HammerFall, "Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken"
The Swedes that seemingly single-handedly revived melodic speed metal back in 1997 return with their fifth outing. Hailed as either true metal saviors or cheesy crap band, these templars of steel have received many accolades and attacks over their nearly decade-long career. When I say "attacks", you can take that literally in the case of vocalist Joacim Cans, as he was hit in the face with a beer bottle by a pussy black metal fan a few years back. "Pussy?" I hear you ask. Indeed. Real men use fists, they don't need cowardly props to take care of business. I've done my share of ass kicking and having my ass kicked, and I have never resorted to using fucking bottles or weapons. Godammed pussy ass shit, that is.
Did I say "nearly decade-long career"?! Holy hell, where does the time go? This being the fifth full length record, the criticism that the band receives will be predictable - either people will hate them for changing too much or hate them for not changing at all (or just hate them, period - or just love them, period - or in my case, think they're okay). The band's first two albums were notable for their speedy, fist-raising anthems and high-pitched, clean vocals. Quite a dramatic difference from what most metal groups were doing at the time, what with the all the death growlers and emo screamers running around. Thus HammerFall's old school approach was welcomed with open arms by a legion of fans new to this style (or old fans of the style, like me). With their third outing, "Renegade", the group decided to slow things down and let the mid-paced chug of Accept influence their work, which I guess was a creative necessity since every song can't be a pulse pounding anthem or dramatic epic, but the production was cloudy and the energy sorely lacking, so I lost my enthusiasm for the band. "Crimson Thunder" arrived and while it sounded minutely better than "Renegade", the palpable virility of the first two releases was still lost. Sure, there were still a handful of mid-paced, head-bangin' riffs and melodic vocal hooks to hang your hair on (if you hadn't it lost it yet, like me), but man - where was that unbridled energy?
So that brings us to record five. Unfortunately for me, the reckless abandon of "Glory to the Brave" and "Legacy of Kings" has not returned and for the most part HammerFall locks into that mid-paced groove that we've all become accustomed to. Perhaps I'm a fool for wanting to hear the band recreate the sound of their earliest releases, but I still miss it, like I miss my own youthful, reckless abandon. Ah well. Just like me, I reckon the lads in HammerFall have lost that for good. I guess it's impossible to recapture your lost innocence (cue the violins).
That said, "Chapter V" is easily the best record these cats have made since "Legacy of Kings". The sound is the clearest that it's ever been, the guitars finally cutting through and dominating as they should while all other instruments and vocals sit well in the mix. Cans voice has gotten a gritty edge (so much so that I thought Kai Hansen was guesting on the opening track) and he sounds more ready for battle than he ever has in the past (I guess a beer bottle in the eye will do that for you). While they don't sound exactly like the HammerFall of the late 90s, the band has recaptured much of the spark that was gone on the past two releases.
The guys are definitely following their old formulas (of course), presenting another album of mostly mid-paced, hook-laden chuggers with hearty, gang shouted choruses, the prerequisite ballad (which really showcases Cans' abilities), a few songs that threaten to burn up the speakers like they once did, an acoustic instrumental and a long ass "epic" track at the end that features Cronos from Venom doing "evil" vocals. This ten-minute song sums up HammerFall, a band that was begun for fun and never took itself too seriously (although plenty of other people did). As a song, it's too long and not very interesting as its sections are disjointed, but it does bring home the HammerFallian message: this isn't music to ponder, it's just good ole fashioned, fun heavy metal meant to get people drinking, singing and swaying to the primal metallic beat. Judged by these criteria, the album is a complete success.
Fury of the Wind