Produced, mixed, mastered and engineered by Charlie Bauerfeind. Recorded at Sounds, Denmark, 4 September–25 October 2007. Mixed at Mi Sueño Studios, Tenerife, 4–25 November 2004.
HammerFall is yet another band that I know very little about. Until now, I’ve had only one track of theirs, “In memoriam” from Crimson Thunder (2002), which I gleaned from a magazine cover CD. I’m not sure I listened to it more than once or twice (Last.fm tells me I’ve never listened to it while connected to their service). Wikipedia tells me that they’re a power metal band from Gothenburg, Sweden founded in 1993 but with a couple of breaks in their career. Chapter V: Unbent, unbowed, unbroken, if you know your Roman numerals is HammerFall’s fifth album.
Sound-wise, HammerFall fall into the vicinity of early Helloween fused with Somewhere in Time (1986)/Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988) era Iron Maiden, and perhaps a large dose of Judas Priest too. This is a very European album (HammerFall are Danish), it’s dramatic, it’s romantic, it’s very melodic. The songs are guitar-driven, with galloping bass and drums beneath soaring, operatic tenor vocals.
In fact, the album copy I have contains a promotional booklet that advertises a collaboration between HammerFall and Kai Hansen (guitarist and co-founder of Helloween) on the I Want Out EP. But the last Helloween album I listened to was Master of the Rings (1994) which I heard an advance copy of because a friend of mine worked in the plant that was mastering the album; I got a tape of all the B-sides too. There were some good songs on that release. Anyway, I kind of felt that I had to put myself back in the mindset of 1994 to listen to this album.
The artwork is terribly clichéd metal, and the booklet contains photographs of the band wearing black, and leather, and studs, and looking incredibly uncomfortable and awkward. Such is the price you pay of real metal, I guess. Still, at least the lyrics are readable unlike some albums I’ve reviewed recently.
The album opens (“Secrets”) with keyboards padding out a dark and atmospheric hum over which a lead guitar twiddles. And then straight into… well, Keeper of the Seven Keys-era Helloween! (Welloween?). “Blood bound” reminds me of Blaze Bayley-era Maiden… moving on! “Fury of the wild” has a Judas Priest edge to it: it’s the riff and cutting vocals. “Hammer of justice” has a chorus that sounds like it’s sung by the whole band and a widdly guitar solo.
By the second half of the album you can more or less predict what’s going to come next. Don’t get me wrong, it’s played beautifully, the songs are well written and if you like mildly clichéd metal lyrics then this is perfect. It’s just all rather predictable by this point.
Except for perhaps track 8 “Imperial” which is a short, rather plodding, acoustic instrumental. Remember those days in the 80s when it was almost obligatory to include an quasi-classical guitar track on metal albums? The track that says, “I might be a wild metal guitarist, but look! I can also play a nylon string guitar. Hear my sensitive side”. The trouble with this track is… it’s a bit boring, to be honest. It sounds like something from a grade 3 guitar exam.
The album closes with “Take the black”, a fast-paced, metal-by-numbers chugger, and “Knights of the 21st century” which at 12 minutes 19 seconds is a bit of an epic. It opens with rain and thunder, and the angry growl of an angry, growly man. I suspect that it’s supposed to generate a feeling of fear, it’s kind of spoiled by this gruff voice hacking out the words, “Yeah… fuckin’ yeah!” The early vocals flit between this gruff monsterous voice and Cans’ ordinary voice. The riff kicks in after an explosion.
Oh, yeah! This song has everything.
More metal-by-numbers, more slow stuff, ballady (but with growls), and then the rain and thunder bring the song to a close. Ah! But that’s not the end… two and a half minutes later and the shouty-sweary man is back, “Yeah… fuckin’ yeah… The pro-phe-cy!” To be fair to HammerFall, I imagine that this is a much better song performed live rather than listened to blindly on a CD.
Apart from the last song which I really didn’t connect with, this is a decent enough album if you like your melodic metal-by-numbers. It’s not a terrible album, but it’s not a game changer either. Definitely for fans of Helloween, Judas Priest and mid-career Maiden, I guess.
Review score: 65%