Bring on the metal onslaught!
A friend turned me on to this band by sending me one song on a tape; "The Dragon Lies Bleeding." Suffice it to say, I was blown away. Hammerfall play power metal in the tradition of Judas Priest, Manowar, and Iron Maiden, yet they remain fresh sounding. I heard at the time that this was one of Nuclear Blast's biggest sellers and I can see why. In a time when metal has been so blurred with other influences, it's refreshing to hear a band stay so close to their roots and put out a real HEAVY METAL album. "Glory to the Brave" is no frills heavy metal, not overly progressive, not even down-tuned, just speed-laden, melodic, grandiose anthems about honor, glory, and slaying dragons. "Children of the Damned" is a Warlord cover.
"Legacy" is an excellent follow up to the earth shattering "Glory to the Brave." Stronger, heavier, and plenty of sing-along, melodic vocal hooks. The lyrics continue in the Manowar tradition of the strength of metal. Songs like "Warriors of the Faith" speak of metal in an almost holy manner. Of course none of my local stores were stocking this, so I had to special order it. Paid a premium price, but it was worth it. "Back to Back" is a Pretty Maids cover.
This one was much anticipated after totally enjoying their first two true metal platters. I special ordered this disc so that I would have it the day it became available in the US. For me this is rare, as there are very few new releases that I am that anxious to have. "Renegade" on the first few listens sounds like it is just as enjoyable as the past two discs, although I think they may have slowed down the tempo a bit on this disc. After owning this disc for several months and reading lukewarm review after lukewarm review, I still like it as much as I did the day I bought it. The production is a bit too glossy on this disc, but for me at least, the music is still infectious and leaves me banging my head each and every time I play it. All hail the new kings of true metal! Hammerfall!!! Have to add that new drummer Anders Johansson formerly played with Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force.
Hammerfall - Crimson Thunder (Nuclear Blast) 2002
I have a hard time being bias when it comes to Hammerfall. Each and every disc they have released since "Glory to the Brave" has captivated me. Galloping heavy metal with Joacim Cans signature, melodic vocal harmonies. "Crimson Thunder" doesn't stray from where the last three albums let off, however, I would say that Crimson Thunder is a bit more aggressive and better produced than "Renegade." Within two spins of this CD, I was already singing along to anthemic choruses like "Heart's On Fire", which I also believe is the first single from this album. While I really think this is just a solid album from beginning to end, there are some standout tracks like the infectious "Riders on the Storm" and the galloping instrumental track "In Memoriam". Once again, Hammerfall prove to my why they have become one of my favorite bands. They are unapologetic about their love for real metal and it shows in each and every note they play. "Angel Of Mercy" is a Chastain cover-tune. Oh, and finishing off with a Kiss cover certainly left a smile on this old headbanger's face, although I must confess that the Swedish rockers don't really have the NYC attitude to pull of a Kiss cover. This track is listed as a bonus track and is exclusive to the U.S. release.
Hammerfall - One Crimson Night (Nuclear Blast) 2003
What can I say? It's live Hammerfall, so I love it! It seems over the past few years Hammerfall have become the band that it is cool to hate, in metal circles. Not sure what the deal is with the hatred this band has garnered, but I think it is undeserved. Honestly I think that when a band begins to become popular in the mainstream, suddenly it becomes uncool to like them to the die-hard underground metal heads. The thing is, Hammerfall did it on their own terms. They haven't sold out to any trends. They still wave their metal freak flag high and proud. Some have stated that the band members are not deserving of the popularity because they are not as talented as some lesser known bands. So freakin' what! It matters not the range of talent of the members. They take what talent they do have and they use it quite well. Perhaps something could be said of their love for ballads and sing-along anthems, but since when is this a problem in heavy metal? Judas Priest has been doing it since the 70's without retribution. "Once Crimson Night" is a testament to the band's excellent catalogue of metal tunes, their talent, and their showmanship. Having seen Hammerfall in concert this past year, I know for a fact that they don't fail to put on an entertaining, powerful and energetic live performance. This CD does a good job of capturing that energy. Everything from the tight song deliveries, to the crowd interaction, to the various solos are all in place. The sound quality is stellar as well. Minor complaint is that the in between song banter isn't in English, so I can't understand a word of it. Not a big deal though. On top of the complete Göthenborg, Sweden show that was recoded on Febuary 20th, 2003, there are also three bonus tracks that were recorded in various locations. Thankfully, one of my favorite Hammerfall tracks ("The Dragon Lies Bleeding") was included in these bonus tracks, otherwise I would have been a bit disappointed. So, mock if you will. As for me, I'll be jamming to this excellent live album; head banging and fist in the air. Long live Hammerfall! Long live heavy metal!
