GRAND MAGUS – Iron Hands
Drummer Sebastian ‘Seb’ Sippola departed from Swedish heavy rockers Grand Magus due to family obligations and work commitments, the man having lent his chops to June 2008’s Iron Will and June 2010’s Hammer Of The North. An erstwhile bandmate of Grand Magus frontman Janne ‘JB’ Christoffersson (the two former members of Spiritual Beggars), Ludwig ‘Ludde’ Witt was revealed to be Sebastian’s replacement. The news was publicly disclosed on April 3rd, 2012.
“Sebastian only quit because he wanted to spend more time with his wife and kids,” Janne Christofferson reaffirms. “Ever since he came into the band, we’ve been pretty busy touring and playing a lot. He wanted to spend more time at home. That was the only reason.
“Sebastian and me were talking about if he ever left the band how there would really only be one drummer who would be able to do it the proper way, and that was Ludwig. Obviously I’d known Ludwig for a long, long time ever since we had played in Spiritual Beggars, so I knew that he would work personality wise as well which is really important. He was basically the only option that we had. We were just lucky that he really wanted to do it. Otherwise, we would’ve been in trouble (laughs).”
Little under a month earlier on March 8th, 2012, it was revealed that Grand Magus had inked an album contract with Nuclear Blast Records. “We’ve been talking to the people at Nuclear Blast for a few years,” the vocalist explains. “We’ve met them at festivals, so we knew that they were good guys, were really professional, and knew what we were doing. Obviously they’ve proven to be the ultimate heavy metal label, and it just felt very natural to finally start working with them.”
Fifth full-length Hammer Of The North was Grand Magus’ lone release through Roadrunner Records. “I guess if you’ve read the news, you kind of know why,” Janne alludes. “We didn’t know anything, but there was certainly a vibe. We could tell that things were happening, but we honoured the contract and everything. It’s just that at that point, I guess they decided that they weren’t gonna pursue the option. Then we got out of dodge.
“Roadrunner did some things really well though. I feel that we do our music, and we just want the biggest platform that we can get to get it out. Of course we want people to be dedicated to what we do as well though. I’m not at all displeased with the way everything turned out; I think that our relationship with Roadrunner gave us a lot of attention as well, which is always a good thing.”
A demo was cut during early spring 2011 to preview tracks for Nuclear Blast, those three compositions surfacing on sixth studio outing The Hunt which arrived in June 2012. “Those three songs were written and demoed by Sebastian, Fox, and me, and then the summer came,” the guitarist informs. “We did a load of festivals, and we knew after the summer that Sebastian wanted to leave the band. We also knew that we needed to get a new drummer for the album, so the rest of the songs were written between I guess mid-September until December. We then went into the studio in mid-January. Several of the songs were written by me, and a few of the songs were written by me and Fox together.”
The Hunt doesn’t exhibit a deviation in musical style. “I don’t think it’s such a huge difference really, apart from the variation,” Janne concurs. “Like you mentioned, some of the songs really have a more hard rock approach or feel than this streamlined metal approach. Other differences are obviously that the mix is different from the last one, things like that. I still think that you can hear very easily that it’s Grand Magus and that’s still very important to us, that you can recognise the band. We would never do anything that drastic.
“We do what we do. We just want to become better at what we do, and the main objective is always to write the best songs that we can. We made a conscious effort to put a bit more variation in the songs this time; we really worked to make them not sound too much alike. We wanted the album to be a bit more dynamic. That was something that we were consciously thinking about.
“A track like ‘Son Of The Last Breath’ is something that we’ve never done before, for example. I think it gives a nice change of pace to the heavy metal or whatever you wanna call it. We knew that we needed something a bit different. I’m not saying left field, because I still think it really fits in with the rest. We wanted something different though, so I came up with the melody for the first part of the song which has a very Scandinavian folk music kind of feel to it. I basically just whistled it on my way home, so that was the starting point. We then built from that. There’s a riff in there that also turns up in the song ‘Iron Hand’, so we knew that we wanted to have that motif turn up in different guises on the album. It was a long and complicated process making that song what it is.
“The first song ‘Starlight Slaughter’ is something a bit more early 80s hard rock / heavy metal type of thing, and that is something we’ve never done before as well. I think there are a few more condiments in the mix than we’ve had before, which I think is a good thing.”
Closing track ‘Draksådd’ bears a Swedish moniker, draksådd an old Scandinavian word which translates to ‘dragon’s seed’. “That’s a saying which refers to actions that have terrible consequences,” the mainman discloses. “The song also fits into the theme of The Hunt. I guess for me it’s bit of an odd song, but I think it really fits as a closing track on the album.”
Genre discussions inevitably exist, though Grand Magus firmly belong in one musical genre as far as Janne is concerned. “I would say that we play song-oriented heavy metal,” he states. “Heavy metal is something that you say with pride. I would definitely say that we’re a heavy metal band. We’re more concerned with the song and the music than we are with the sound, or any kind of special… I don’t know what to call it, but the song is the most important thing in what we do. We try to be the best songwriters that we can be, and write stuff that is memorable. It’s not just something that you hear where it’s ‘Okay, this sounds a bit like New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’ or whatever. We want to write great songs, not a throwback to something else. To write a great song is always the goal.”
