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Hammerfall is one of those early members of the Power Metal rebirth of the late 90s that has held a very consistent style throughout their rather successful career. Drawing influences from the NWOBHM, as well as shred artists like Yngwie Malmsteen (their drummer used to be in Rising Force), Hammerfall has led the charge of a throng of power metal acts that have brought the genre to a new generation of prospective metal fans.
Having said all of that, like any leader in a musical genre, there is the risk of emulators coming in to steal some of your thunder. In this respect, the band’s 4th offering “Crimson Thunder” marks a shift in the band’s attitude away from pumping out exiting power metal and instead embracing the commercialized, watered down sound that is exhibited by Dream Evil and a few other latecomers to the scene, who all enjoy a lot of popularity and critical acclaim. In fact, I’d argue that this album is the precursor to “The Book of Heavy Metal”, which I consider to be on of the most overrated albums to come out of the genre. Whether this was done in order to maintain the band’s popularity/challenge the newcomers, the musical results speak for themselves.
The album opens up pretty well with a powerful and catchy riff that leads into a mid-tempo anthem dubbed "Riders of the Storm". Immediately the dueling rhythm guitar arrangement that has been present since “Legacy of Kings” pops up, accompanying the verses and gradually melting into a rhythmic unison approach for the chorus. Oscar Dronjak offers up some decent lead work here as well. "Hearts on Fire" follows and we are thus introduced to a dry and reserved Hammerfall, one that relies on the chorus to carry the song and puts overly simplistic, repetitive riffs to try and fill the space in between. The title track is better, but also doesn’t really offer anything exciting, and sounds so much like “Templars of Steel” that you can’t help but wonder what album you’re listening to.
When the band decides to play fast on here, the songs tend to fare a little better and remain interesting, but most of the mid-tempo material on here leaves a little bit to be desired. “Trailblazers” and “On the Edge of Honour” are decent, although when standing against classic examples of Hammerfall at their best such as “Heeding the Call” and “The Dragon Lies Bleeding”, come across as a little generic. The token ballad on this release, "Dreams come true", is a highly poignant sounding yet lyrically inspirational change of pace. It's a big change for Hammerfall as there are absolutely no electric guitars on it, but Cans carries the song well enough to keep it interesting. "Angel of Mercy" also works well, sounding a lot like a newer Iron Maiden track off of either "Brave New World" or maybe "Dance of Death”.
"In Memoriam" is basically the musical highlight of the album. Stefan Elmgren puts forth a rather amazing instrumental work here, superimposing lyrical melodies and multiple lead overdubs on a constant driving rhythm section with some occasional texture/feel changes. The closing track "Hero's Return" is mostly good, although it suffers a little bit from over-repetition. The version of this release I have contains the cover of "Detroit Rock City", originally by Kiss. And surprisingly enough, I like this version better than the original, despite my being a fairly avid Kiss fan. The production is 10 times as strong as the original, and the vocal delivery upstages even Paul Stanley’s enthusiastic impresario approach to the song.
In terms of creativity, this is the low point in Hammerfall’s career. You have a couple of diamonds, but also a good amount of fluff that doesn’t have a whole lot of staying power. When I first heard this album I was blown away by how catchy and compact of a listen it was. But much like eating Chinese food, after a while you get hungry again and want something a bit more filling than what you just ate. This album comes recommended at the price of $8 or less, mostly for the opening song and most of the 2nd half of the album. But definitely avoid the “Hearts on Fire” single.
As unoriginal as they may be, I've always found Hammerfall to be an easily likable band musically, with a knack for writing catchy, memorable songs. By their fourth album, however, it has become quite clear that Hammerfall are dead out of both ideas and steam. You could argue that they never really had *ideas* as such, but at least the first three albums felt somewhat fresh and energetic. They were solid heavy metal with the typical power imagery. You could disregard the cheese because the music was compelling.