Hammerfall - One Crimson Night (Nuclear Blast/DVD) 2003
1. "Lore Of The Arcane"
The DVD version of "One Crimson Night" shows Hammerfall in front of a raging crowd in their hometown. Hammerfall's years of touring show here, as they put on a worthy performance. Having seen Hammerfall in the U.S., it's interesting to see how much more popular they are in other countries. I have seen them in clubs, usually as an opening act. Here they put on a headline performance complete with pyrotechnics that would make Kiss proud. I must confess that I tend to listen to music more than I watch it, so this DVD won't get anywhere near the playtime of the CD version, but this is a nice addition to the collection nonetheless.
Hammerfall - Chapter V : Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (Nuclear Blast Records) 2005
2005 and Hammerfall are still going strong. Hammerfall make no apologies for their sound or for their love of metal. They aren't trying to "progress" to a new song, nor are they trying to break down any new doors musically. It's all about keeping that metal flame alive, and certainly they accomplish that here. So, there are no great surprises here other than the inclusion of guest vocals Cronos (Venom) on track ten. If you already know and love Hammerfall, you will most likely enjoy this disc as well. If you already hated them, chances are that "Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken" won't change any minds. As with past discs, this one contains some killer material, with those galloping riffs, dual guitar solos, and helium high vocals. What surprised me a bit was that the band has a less "commercial" sound than on their two previous releases. The production here goes back to the first couple of releases and retains a slightly less polished sound. Also, there are no obvious attempts at singles here like "Heart of Fire" from their "Crimson Thunder" CD. However, there are some very strong songs on this CD. "Secrets" start things off with a big headbanging opus. as well, "Blood Bound", "Hammer Of Justice", "The Templar Flame" and "Take The Black" are also stellar Hammerfall tracks. "Knights of the 21st Century" is a bit of a grower. I have never been to fond of Cronos' lethal growl, save for a song or two. I think it works here as well, but the song suffers a bit from over a minute of pointless, ambient intro and two minutes of blank fadeout at the end of the song before Cronos is reintroduced for a short 15 second spoken word outro. Otherwise, I can find little fault with this one and am thoroughly enjoying it. Templars fly your metal freak flags, Hammerfall is here to stay.
Hammerfall - Threshold (Nuclear Blast) 2006
Hammerfall return in '06 with yet another album chock full of fists-in-the-air, sing-along, heavy metal anthems. Hammerfall are not a band that does a lot of experimenting with their sound, so really there are no surprises here. There are solid, heavy metal tracks like "Natural High", "Shadow Empire" and "Carved In Stone", as well as the ballad "Dark Wings, Dark Words". In my opinion this is one of the band's better ballads with it's dark, erie mood and atmosphere. On slight surprise is the use of keyboards in the instrumental "Reign of the Hammer", however, even this song sounds like Hammerfall. So, "Threshold" is not a radical departure from their true metal roots, which will please most longtime fans. With any Hammerfall album, many metal fans seem to either love or hate the vocals. I think Joacim Cans vocals are one of the strongest weapons in the Hammerfall arsenal. His voice is clear and powerful with the range and emotion needed to bring the epic, fantasy based lyrics to life. Yes, sometimes his hyper-high vocals border on cheesiness, but that's part of the fun of Hammerfall. Joacim is the character of Hammerfall. He gives the band distinction from the hordes of Euro-power metal bands currently flooding the market. Charlie Bauerfeind's production here is crisp and clear, yet still maintains a heavy, powerful sound. Despite my somewhat glowing review thus far, "Threshold" will probably not rank among my favorite Hammerfall albums. They have yet to top "Glory to the Brave" or "Legacy of Kings" with any release, in my opinion. However, I do find albums like "Renegade" and "Crimson Thunder" to be very good and and "Threshold" holds up nicely in comparison and may be even a step above their last album, "Chapter V : Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken".
I've always enjoyed Hammerfall's covers. It was Hammerfall's cover of "Back to Back" that peaked my interest in Pretty Maids, a band I had forgotten about until I heard this cover on their 1998 album "Legacy of Kings". Likewise Hammerfalls' cover of "Run with the Devil" helped me to discover Heavy Load, a band I was unfamiliar with until hearing the cover on their "Renegade EP". So, having been mostly pleased with their covers over the years that I was excited to hear that they were putting together a compilation of those many covers, along with three new recordings. The cover of Europe, Skid Row and Riot are new to this CD.