Nonetheless, a 70s hard rock influence is quite audible. “Yeah, but if you listened to an album like Stained Class (February 1978) by Judas Priest it’s got a lot of different vibes to it, and it’s got a lot of hard rock on it as well,” the singer critiques. “Just machine-like, double drums all the way through stuff. The borders or whatever you wanna call it between hard rock and heavy metal I think are hazy at best. I wouldn’t limit myself. It would be easy to just do a formulaic album where every song is basically the same, a bit like power metal albums for instance. It’s just double-kick drum all the way through, and the same tempos and everything. I’m not interested in that, because I think that there would be variation. There’s always gonna be a bluesy element in what we do anyway, because it’s the thing we grew up with.”
Albeit a trio, Grand Magus’ sonic output isn’t in contrast to that of a quartet. “Black Sabbath have the same line-up as we do; it’s just that I sing as well as play guitar,” Janne muses. “There’s only one guitar there. It’s the same thing with Manowar and other bands with just one guitar, but then again you have trios like Firebird which are more like rock trios. You can’t say that a trio sounds like this or sounds like that. It all depends on the band. Motörhead are a trio, but I don’t think they sound like The Jimi Hendrix Experience (laughs). It just depends on the music, and the people involved I think. What choices you make.”
The axeman is hesitant to wholly divulge The Hunt’s lyrical meanderings. “I can give you a basic outline, but I’m not gonna discuss specific details,” he cautions. “The Hunt is about the band’s relationship with nature, and vice versa. It also deals with the relationship specifically between man and wolf, and this is on one level. There are more levels in each of the songs, but it’s almost like a themed album. A song like ‘Iron Hand’ for instance has at least two levels of interpretation. To me – and I’m not saying this in a pretentious way – lyrics are a bit like poetry. It gives you a feeling of something on one level. It’s a logical statement about something, but on another level it’s about colours and smell and feelings, and things like this. That’s the cool thing. It’s also about how they work together with the music, because that gives it other meanings that it wouldn’t have just on paper. With the basic theme of the album, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other levels of interpretation.
Nowadays, Janne lives closer to nature. “I live by the sea very close to the forest, so I step outside my door and 30 metres away I go into the forest, the lake, and everything,” he enthuses. “I used to live in the city centre here in Stockholm before, but I just realised that I grew up in the countryside and it’s something I really need. I got tired of having people in my face 12 hours a day. It’s just something that gives me harmony. It makes life worth living, you know (laughs). If I wanna be around people, I can always go into the city.”
“I have TV, internet access, and all that stuff, but I don’t necessarily use it. For instance, I’m in our ex-drummer’s house phoning from his phone (laughs).”
Entombed member Nico Elgstrand handled production duties for The Hunt. “It’s a very dynamic and very creative process,” the frontman reckons. “We had a lot of discussions, and we had a lot of ideas that we tossed around and tried. Usually the combination of him and us was something that is better than if we just did it on our own. Then again though, every time you record an album it’s a new experience and you learn things from every recording. There are always new problems turning up that you didn’t expect, and things like that. I would say though that we have a very good and very disciplined working relationship when it comes to doing Grand Magus albums.
“Let’s say we had the basic framework of a song – the riffs, the verse, and the vocals, all the pieces of a song so to speak – he would say ‘The song as a whole is good, but the chorus needs to be expanded somehow. It needs to go somewhere else other than where it’s going at this point. You need to develop it more,’ or ‘You shouldn’t go back to the bridge after the solo, but straight to the chorus.’ Things like this would be typical. He could say ‘This part is useless, because nothing happens’ for instance. We talked a lot about if we were gonna have a riff just going on and on, how we needed a special type of riff. Otherwise, it gets boring. I would say that especially in the arrangements. He basically said ‘Yeah, this is good’ or ‘This needs to be worked on,’ or ‘You need to change this, and you need to change that.’”
The record’s cover artwork was designed by Arik Roper. “Arik did the artwork for Iron Will as well, so we obviously knew that he was a talented artist,” Janne submits. “With the theme that I was talking about, this time around we knew that Arik could create something really special because it’s the kind of neighbourhood that he works in anyway. He’s got a very strong feeling of nature in his artwork, so we basically just gave him the title and this is what he came up with. It was almost telepathic that he somehow knew that this was the perfect image for the album.”
The axe-slinger’s departure from Spiritual Beggars came to light on June 6th, 2010, the man having lent vocals to two full-lengths in total; On Fire (November 2002, Music For Nations), and Demons (March 2005, Toy’s Factory). “It was simply a matter of not having enough time,” he remembers. “The thing is at that point, there suddenly opened a window of time for Michael (Amott, Spiritual Beggars / Arch Enemy guitarist) and the other guys in the band to do an album. At that point it was simply impossible for me to do it, so I just had to tell them ‘I love you guys, but I can’t do this now.’ I simply didn’t have a choice because with all of the stuff that we did with Hammer Of The North and everything, there wasn’t time for me to do anything else that year. It was a difficult decision, but I had no choice.”
Janne is nonetheless content with the Spiritual Beggars material he supplied vocals to. “I’m very happy and very proud of the stuff that I did with Spiritual Beggars,” he beams. “It’s something that I have really fond and great memories of.”
The Hunt was released on May 25th, 2012 in Europe and on June 5th in North America, all through Nuclear Blast Records.
Interview published in June 2012. All promotional photographs by Audrey Dujardin.