And the music on this album is still plain ole' heavy metal with the melodramatic lyrics. Only, there's absolutely NOTHING new here that makes this album preferable to the earlier stuff, or anything else in metal for that matter. No riffs, no arrangements, no lyrical themes that we haven't heard a 1000 times before. And the conviction in the delivery is all but gone. With the entire scene bloated by the time this album was released, they didn't even try to rise above it. I guess they just figured that new challenges are overrated. Nostalgic stagnation is da bomb.
Songs - well, we have "Riders of the storm", "On the edge of honour", as flat and vapid as they come. Title track comes and goes, as does a lame instrumental, "In memoriam", and I just can't summon the interest. "The unforgiving blade" has an unintentionally hilarious intro, trying desperatly to be "The ripper" - with Cans in "evil" mode, the chugging riff and all. It's one of the better tracks overall though, and both "Hero's return" and "Trailblazers" are also quite decent.
Of course, there is the mandatory ballad, which I won't even mention by name here ('tis what fecal matter would sound like, could it sing for us in FAGGOT), and then, ah, "Hearts on fire". The hit to end 'em all. Completely manufactured corporate rock, of course, and boy, does it really suck! One of the most disgusting songs in music history (in Hammerfall's catalogue, perhaps only matched by the black hole of bad taste known as "Always will be"), that manages to merge every musical cliché of the past 20 years, lyrical as well as compositional, in the impossibly short space of four minutes. I'll discount those four minutes off my eternity in HELL, and 20 points off this album for that atrocity alone. Oh yeah, and let's chop another 10 for the ballad while we're at it.
The enduring popularity of the pathetic "Hearts on fire" is more than enough proof of the idiocy of Hammerfall's fanbase (I hear their fans are constantly screaming for this song at their concerts!). Not even the most retarded Maiden fanboys are this oblivious to the ancient art of simultaneous SUCKING and BLOWING. I mentioned Maiden, because only they can contend with Hammerfall for the precious title "most predictable band north of AC/DC".
The Yngwie Malmsteen cover is as professional and unspectacular as anything here, completely forgettable nonsense. The other cover, "Angel of mercy", is much better. It's perhaps even the best song on the album, which leads to another point - even if I DO like several songs from their first three albums, none of them have really left a lasting impression. In fact, the most this band has done for me was letting me discover some older bands that have been the target of Dronjak's affection. Most notably, Stormwitch and Warlord, both of which crush Hammerfall in their sleep.
The lyrical points never vary. We have the immortal riders, templars of steel, soldiers of this, defenders of that, protectors of something-or-other, "signs", "burning hearts" (this cliché really gets on my nerves, coming from a band with this little passion), and on and on. There's the "fire/desire", of course, and at one instance, they even rhyme "genesis/nemesis"! And you thought Maiden's classic "madness/sadness" mindfuck was bad! CHRIST!
This album is pop music. Sure, it's sorta "fun" while you listen, but it's also so shallow that it doesn't stay with you afterwards - even from track to track. And it's not that the songs themselves don't have memorable choruses, some decent riffs, and so on, it's just that everything here is so empty of life. There's no heart whatsoever - if they really had heart, they would let the music prove that, and wouldn't need to SAY "the flame that forever burns!", or whatever, in song after song after song. It's just one piece of elevator music upon another. So harmless, so unthreatening, so unchallenging, so mentally insulting.
Ok, here comes the rant.
You know what REALLY bugs me with these guys? It's not the mindless, vacuous lyrics, with every single rhyme and wording being a cliché or platitude. It's not their abysmal ballads, their predictability, or their scientific commercialism, visible down to the very track order of their albums (the metallic equivalent to Dan Brown). It's not even Joacim Cans' whiny grandmother's vocals.
