Grand Magus – Strike of the Wolf

Sunday, 21st April 2019

When legends die or retire, who is left to hold the heavy metal mantle? Opinions vary as to who will carry the torch, but for this scribe’s money you can’t go wrong with Grand Magus. Celebrating their twentieth year together as a group, their sound contains elements that appease the traditional, doom, and epic metal followers. Anthems with choruses ready for resolute repetition, soldiering into marches and battlefields to conquer them all. Their ninth studio album Wolf God changes things up a pinch in terms of recording process and studios – subscribing more to an old school ethos by rehearsing intensively to achieve a live as it happens record. The three-piece embrace a tough as nails principle – channeling their 70’s/80’s influences into today’s scene primed and ready for primal execution.

We got ahold of guitarist/vocalist JB Christoffersson on Skype – his measured responses very thoughtful and insightful. Prepare to learn more about the unique recording experience for Wolf God, thoughts in regards to their twenty years as a band, his ideas relating to cover art, plus viewpoints on live shows and imagination/experiences transmitted in their lyrics.

Dead Rhetoric: Wolf God is the ninth Grand Magus record. Where do you see this record in terms of your discography – any major surprises, obstacles, challenges, or differences in terms of recording and execution that took place because of changing the process, recording the tracks live on the floor with first takes?

JB Christoffersson: Actually, it was a great experience. When we made this decision, we made it early on- already at the end of 2017 that we would take the better part of 2018 to prepare and write. Having in mind that we were going to record in this way, and having to find a studio where we could live where we wouldn’t have to step in and out of the recording process but rather being in it for the whole duration. It was so much fun to do it this way- all of the recordings took less than two weeks, with vocals and overdubs and solos, everything.

Everything was very exciting. When you are in the studio for two months or something like that, at least I get very bored and irritated after a while. And that didn’t happen at all this time.

Dead Rhetoric: Were there any songs that took on the great transformation because of this process?

JB: Well, all of the stuff is new. That’s the way we’ve always worked. We don’t have stuff that’s lying around that we pick up after a few years. Everything was written specifically for this album, so I don’t have anything else to compare (these songs) to. The end results of these songs was the end result. It’s hard to tell, but I think the overall feel on the album really has a lot to do with the way we recorded it.

Dead Rhetoric: Anthony J. Roberts handled the cover art for the third consecutive album in the group’s history. What do you enjoy most regarding his work for the band – and do you have any specific metal album covers that land in the iconic status personally?

JB: With Anthony, he’s got number one a really personal and I think for me extremely appealing style of his artwork. It’s real artwork, and there’s no trickery – it’s proper drawing. It’s easily identifiable. There’s a vibe or feel to his artwork that really compliments us, and it fits with our music. He seems to have an imagination that runs pretty much along the same as mine. For me, it makes him an ideal visualizer. I’ve always been a fan of proper artwork – and what I mean by proper artwork is that you can see that it’s a human being behind it, whether it’s a painting or a drawing.

When it comes to iconic artwork, there are so many. When I grew up, you bought albums simply because of the cover art. There was no way to often read about these albums, you could buy some magazines but some of them were super expensive. You went to the record store, leafed through all the vinyl and you picked the most bad ass cover art. You would take it home and usually it was a good pick, the music would be in line with the artwork. One example of that is Hail to England with Manowar – that was the first Manowar album I got. When I saw it, I just had to have it- so I went home and put it on and was completely floored.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe these days a lot of bands don’t pay attention to the care of artwork because of digital mediums?

JB: It certainly seems to me that there are a lot of bands that seem very lazy when it comes to cover artwork. There’s so much stuff that looks exactly the same- and to me that’s just lazy. Everyone can do whatever they want, maybe they aren’t interested in stuff like that, but for me it’s always been… the visual aspect of an album has always been an important thing.

Dead Rhetoric: Grand Magus is now at the twenty-year mark as band. Where do you see the evolution of the band and its vision/execution from the inception to now?

JB: Wow. I’ve said this before, we never had any plan, and we still don’t have any plan. We’ve just done exactly what we feel like doing at any point in time. What has happened is a natural evolution, there hasn’t been any masterplan to start in this direction and go in another. It’s purely from our hearts. If I would look objectively on what we’ve done I’d say we started out with a much more obvious, Ozzy-era Black Sabbath influence and then our initial inspirations – bands like Judas Priest, Manowar, and Dio-era Black Sabbath, became much more obvious the third and fourth albums. That’s pretty much for me tells you what’s been going on. And overall you layer in the epic parts of Bathory – the Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods records, that’s always been a huge inspiration and I think you can hear that influence on all our albums.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned in our last interview that you believe the live experience is almost a sacred thing between the band and the people present. What circumstances or events do you believe need to take place to elevate that ‘sacred’ or special experience from the stage to the audience?

