Grand Magus – S/T

It isn’t very often that I get my hands on any album that just astonishes me from start to finish, but Swedish trio Grand Magus managed to do it with their self-titled debut. Though I can’t remember where I first heard about this band, I remember reading that their music was “blues-doom,” which brings to mind some sort of droning guitars and unintelligible vocals. Being a big fan of real singing, I was more than prepared not to like this album. However, what I heard on each of the 10 tracks here quickly added this album to the top of my list of best albums from 2002.

In my opinion, describing Grand Magus as “doom”-anything is a cop out. These guys walk a fine line between metal and hard rock with extremely clear blues influences. Their sound is heavy with lots of hooks and melodies, plus they have some of the most amazing vocals and lyrics either genre has to offer. JB’s voice is a dominant force on each song and reminds me of Chris Cornell, but even more potent and evocative. The music is clearly driven by JB’s dirty-tuned down guitar, but with equal elements of Fox’s bass and Trisse’s drums. Unlike Grand Magus’ doom counterparts, I can easily make out each instrument, and there is no droning or funeral dirge quality.

One of my big problems with a lot of new rock and metal bands is the whole lot of them sound the same. Everyone keeps using the same old tired formulas, and the vocals/lyrics leave a lot to be desired. Add to that over production and too-slick label packaging and I begin to wonder where the music went. Sure, Grand Magus draws on those that have come before, particularly bands like Black Sabbath or Deep Purple, but they are really defining their own genre that they call “Black Magick Rock.” If that piques your interest, you will really have to give the album a listen to develop your own understanding of what this means, but let’s just say that Grand Magus’ music deals with Magick and Medieval topics and has an obvious anti-organized religion focus. Combine all that with an album that was apparently recorded live in three days and you’ve got something absolutely exceptional and totally one-of-a-kind.

Every song here is intriguing, like “Legion” which sounds like early Soundgarden despite the vocal similarities. This track has a lot of depth and shifts between various speeds with expert precision. Others like “Black Hound of Vengeance” really lay all the trio’s blues licks on the table with a dark, mysterious feel. Also consider “Mountain of Power” – one of the most fiercely intense, yet soulful songs on the album. Each track is finely crafted with intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics that are largely missing from the music industry today. This is music that will make you think, make you move, and above all bring a smile (or smirk, depending on your preference) to your face.

Above all else, my faith in rock was fully restored with this album. JB’s vocals constantly stun me, and his voice is enough by itself to keep me coming back to this album. Furthermore, Grand Magus is a tight-knit group that should not be ignored on any level. Hopefully this is a band with a long career ahead of them, and I will be looking forward to their second album due out early next year. If you come into this expecting doom a la Electric Wizard or Nebula, you’ll probably find this album too light, but music fans looking to expand their horizons will have their socks knocked off.