Sunday, 5 October 2014

HammerFall's '(r)Evolution' - Album Review

HammerFall have been churning out high quality power metal album for the past twenty years now and certainly part of the furniture in that scene. Influenced by bands like Judas Priest, Saxon and Pretty Maids, HammerFall's brand of power metal is far more rooted in classic heavy metal than many of their peers'. Making limited use of keyboards, HammerFall instead focus on a twin guitar attack that relies on crunching riffs and melodic lead lines. Frontman Joacim Cans does not posses the huge range that other power metal singers have, but his power makes up for it. These things combine well to make a simple, yet ballsy sound that has been the staple of their work throughout their career. (r)Evolution is the band's ninth studio album and comes off the back of a planned two year hiatus to recharge their batteries. The band's last album, 2011's Infected, was met with a lukewarm reception when it was released which must have affected the band when they came to writing the eventual follow-up. I must say, I have always enjoyed Infected, but I can see why some fans would not enjoy the more plodding tracks featured, and the shift away from the fantasy-inspired lyrics and artwork. (r)Evolution, as the title suggests, sees the band attempting to recreate their classic sound once more, and to a certain extent they have succeeded. The album's artwork seems to be a tribute to covers past, and the fantasy lyrics are back in full force. The band's decision to work once again with Fredrik Nordström, who produced their first two albums 1997's Glory to the Brave and 1998's Legacy of Kings, was clearly done to try and recapture some of their early energy and sound. What this album is not however is Legacy of Kings part two. Elements of the band's early sound are present, but so are the heavier more mid-paced elements from the band's more recent work. In essence, this album is a mixture of all eras of HammerFall, and fuses all the facets of the band's sound together. Those fans who were hoping for a total reversion to the early sound will be disappointed; and certain press released which seemed to give that impression could easily confuse people; but if (r)Evolution is listened to with an open mind, I am sure that most HammerFall fans will find something to enjoy here.

The album starts strongly with the melodic feast that is Hector's Hymn, about the band's famous mascot. Straight away we are treated to a barrage of 1980s inspired metal riffing with Anders Johansson's precision drumming to drive them all along. The lyrics make plenty of references to HammerFall songs past, and Cans sounds the most inspired and diverse that he has in quite a while. This song certainly has big doses of old-school HammerFall, and the big chorus is the icing on the cake. The album's title track follows and this smacks of mid-period HammerFall and would have fitted nicely on 2005's Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken with ease. The verses are quite laid back, with guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren making use of some nice clean guitar tones before the song slowly builds up, culminating in a gang-vocal-led chorus with plenty of catchy chanting. A bluesy guitar solo is another high point of the song, which makes a change from the usual, faster guitar-led instrumental moments. Bushido was the first song released from the album, so most fans will probably have heard it already. The opening guitar line is classic 1980s metal in the vein of Judas Priest, and Cans' vocals drive the song as, like the previous number, the song builds up around him. It is a powerful mid-paced number with an interesting stop-start rhythm that helps to keep the song interesting. The anthemic chorus is a winner too, and this song is sure to become a live staple for years to come. The next two songs are again in that mid-period HammerFall vein like the title track. Live Life Loud begins with a perfect headbanging rhythm and a simple riff that sticks in your brain and make itself hard to forget. This forms the basis for the song's chanted chorus; while the verses are built around a more modern sounding almost toned-down metalcore riff. It is a short song that is over almost as soon as it has begun, but the infectious nature of the piece makes it stand out. Ex Inferis is a much slower, more grinding piece. This has been a big part of the band's sound since their inception, and shows how the band are influenced by classic heavy metal more rather than more upbeat bands like Iron Maiden or Helloween. The chorus once again has that chanted quality to it, while Cans uses his powerful mid-range to sound actually pretty sinister throughout this song.

We Won't Back Down picks up the pace again and takes you back to the early days of the band with upbeat drumming, twin lead guitar harmonies, and a soaring chorus that demands to be sung. Old-school fans of the band will really appreciate this song, as it is one of the more purer power metal moments on the album. There is plenty of flashy guitar showboating during the solo section too. Winter is Coming is the album's obligatory ballad. In my opinion, ballads have never been HammerFall's strongest suit - but this song is not too bad at all. Cans manages to inject a fair amount of emotion into his vocal delivery, and Johansson's big drum sound helps to give the song a big booming sound, despite it's gentler nature. Origins is much stronger and ramps the pace back up. It is probably the most classic-sounding song on the whole album, so this one is likely to become extremely popular with the fans. The fantasy lyrics are very prevalent here, and the twin-lead guitar instrumental section is epic - before it explodes into a much speedier solo. It soon returns to the slower, harmonised section once again and this makes for probably the best instrumental passage on the album. This power metal at it's best, so all fans should check this song out! Tainted Metal is much ballsier and brings the band's more recent work to mind. I like the song though, and there are plenty of excellent riffs here to enjoy. Listen out to what is going on behind Cans' vocals, as the guitar work here is deceivingly complex and helps to keep the song interesting. This is a song where the instrumental work shines about the more obvious vocals and shows that the band can produce more than just simple, catchy metal songs. Evil Incarnate is probably the least interesting song on the album but still boasts a strident verse section. Efforts at harsh vocals later on during the song just end up sounding contrived but do not dominate the song, so that is okay. It is just a shame that the second half of the song basically just repeats the same chorus over and over again, which starts to become tedious after a little while. Wildfire is the album's final song and sounds more like speed metal than anything the band have done before. It really rocks and ensures the album ends on a strong note. The furious 'chorus' has a very thrashy feel to it, but the more melodic guitar solo section reminds you that this is a HammerFall song, despite the high speeds of the rest of it. Overall, this is a really solid album from a well-established band in the metal community. Some people might be disappointed that it was not a true return to the band's roots, but there are enough good songs on here to please those who like a good tune!

The album was released on 1st September 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hector's Hymn.

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