JB Christoffersson (Grand Magus) interviewed

** It’s not secret dBHQ gets excited when we hear Swedes Grand Magus have a new album at the ready. So, when the Stockholm-based trio Grand Magus announced Triumph and Power as their new full-length our Malevolent Creation sweat pants bulged a bit. The following is the full conversation between Decibel and Grand Magus beardman/ass-kicker JB Christoffersson. If you’re still into reading words on paper the other part of the interview with JB is available in Decibel 113 [HERE].
There aren’t many power trios around these days. What do you think is the greatest benefit of being a trio?
JB Christoffersson: One of the most important aspects is that it reduces the risk of squabbling within the band. Since you are only three, everything is up on the surface and there can be no “sides”. We all have to have the same vision or accept the same vision, without discontent. It’s easier to be a unit, you know? Also when it comes to playing live, it’s usually easier to mix a good sound for the front of house mix. With two guitars for instance, you immediately have issues with balance etc.

Is there a difference in the way you approached Triumph and Power from previous albums?
JB Christoffersson: In some ways, yes. The goal was more defined this time. I wanted Triumph and Power to be really powerful, majestic and less “hard rocky” than The Hunt. I think The Hunt was a natural reaction to Hammer of the North, but I feel that Triumph and Power is really the essence of this band.

Would you call Grand Magus an extension of what UFO, Accept, Rainbow, and Black Sabbath were doing in the ‘70s? A modern representation, if you will.
JB Christoffersson: Yes, I would agree with that. Our focus has always been on writing memorable songs rather than to spend much time thinking about the sound so to speak. What made the music of the bands you just mentioned so special is that those songs have survived all “progress” when it comes to sound production, etc. No recording or mixing techniques can replace a great song, without great songs you have nothing in my opinion. In short: I think that many bands misunderstand the reason why they like something, they think that a heavy or brutal sound makes for a heavy and brutal song. That is not the case. It’s the song that is the music.

There’s also a bit of folk music going on. Underpinnings of Svensk folkmusik, for example. I hear it in “The Hammer Will Bite,” “Arv,” and “Steel Versus Steel.”
JB Christoffersson: Yes, we have always had that underlying current in our music. This time we wanted it to show a bit more clearly than on some of our past albums. Then again, it’s evident on Iron Will, Wolf’s Return etc.

The mid-section to “The Hammer Will Bite” is a bit different. Where’d that come from? The way the solo transitions in is pretty great.
JB Christoffersson: Yeah. That middle part has a bit of Scandinavian black metal in it. It was originally part of another song, but we felt that “The Hammer Will Bite” should expand more and be more epic, so we did a new arrangement and it worked out really well.

You’ve made previous statements about putting recording money in the recording of drums. Why is that? Is that true for Triumph and Power as well?
JB Christoffersson: Yes. Well, in heavy metal the drums are extremely important, maybe more important than many people realize. There has been a tendency in “modern” metal to focus too much on a fat guitar sound, resulting in really weak sounding or fake sounding drums. In my experience, the fat guitar sound is a result of the combination of drums and bass guitar, rather than using all space/frequencies for the guitars. You have to have a really solid foundation to make things explode, hence the focus on the drums.

The Hunt was written individually—not in a jam room. How was Triumph and Power written?
JB Christoffersson: Since I had a clear vision of the direction of this album, it was natural that I wrote the songs this time. We also had a lot of pressure time-wise, The Hunt was released last year and to keep momentum we needed to compress the usual time frame to have new album done already this year. Normally, we wouldn’t even have started recording until January 2014, and now we have an album coming out in January. The discipline of steel!

You did some things differently on The Hunt than on Hammer production-wise. Triumph and Power brings the clarity to the production back. Was that your decision or something you discussed with Nico Elgstrand?
JB Christoffersson: All albums are different. We don’t have a ready-made mold for what we do. I think I had a clearer vision about how I wanted the album to sound, but that is also totally dependent on the songs. When it comes to the sound on Triumph and Power, yes, Nico is extremely involved with that, he both produced and mixed it. But he did that on The Hunt as well. This time around things just fell into place, I think.

What’s happening lyrically on Triumph and Power?
JB Christoffersson: A lot! [Laughs] I don’t wish to be too specific, since the lyrics are there for all to interpret and react to and I’ve never wanted the bands that I’m into to write me on the nose about what certain songs are about etc. It’s a bit like a novelist or poet explaining what a book or a poem is about. It’s there, read it, react and if it touches you emotionally, you will seek out the things you might not immediately understand and you will build your own images when you hear the song. Needless to say, there are strong elements of Norse tradition and the power of nature in the lyrics, as always for us.

What’s “Holmgång” about?
JB Christoffersson: OK, I will stretch my boundaries a bit then. [Laughs] “Holmgång” is a Swedish/Norse/Scandinavian term that signifies the following: two or more people have a dispute that has to be settled. The elders or the existing Byalag (village council) would try to judge this without bloodshed, but realize it has to be settled by combat. They would then row the two antagonists out to an island small enough so that you couldn’t run or hide (if you jumped into to the water it is forfeit, and you would probably drown since it was deep and back then most couldn’t swim anyway). The two would then have at each other (armed combat) until only one was left alive or the other yielded. “Holm” means “small island”, “gång” means “to go through” is this context.

A great deal is being made about what type of heavy metal Grand Magus belongs to. Or what sub-genre. What do you make of people trying to find places to put specific bands or sounds?
JB Christoffersson: I understand it. People have a need to categorize things in life. That’s just instinct. I do it, too.

Then again, heavy metal or power metal or black metal or death metal have different sonic fingerprints from one another. Maybe it’s necessary to classify now that genre cross-pollination is inevitable these days.
JB Christoffersson: Well, maybe. I think that the specific bands are always the starting point though. I’ve never understood the idea that you’d love a band just because it’s part of a genre. I mean, I love some bands that could be called black metal, and some bands that could be called death metal, etc. But that’s because of those specific bands and their music, not because they are labelled one thing or another. What genre is Black Sabbath? What genre is Immortal? What genre is Slayer? I really couldn’t say (or care), but they are all awesome. It’s almost a philosophical topic! [Laughs]

What are the next steps for Grand Magus? Hit the states maybe?
JB Christoffersson: Now we are doing promotion for the record for couple of months, and after that we go on an extensive European tour in March. We still haven’t played the U.S.! After 15 years! We are waiting for an offer we can’t refuse! [Laughs] No, seriously, we really, really want to meet the U.S. metal heads and we are working on it!

** Grand Magus’ new album, Triumph and Power, is out now on Nuclear Blast Records. It’s available HERE in several formats (CD/LP). So, get it now or we’ll send you some random island with JB. Trust us, he’s the fightin’ type. Don’t let his calm Swedish demeanor fool you.