Grand Magus – None the Wiser At Midnight
By: David E. Gehlke
The husky, deep voice on the other end of the phone practically belies the mammoth pure metal roar that belongs to Grand Magus singer/guitarist JB “Janne” Christoffersson. Measured in tone and kind as one can be, Christoffersson has guided Sweden’s Grand Magus from the stoner/doom fringe to true heavy metal glory since their 1996 inception. Along the way, Christoffersson managed to squeeze in a noteworthy stint with 70’s rockers Spiritual Beggars from 2002 to 2006 while Grand Magus padded its resume with 2003’s Monument and critical gem, 2005’s Wolf’s Return.
It wasn’t until 2008 when Iron Will hit that the Swedes started catching fire on North American shores, which upon 2010’s Hammer of the North was supposed to capitalize. Yet, a botched distribution deal with Roadrunner Records left the band in limbo on these shores (see below), but allowed them to hook up with Nuclear Blast for the worldwide release of this year’s titanic The Hunt.
The band couldn’t have picked a better album to push in front of global audiences, for The Hunt’s ebb and flow is unrivaled by any true metal album this year, as evidenced by triumphant, yet accessible numbers like “Valhalla Rising,” “Starlight Slaughter,” and “Son of the Last Breath.” As such, Blistering couldn’t help but gush about The Hunt to Christoffersson, who took all of it in stride while displaying some renowned Scandinavian humbleness…
Blistering.com: I think the first thing to address is that you’ve done time on Rise Above, then Roadrunner, and now you’re on Nuclear Blast. Is it safe to say that for the first time in your career, all of your ducks are in a row?
JB “Janne” Christoffersson: Yeah, I think that’s a very good description that we’ve finally ended up where we belong at this stage. Really, all the steps we’ve taken I feel, have been beneficial to us in some way. The steps from Rise Above to Roadrunner were a big step, but an unnecessary step. With Nuclear Blast, everything is much more solid than they’ve ever been before. It feels really good and we can feel the support behind us this time. It’s a good thing.
Blistering.com: Hammer of the North never saw a proper physical release in North America. Considering how well Iron Will did, that must have been really frustrating to be unable to follow it up the way you wanted to.
Christoffersson: Take a guess [laughs]. We had long talks about this with the label. It was one thing that many people didn’t realize was that we were signed to Roadrunner Germany and normally, what they would do is that you’d sign to a territory and they didn’t have to release the record anywhere else but in Germany. But we got support from the UK office and other offices in Europe, but the whole “digital release” thing in America was a bit of a slap in the face. Not that America has been a big market for us, but still I felt we made an album where we poured our hearts and souls into it. That it was going to be released digitally and the explanations…it was very frustrating, yes.
Blistering.com: I think a lot of people at least in the North American market assumed that you’d make the jump to being a regular touring act over here with Hammer of the North. Is that what you assumed as well?
Christoffersson: Yes. That’s what one of the things we were hoping with Roadrunner was that we could finally make it to the U.S. under circumstances that would be beneficial to us and to Japan. And none of that happened. Then again, the only thing we can do is do the best music we can. All the rest is logistics and business and that’s not what we started…we’re not businessmen [laughs].
Blistering.com: You have a new drummer in Ludwig Vitt, who you’ve known from your Spiritual Beggars days. How seamless of a transition has it been to move over from Seb (Sippola) to Ludwig?
Christoffersson: It was in hindsight, incredibly seamless. Sebastian told us he wanted to step down in late August last year. I’ve been talking to Ludwig and he finally agreed after changing his mind, but we realized that we were going to do an album no matter what. So we wrote the rest of the songs in like, a month or month and a half, went into the studio with Ludwig, did the record. Then we did a headline tour in Europe with Sebastian, and a support tour for Amon Amarth in the U.K. with Sebastian, and those were his last gigs. Now, we just finished a festival tour in Europe, eight festivals in eight countries, and I can’t believe we have a new album and started touring with a new drummer. In that short amount of time, I’d say it’s been a bit of a miracle. We definitely had Odin on our side [laughs].
Blistering.com: Since you are a trio, that third member is even more important. Bands with five or six people can fraction themselves off and still function, but you can’t do that with a three-piece. Knowing Ludwig for so long must have come in handy.
Christoffersson: A necessity. We could never bring in a session drummer or some 25 year-old or whatever. It had to be someone we knew and someone that could fit in personally and experience-wise. Ludwig was really the only alternative that I could see. Like you said if you’re a five-piece and one of the guitar players is a fuck-off, you can always find someone else that’s not a complete idiot and it will work [laughs]. For us, it’s really, really important who’s in the band because we’re like a small family.