"The Hunt"

By Earthdog

This review that you are about to read might upset some people. You see, ever since Grand Magus released 'Iron Will' in 2008 they have teettered on the edge of mediocrity. Thankfully they have still managed to produce very solid albums but there has been this underlying fear that the band may be drifting too far away from what made albums like 'Monument' and 'Wolf's Return' so great.

The new album 'The Hunt' is certainly not a dud release; it is actually probably the best thing Nuclear Blast has put out in the past year but there are moments on this album that just seem bland, like the band is simply treading water and is no longer progressing. There are only two negatives I can come up with for this album but they are major bugs. One is the songs themselves.

Too often a song will start with a lot of promise but it ends up just trundling or galloping along without little passion in the performance. The other, more minor gripe is the production which seems awfully thin compared to their earlier works. With those concerns out-of-the-way I can still say this album has a lot of great moments but there is no way around saying this: I am disappointed ever so slightly in 'The Hunt.'

The style of the band has changed a lot. They started as a doom-laden trad-metal meets stoner band and have slowly album by album became more straight-forward traditional heavy metal with the doom elements becoming harder and harder to find with each new release. This new album is another step further into the realms of trad-metal a-la Dio era Sabbath and Dio era Rainbow and classic Judas Priest. There has always been the viking metal and folk edge present in their albums and this album features even more of those elements. Grand Magus has always had the knack for big riffs and loads of hooks and this album certainly again supplies the riffs but I don't hear as many catchy hooks as I did on their other releases. The vocals of JB Christoffersson are one of the keys to the band sound and they sound better than ever on this new album. One feature of this album that was lacking just a little on older albums is variety and I am glad to hear they really mix it up pretty well on 'The Hunt.'

The album kicks off with 'Starlight Slaughter' which is in classic 70's hard rock vein and you could swear at times that Ritchie Blackmore himself at something to do with the guitar work in this track. It is a pretty simple track, catchy but becoming slightly under-whelming after a couple of minutes. This is a recurring problem that some people may have with the album. The viking rock vibe that they are known for really makes its presence felt in the next three songs; 'Sword of the Ocean,' 'Valhalla Rising' and 'Storm King' and each of these songs have better than average riffs and melodies. If you think the song-titles have a Manowar-ish kind of vibe about them then you might be surprised how Manowar-ish the music is at times. They have the same anthemic kind of quality... metal made for stadium rock with gigantic choruses and fist-pounding bravado. 'Silver Moon' is a ho-hum moment on the album, not bad at all but instantly forgettable but the following title track is a monster featuring one hell of a riff.

The album's centerpiece and major highlight is the two-part 'Son of the Last Breath' which takes a step away from the simple big riffing concepts of the other tunes. You could hardly call this prog-metal but it is certainly far more adventurous that the usual Grand Magus song. This mini-epic combines folk elements using acoustics and strings before building into a very heavy atmospheric track that is the band at their most dark and moody. The band switch gears once again for the next track 'Iron Hand' which is an orgy of pulverizing drums, intense riffing and thundering bass and I don't think the band has ever attacked like this before on the album; this is a powerhouse of a tune that simply crushes and stomps all over the listener.....great track. The band then settle back into their usual mid-tempo groove for the closing 'Draksådd' and it is a solid although unremarkable way to finish off the album. Without a doubt the Grand Magus fan will be more than satisfied with 'The Hunt.' For those who still remain undecided, this won't change anything for you folks. 'The Hunt" is excellent at times, formulaic at other times and lacks enough hooks to be truly memorable in the long-term but for straight-forward traditional metal, you won't find much better than this.  This is classy heavy metal that deserves mainstream support.....7.5/10.