What’s left to say about Swedish metal-preservers Hammerfall that hasn’t already been said? My relationship with the band is that I have never been as a fan and I even thought they were a dorky band when they began. That said, they have always stood up for Heavy Metal and no matter how much crap they have been given from the Metal community, they have never given in or apologized for their music or looks. They do have my respect for that. I have never hated them and I have always thought that the harsh words that has been vomited their way from rockers were never justified for – totally unfair, actually. Because love them or hate them, do give them the credit for standing up for Metal at a time when no one else did.
I have given their music a fair shot, I think, but their early albums never got through to me. I don’t hate those albums, they’re just not for me. But something happened when they brought in American songwriter/producer James Michael (Sixx A.M.) for their Infected album back in 2011. I’m not sure if it was only due to Michael as their previous album No Sacrifice, No Victory (2009) showed a band on their way up, quality wise. But from Infected and forward, Hammerfall’s records provided a bigger and fatter sound. Song wise, it has always been totally Hammerfall but even in that department, the band got better and better with each release. I’m sure their long-time fans might wanna agree to disagree with me here, but for a non-fan like me, those records has made me like the band – and those albums are still being played at my household every now and again. Now three years after their last record, Built To Last, Hammerfall are back – again with Michael holding production duties together with guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren.
A softer laden intro begins the opening track “Never Forgive, Never Forget” but the tempo rises and the tune goes faster paced and galloping on a classic Metal note where Judas Priest, Saxon and Accept meets in a snakepit only to slow down temporarily in an instrumental passage in the second half of the song. The tune brings on a big live-feel and I guess it will open their live shows in the future. A spot-on and direct refrain lies on top full of Metal catchiness that’s Hammerfall all the way. A really good song that shows that Hammerfall still are on fire. The Accept influences stays on for the title-track and latest single, a heavy stomper with a “Balls To The Wall”-like riff. Even the vocals are Accept-like but there’s also a twist of 80’s Manowar waved in here and the refrain is superb, catchy and sticky and just as cheesy as Hammerfall should be. They might wear their influences on their sleeves but they do it with love and passion. Damn good one.
Heavy and uptempo, “Testify” comes along with a clear Judas Priest influence – the twin-guitar solo has borrowed almost a bit too much from “Freewheel Burning”. It’s heavy and fast with crunchy guitars and a gang-vocal refrain on top. It’s a good one but the verses are better than the refrain. Second single “One Against The World” takes a route down Power Metal lane – fast, crunchy and heavy with distinct and direct melodies all over. Again, I hear traces of both Manowar and Priest plus an Iron Maiden meets Accept guitar solo. The refrain is one of those catchier than catchy one’s that sticks in your head no matter if you like it or not. It’s a pretty good song but a bit too much Power Metal for me. Leading single “(We Make) Sweden Rock”, both a tribute to Swedish Hard Rock of all genres and the festival, is an upbeat, in-your-face rocker with a straight-forward rhythm and a pop-laden refrain that sticks right away. Lyrically, it might be a bit cringy but it’s a damn catchy rocker and if any band can get away with cheesy stuff like this, it’s Hammerfall. I really like it even though I found it a bit corny at first.
The last album had a ballad called “Second To None”, this one has a ballad called “Second To One”. Where this might sound like a lack of imagination, I’ll let it slide because the band themselves knows this damn well – and they probably don’t give a rat. The song starts out stripped with only piano and vocals but when the band comes in, the tune turns into a bonafide Heavy Metal power ballad. It’s a bit gloomy and melancholic but also atmospheric with a stand-out chorus and a very emotional guitar solo. Awesome stuff. Fast, kicking and rowdy, the in-your-face “Scars Of A Generation” brings forth some classic Metal verses with both strong melodies and aggression whereas the über-catchy refrain is all Power Metal, the German kind. It’s ok but doesn’t shake my world. “Dead By Dawn” is a punchy and riff-happy monster, fat with a meaty rhythm and a striking main-melody. The chorus hits like a ton of bricks, metal-catchy as can be. Very good.
“Battleworn” is a 40 seconds long instrumental, a bagatelle that swishes by unnoticed, right into the next track which is “Bloodline”, a fast and rough blasting Metal tune, classic Hammerfall style. It’s melodic enough and quite catchy but it’s also quite forgettable when the tune is over and fails to make a real impression on me. The same can be said for the Hard Rock riffed Metal track “Chain Of Command”. It’s ballsy and direct and the high falsetto singing becomes somewhat annoying here and there. I like the verses enough but the chorus is underwhelming and doesn’t really go anywhere. Hammerfall ens the record with yet another ballad, the dark and heavy yet positive laden “And Yet I Smile”. The pace is slow, the atmosphere is sullen but the chorus is massive. The balance between soft and heavy is right on the spot and the somewhat Celtic laden guitar solo and the passage that nods towards Manowar balladry makes the dynamics rise. Phenomenal.
I know that I will probably take a beating for this – but remember once again I was never that big on Hammerfall’s early days and have never called myself a fan – but I’ll stick my chin out and state that this is Hammerfall’s best work to date. Yes, I know that they have shitloads of Metal classics on their hands and that they have left out quite a bit of their Power Metal roots for classic Heavy Metal, but that’s exactly why I have taken to this album and embraced it. Still, no one can claim that they don’t sound like Hammerfall anymore, they certainly do, but a bettered version of the band. That said, the album isn’t without flaws, there are still a few fillers too many here but both song-wise and production-wise, I don’t think that Hammerfall has ever sounded better than this. 22 years since the debut and still going strong – Metal sure is alive and well in 2019.
More Hammerfall reviews:
1. Never Forgive, Never Forget
4. One Against The World
5. (We Make) Sweden Rock
6. Second To One
7. Scars Of A Generation
8. Dead by Dawn
11. Chain Of Command
12. And Yet I Smile