Uh oh… It wasn’t hard to see this coming, but unfortunately it’s now been confirmed: Grand Magus has drifted dangerously off course. Now I know a lot of you were sounding the alarm two years ago after the last album, but I found Hammer of the North to be unfairly dismissed. Despite its stylistic shifts, it was a mostly solid album, albeit one well below the high watermark set by previous work. After the monstrous Monument, Grand Magus has backed off their doom-laced smoky grooves in favor of more traditional tones. The formula paid off in spades on Wolf’s Return (2005) and Iron Will (2008), but the band found itself on less solid ground when they shuffled things up again for Hammer of the North. The injection of sharp, bright Priest-isms worked well enough, but in places the album seemed to lose its way in the gap between these new leanings and the core aspects of the Grand Magus sound. Unfortunately, the band has now offered up nothing more than an entire album of those moments.
The Hunt : promising title, promising cover. But this ain’t the hunt you were hoping for. Turns out it’s the hunt for evidence of Grand Magus’ patented gruff swagger and fierce hooks, but most of all, for that fist pumping, rousing anthemic quality that’s been the X-factor so central to the band’s character. And all those things are in mighty low supply here. After all, a song called “Valhalla Rising” should sound like, you know, Valhalla…rising. The fire and stirring passion you’d expect are nowhere to be found. It’s not that what’s left is altogether bad — it’s simply missing what made Grand Magus such a memorable outfit. From a lesser band, The Hunt would be more favorably received. It does have its share of hooks, and a handful of shining moments (“Storm King”, the title track). But compared to the band’s capabilities, The Hunt is frustratingly low on out-and-out winners, and those are lost between pedestrian also-rans.