HammerFall - Infected (Nuclear Blast/Riot)

Hector's gone, but the commitment to classy heavy metal remains on HammerFall's latest full-lengther
Release Date: 
19 May 2011 - 11:30pm

2011 Is set to be a year of change for Sweden’s leading exponents of the power metal movement. Almost imperceptibly they’ve moved themselves away from the more ‘trad’ traits that they’ve always worn so proudly on their leather n’studded sleeves – even Hector, their Templar mascot, has been moved off the cover and into the recesses of the CD booklet as the band reposition themselves as a more modern or, dare I say it, ‘relevant’ brand for the second decade of the twenty first century.

But all those things are just perimeter issues. How has this change in policy at HammerFall HQ changed the thing that really matters – the music?
Thankfully very little, as it goes. Opener Patient Zero isn’t the usual heads-down opener the band elects to open their albums with normally, but it builds nicely before the band step forward with Bang Your Head. Gumby title aside, this is classic HF delivered as only this band can; a staunch paean to themselves, their fans, and the music we all love so much, this is sure to get fists pumping (and of course heads banging) in bedrooms and concert halls the world over in the coming years.

First single One More Time is next up, an insidiously catchy number that breaks out of a stomping riff into a chorus that is again pure HammerFall – you can take the metal out of the imagery, it seems, but you’ll have a devil of a job extracting it from the band itself .
And that’s how we like it, right? Wimps and poseurs will by now surely be leaving the hall on the realisation that Infected, despite the media posturing, is pure, undiluted HammerFall. If any further proof were needed, here comes The Outlaw, a classic Renegade-style tale of an impassive outsider fighting for truth, justice and the HammerFall way. It’s brilliant of course, all staccato riffage and a majestic chorus pressed home by the excellent vocals of Joachim Cans. Cans sounds reinvigorated on Infected; where his vocals have sounded a little automatic on the last couple of ‘Fall releases here he draws you in and convinces you of the verities about which he sings. This is especially apparent on the excellent (and obligatory – remember what I said about nothing much changing ‘round these parts?) ballad Send Me a Sign, an excellent little track that affords both you, the listener, and the band a little breather before the pace picks up again thanks to the dramatic Dio De Los Muertos. Thanks to some inspired riffage from Oscar Dronjak and new(ish) boy Pontus Norgren DDLM takes us back to a passion and fire that’s been often lacking from this band since around the time of 2002’s Crimson Thunder. It’s a great song, a true metal anthem fit to sit at the same table as HammerFall’s finest work.

Norgren has really sparked the band to life on Infected; Although he played on the band’s last album, the patchily effective No Sacrifice, No Victory, his songwriting input was negligible. Here his class is all over the record, dragging his bandmates with him as he reinvigorates and inspires. Has he saved the band single handed? Probably not, but HF is a much better unit for his presence.

We’d be approaching the middle of side two by now if we were enjoying this on vinyl, and I Refuse would be marking the point where a lot of bands start to struggle to fill the space available to them. Not Cans and company. I Refuse is a superb, stately, stomping beast of a track, somehow stirring memories of the gunners’ version of Live and Let Die come chorus time, although the rest of the song, building as it does through quiet picking to the crashing crescendos of the the chorus thankfully has no McCartneyesque fingerprints on it at all. It’s another outsider anthem, bolstered by some marvellous basswork from the oft-overlooked Fredrik Larsson and another song sure to become a live staple when the band hits the road later this year.

666-The Enemy Within is next, a rollicking tale of nefarious satanic practices driven on by some classic Anders Johansson double kick work and another solidly anthemic chorus that’ll have the mulletted hordes baying for more wherever it’s played. It’s stop-start nature hampers it a little, but when the band allow themselves to stretch out, as they do on the chorus and the solo section, they deliver some of the finest moments of a fine album.

Immortalized keeps the quality levels up, Cans casually tossing in another top-drawer performance as the band offer up a dramatic gang-chorused stomper that essentially doesn’t go very far artistically but has a lot of fun getting there. It’s brainless, but brilliant. Let’s Get it On is the only song here that allows the quality to drop a little, but that’s a relative accusation, and the band saves another great chorus for its weakest offering on the album, thus assuring that this too will slot into the live arena where finesse counts for little and feeling is all in fine style.

Closer Redemption thankfully doesn’t allow the album to tail off quietly; if anything it’s the best song on the album, introd by some marvellously Tolkkiesque keyboard/axe interplay before steamrollering through to a restrained verse part where – guess what – Joachim Cans is waiting again to dazzle us with a marvellous vocal that (gasp!) brings to mind his more august Swedish compatriot Joey Tempest of Europe fame – it’s that good. An insistent, Ibizaish keyboard parp also goads you into memories of final countdowns and prisoners in paradise before the chorus gets its metal back on and settles any qualms you may have had about enjoying such strangeness. There’s more great guitar interplay from Dronjak and Norgren to enjoy into the bargain.

So, the verdict? HammerFall clearly felt they needed to take a few chances with Infected, and whilst they might not have actually veered as far from the path as they’d have had us believe in the lead up to the album's release, they have delivered a recor that sees them gloriously returning to the things that made them such an enticing proposition in the first place, which makes Infected an absolute unqualified success. Brilliant stuff.