HammerFall - (r) Evolution (Nuclear Blast)

Satisfactory, though not earth-shattering return from these dependable Swedes...
Release Date: 
27 Jul 2014 (All day)

I don’t know about you, but even as an avid power metal aficionado I find the prospect of a new HammerFall album less and less appealing as the years go by. Formed as a ‘jokey’ side project when this sort of music was not only out of fashion, but openly laughed at (I thought they’d been going longer than a month – hilarious Ed.), they’ve somehow carved out a twenty-year plus career based entirely on the glory of metal and the power of steel; That on it’s own is worthy of respect and praise, I guess, but a series of increasingly stale and uninspired releases have meant that interest in the band has tailed off somewhat. Is there still a market for Hector and his henchmen in 2014? Well, let’s have a listen and see, shall we?

Early signs are good, with opener Hector’s Hymn being a storming introduction to proceedings. A fast-paced anthem built around a super-memorable chorus, it’s the best song this band has released in a decade, and easily good enough to have been featured on any one of hammerFall’s classic first three albums. From then on however, the band treads more familiar, tepid water with a series of serviceable if hardly thrilling tracks that barely incite more than polite foot tapping.  The title track is dull, frankly, whilst Bushido and Live Life Loud merely sound like platitude-filled reruns of songs they’ve written before. Add some tired lyricism to the mix – exhortations to ‘raise your fist and yell’ and allusions to ‘soldiers under command’ seem to point to an ideas bank running low in this department – and what you’re left with, once again, would appear to be a band going through the motions, and this is still a disappointment, however low one’s expectations were in the first place.

The slower Ex Inferis fares slightly better, with the crowd-chanted chorus at least causing the ears to prick up and the fist to ball, if only for a few seconds, but then We Won’t Back Down slips back onto auto pilot and we’re back to square one. Ballad Winter is Coming at least injects a bit of drama into proceedings and features some nice dual harmonies from guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren, whilst vocalist Joacim Cans – who sounds increasingly unable (or more likely unwilling) to really pull his weight to the heavier numbers puts in his best performance of the album, coming across a bit like Europe’s Joey Tempest with his impassioned delivery. It’s good stuff, but should big ballads really be where HammerFall are most effective these days? I think not.

Origins is a bit more like it, if only because it is so predictable. That said, it’s the HammerFall fans like me know and love, and its familiarity is as comforting as it is exciting. Cheese? Yes, but it’s a most welcome slab o’cheddar if you ask me. Alongside Hector’s Hymn it’s the most overtly classic HammerFall track on offer here.

Next track Tainted Metal is a nice, heads-down tribute to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, with more simplistic riffs and a fine Maidenesque flourish at the end that’ll go down an absolute storm live, but, frustratingly, Evil Incarnate can’t keep the quality level running high and Wildfire, despite closing the album in spirited, double-kick fuelled fashion is nothing out of the ordinary either, if truth be told. 

So there you have it – sparks of brilliance are evident, and this album overall is certainly better than last effort Infected, but there’s still too much here that sounds phoned in for me to be able to wholeheartedly recommend this album to anyone but the most devout Templar of Steel.