For the last three years or so I have been subjected to countless power metal bands from Europe, mostly all faceless with nothing to distinguish each other from the pack. Racking my memory to even recall the various bands is even mind numbing, such is their similarity. Names like Tad Morose, Symphorce, Thunderstone, Black Abyss, Seventh Avenue and Hammerfall are ones that spring immediately to mind, only because I uploaded their albums to my computer. Of these acts Hammerfall are the one I take exception to the most, their latest release 'Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken' having recently made its way to my doorstep and trash can in pieces after being decimated by a hammer almost as soon as it arrived.
I feel I should appreciate Hammerfall. They espouse traditional heavy metal in a fervent manner that once upon a time would have had me in tears of joy. When I first heard them in 1998 following the release of their second album 'Glory To The Brave' I thought the new Iron Maiden had been unearthed. I was only 22 at the time. Coming off a decade that devoured metal and spat it out as if it never mattered, having a band writing anthems about steel and leather seemed too good to be true. 'Metal's back!' I would shout to myself in an empty room. After all where were Manowar? Maiden were dying with Blaze Bayley. Priest likewise with 'Ripper' Owens. Maybe Hammerfall were the answer to metal's prayers.
Somehow it never happened. 2000's 'Renegade' wasn't the breakthrough the band seemed poised for and the Swedish band seemed to fade away. I certainly forgot about them. In 2003 I received a copy of their new album 'Crimson Thunder', wrote a couple of harsh reviews and tried to comprehend that this band was touted as meta;s bright future. Some of the band are actually in their forties. In Hammerfall's wake came all the pretenders, who seeing their success copied them directly. The countless sum of boring Euro metal acts on the scene then and now has reached overload. How many more bands must I hear with a vocalist who can barely grasp English? Or music with typically fast riffs with triumphant melodies and anthemic choruses? Just writing those words is stale enough.
Listening to Hammerfall profess their lust for true metal seems scarcely believable to me. They constantly attempt to recapture the scene's glory years of the 80's, but inevitably it comes off as forced. 'Chapter V' is virtually a rewrite of 'Crimson Thunder', with the same thin sound and production. There is plenty of energy but never once does the music threaten to knock you out. It's all rather half hearted and hardly heavy at all. Titles like 'Blood Bound', 'Fury Of The Wild' and 'Hammer Of Justice' sound credible on the surface but are one endless track. As is their trait an unnecessary ballad appears with 'Never Ever' and a real twist comes in the form of medieval acoustic instrumental 'Imperial', which is surely the first time any metal act has attempted something so radical.
I was wrong to have bashed Priest's 'Angel Of Retribution'. Compared to 'Chapter V' it's an all time classic, something expected from such a superior act. What it also demonstrates is that Hammerfall have come nowhere in their quest for metal supremacy and Priest have still to be replaced as metal stalwarts and leaders. Most reviews of 'Chapter V' have also expressed the same sentiment as mine, although I was pointing it out three years ago. There isn't enough variation in Hammerfall's sound and those who said the same thing about Maiden would be forced to eat their words on this one.
Hammerfall might sing about 'brothers of metal', but they do it only because they think that's what's expected of them. I know the sound of truly magical metal when I hear it, and although not often in this age, sometimes I can still be surprised. Hammerfall leave me cold album after album. They continue to slip and the pathetic bands they've inspired to make a go of it is becoming more redundant by the year. Hammerfall simply don't have the talent to continue making the same album. Priest do. They keep it fresh. You don't survive for thirty plus years any other way.