JB: Wow. I’m not sure about this. Usually you just know it when you step up on stage and you start to play, you look at people’s faces. It’s as much the band’s doing as the audience really. I think heavy metal is very special in that sense as it’s a true collaboration between the artist and the people watching. If people in the crowd feel good and are up for it, that is what makes the whole difference. And the artist’s mission is to make them feel that, and I think honesty goes a long way. Especially for a band like us, we don’t have any big stage show- we go up on stage and play. If you are open and have a good time yourself, the audience is going to buy into that.

It’s difficult sometimes. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is get up on stage, but you have to get into that mood anyway. It’s always worked, no matter how pissed off I may be before a show (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a preference in terms of a club show versus the festival audiences, or do you get equal enjoyment out of both?

JB: I enjoy both equally. It’s very different, and they both have their definite charm. I couldn’t say one or the other. I’m a bit of a control freak, but not in the sense that I need to control stuff. I like at the festival where you don’t have a sound check and you just go in- if the vibe is good, that can be great. A club gig, the positive thing is that you can control things a bit more. On the other hand, if you have the whole day and you are sitting around, you fiddle with all the stuff and if everything is good, the odds of the gig being boring increases somehow (laughs). It’s a very odd thing.

Dead Rhetoric: What does heavy metal mean to you as a genre?

JB: Heavy metal has been an extremely important part of my life ever since I was a child, really. Pre-teen even. It’s the kind of music that gives me a sense of strength, happiness really. It’s meant a great deal, a huge part of my life.

Dead Rhetoric: At this point in your musical career, what fuels your creative fire and output? Do you find it’s a challenge as you get older to muster up the courage to put your craft out there and open yourself up to opinions and viewpoints continuously from critics and fans?

JB: Not as I grow older, but I think the more well-known you get, the more negative stuff comes out. When you start out and no one knows you, those who seek you out are always those interested and those who are fans. As you become more well-known, there are a lot of people that are not interested and not fans, but they still get exposed to what you do. And everyone has an opinion, and today the possibility to express oneself has increased. To me, if you don’t like anything, why don’t you just go somewhere else, you know? That’s the way I work. As an artist, you are vulnerable. You want people to like what you do. Especially when you put your heart and soul into something. You can’t force people to like what you do- that’s just something that you have to accept.

Dead Rhetoric: What sparks your imagination – and did you find specific events or circumstances in your life that have caused you to become more emotional and intuitive as a person?

JB: The short answer is that that’s what’s in my lyrics. My lyrics are an extension of all my life experiences. Whether it’s books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, comic books I’ve read – nature experiences that I’ve had, all fantasies, emotions, and feelings. My lyrics are a reflection of all that. For me as a person- nature has always been a very strong fascination. Nature has a big place in our music as a whole. Any particular things that I remember – not really. I think it’s the whole process of you becoming you. It’s hard to pinpoint any particular happenings or anything like that.

Dead Rhetoric: During your time with Spiritual Beggars, did you gain any insight or takeaways from Michael Amott or others in that circle that you’ve been to apply to your outlook and vision for Grand Magus?

JB: Definitely. Michael was already very seasoned by that time with Carcass and Arch Enemy- Arch Enemy had exploded by then. One of the things that he taught me is we did a few interviews together, and I was not very good at handling (that). He was always very good at that- dealing with interviews. I learned a lot about that and also certain aspects of the music industry. Obviously, just his passion for music. When we started out in the beginning of Spiritual Beggars, it was pretty tough. I didn’t have any experience, and a lot of it I got into feeling it was life or death. You are more scared than you are enjoying yourself when you start performing, and Michael was very cool about things like that. He would tell me to just enjoy myself, that’s why you are here – and I think I’ve always kept that. That’s also one of the reasons why I think he’s so successful. So that rubbed off- I learned how to enjoy myself more doing this. And now I enjoy it more than ever.

Dead Rhetoric: Knowing that you have a strong affinity for Judas Priest, do you have a favorite era or time period for the band, when you felt they were firing on all the right cylinders?

JB: It’s tough because they are still an active band. I’d rather not talk about them in that sense. I wouldn’t like other bands to talk about my band in that sense – ‘when they did Iron Will, they were so much better than they are today’. I love Judas Priest too much to get into that.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s next for Grand Magus over the rest of this year into early 2020 to support Wolf God?

JB: Yes. There will be some news next week dealing with that. In the near future, we have European festivals- we are going to do seven of them this summer. And the news next week, it deals with something that we’ve never done before – I can tell you that much (laughs).

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