tone to some real, backbreaking work.
The bluesy “Brotherhood of Sleep” slides the tempo down to an appropriately plodding pace, as JB alternates smoky soul with smokin’ leads. But “Baptized in Fire” is the jewel in the Grand Magus Crown of Doom–eight minutes of unadulterated, low-tempo beauty. They craft such a comfortable tension here; each devastating note is perfectly placed, as the empty spaces between just sweat sweet anticipation. Finally, Grand Magus wraps the rockin’ and trudgin’ aspects of their sound into the 1200-pound burrito christened “Chooser of the Slain (Valfader),” a tome as towering as it is triumphant.
The only thing that hampers Monument‘s performance is the way it cruises to a finish, gassing quite mightily after the first five rounds. But that doesn’t make the decision anything less than unaminous. Bitchin’ and shirtless as future tracks like “Blood Oath” and “Fear is the Key” may be, Monument captures Grand Magus at their brightest–a moment of bulletproof naivety. This is as clear-cut and obvious as it gets, people: If you like heavy metal, you should own this album. No qualifiers, no prerequisites, no excuses. This shit is essential. Get on it.