Listening to this a whole, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much I liked most of these covers, especially when they cover some of the traditional metal bands such as Helloween, Accept, Warlord, Stormwitch, Yngwie, Loudness, etc. Mostly Hammerfall follows the original compositions of the songs while adding in their own flare and style. Where I feel their versions didn't work as well are when covering American bands like KISS and Twisted Sister. Both bands have a tough New York City attitude that is completely missing in Hammerfall's versions. In comparison, Hammerfall's covers sound light and wimpy. This is especially true of the Twisted Sister cover, which gets even cornier when Joacim Cans breaks into the song to say, "can you hear me Twisted f***ing Sister! We are Hammerfall from f***ing Sweden..." He just doesn't have that street tough voice to pull it off. Of the three new songs, I though that "Flight of the Warrior" from Riot was an excellent selection. It's a great song and just obscure enough to work without sounding tired. Unfortunately I felt that to be the case of "Youth Gone Wild", a good song in it's own right, but one that has been overplayed over the years. I have one other minor complaint. While I like Hammerfall's cover of Accept's "Head Over Heels" with guest vocalist Udo, there is something wrong with this track. There is some sort of digital noise that is very noticeable in the beginning of the song when the bass is by itself. On first spin I had thought something was wrong with my car speakers. I had to take the CD and give it a spin on a few other systems only to find that the problem is with the song and not my stereo. Otherwise I found this to be an enjoyable listen overall.
1. "Any Means Necessary" (3:35)
2. "Life Is Now" (4:43)
3. "Punish And Enslave" (3:57)
4. "Legion" (5:36)
5. "Between Two Worlds" (5:28)
6. "Hallowed Be My Name" (3:56)
7. "Something For The Ages" [instrumental] (5:03)
8. "No Sacrifice, No Victory" (3:32)
9. "Bring The Hammer Down" (3:41)
10. "One Of A Kind" (6:14)
11. "My Sharona" (3:57)
The Swedish heavy metal machine rolls on in 2009 with an altered line-up and brand new studio album. "No Sacrifice, No Victory" is the first new Hammerfall in two years and is a return to what any fan would expect from this band; straight forward, traditional, heavy metal. "Any Means Necessary" starts things off on a heavy note. This is perhaps one of the heaviest and fastest songs they've done in quite some time. Jocam adds a slightly meaner element to his vocals here, adding in some lower register sounds which gives the song a tougher feel. New guitarist Pontus Norgren adds a new element to the band with his choice leads. The title track and "Bring the Hammer Down" are equally heavy songs. The later even featuring some steady double bass. "Between Two Worlds" is the ballad off this album and is perhaps one of the band's best since "The Fallen One". "Something For The Ages" is a well done instrumental. This song is not just an excuse to show off their new lead guitarist, but it well written and fits in with the overall album. Of course, Pontus does let his presence be know on this track, which he also penned. I'm not sure what the deal is with metal bands covering The Knack's "My Sharona". Destruction and Pink Cream 69 have also covered this song. Surprisingly, Hammerfall's cover didn't suck although it does stick out like a sore thumb on this album. Frankly, I think that "No Sacrifice, No Victory: is the best album from HammerFall in many years. Not that anything they have released has completely disappointed me, but none of their albums since their 90's outputs have completely pulled me in like this one did. The songs are heavy and catchy enough that I wanted to hear them over and over again.
Hammerfall are one of those bands that you can always count on to deliver their own unique brand of heavy metal, year after year, album after album. They are the AC/DC or Mötorhead of the power metal world. They also seem to be that one band that everyone loves to hate. I'm not sure why exactly, since I've found something to like about each and every one of their albums. However, I wonder if that dislike found it's way to the band, because with "Infected", the band have made an attempt at a different sound. The band have also brought in a new producer, James Michael (Mötley Crüe, Scorpions etc.). As well, their eighth studio album, is the first not to feature the bands warrior mascot "Hector" on the cover. This is most certainly an indication of a move away from the Euro power metal sound. Even the band's logo has been replaced with something that looks quite a bit more modern. Of course, all this means nothing whatsoever if it isn’t an enjoyable album. Thankfully, I find it to be thoroughly so!