It's the fact that they are nothing but phony, spineless pussies, and have been so since day one. Oh sure, they "love metal", "have a good time", and whatnot. But as much as they endlessly babble on about glory, honour, warriors, and the "heavy metal revolution", above all, they absolutely make sure that they don't step on anyone's toes. The only stand they ever made is that they refuse to take sides! Even a simple "Wimps and posers, leave the hall!" would be too belligerent for them, as it might actually offend some wimps and posers!
If only they could say ANYTHING that isn't completely void of meaning. Just once, can't they exclaim "Fuck communism!", "Fuck drum machines!", "Fuck the little ears on CD cases that break when you drop them!", WHATEVER!? Jesus, even the old Smurf records I listened to when I was, like, FIVE, had more guts than this! Trans-Siberian Orchestra kills more posers!
And even when Hammerfall DO curse in someone's general direction, it's always some unnamed, unfathomable entity, the "opposing forces", which of course could mean anybody and nobody. "Rise and conquer, let the infidels burn!" (delivered with the combined metal ferocity of Tony Kakko and Pat Boone), the most dangerous battle cry I could spot here, isn't exactly "Kill their servants, burn their homes, stab them in the eyes! Rape their women as they cry!", let alone "Mutilated organs, the meat-cleaver is raised, falls to mash the head and rip up the face, throats slit with vengeance, flesh stripped to the bone. Your death is terrible, painful and slow".
With enemies like Hammerfall, who needs friends?
And as their conceptual granddaddies, Manowar, are wiping their asses with mainstream papers on stage, and have made an enemy for every fan during the last 25 years, Hammerfall are constantly seen degrading themselves in said media, and everywhere else they can rear their scrawny asses. Apparently, there's not a single folksy TV-show that is beneath them, and then of course there was the absolute low water mark - making a gung-ho "Hearts on fire"-video with the national women's curling team for the Olympics! Can you beat that?
"Strawberries and whipped cream ist Krieg" - George Orwell
Their actual crusade is trying to give metal a "friendly" image - all the while looking "badass" in photo-shoots (leather jackets, clenched fists, and walking telephone wire Oscar Dronjak clad in studded bracers and Russian tank casing), as they're recruiting kids to their "heavy metal revolution". Apparently, this "revolution" is about making metal mainstream, and themselves, oh-as-a-sidenote-in-the-process-but-really-we're-all-about-the-metal, superstars. Again, they are making a totally conscious effort to walk the fine line between coolness (appealing to the kids) and wimpiness (not scaring them away).
Phony as can be.
Oscar, you are Max Martin. Joacim, you are Britney Spears. Hammerfag, metal is looking for a few good men - YOU AIN'T IT!
Don't support this band, they will destroy metal - if they haven't already.
Oh, and about those wimps and posers, don't let the door slam yer sore ass on the way out...
Within the last 11 months, power metal has become one of, if not my favourite genre of music. Aside from the cheesy lyrics subjects that many bands use, there is very little I dislike about power metal. I can't get enough of the melodic guitars, high pitched vocal style, the high speeds, the upbeat tempos, the powerful mood that it emits, I enjoy it all. That said, there are a few bands I cannot get into. Take Rhapsody for instance. Definitely a talented band, but I can't dig their "Hollywood metal" style or their insipid lyrical approach. Sweden's Hammerfall is another band I just cannot get into. They're constantly being praised as leaders of European power metal, with releases like Glory to the Brave and Crimson Thunder, but I'm just not seeing where this praise comes from.
With 2002's Crimson Thunder, Hammerfall took all of power metal's most ridiculous clichés, and mixes & mashes it together. The result: a boring, average album from a boring, average band. The music is both very simple and very weak, containing few memorable moments. Songs like Riders of the Storm and Crimson Thunder plod on and on seemingly without anything driving it. It has that standard power metal sound, yet it's dumbed down to the point where you'd want to put it down after listening to the first few songs. Sub-par melodies, harmonies and riffs plague Crimson Thunder, an album which requires the opposite to maintain any sort of interest. Truly an unacceptable recording from one of power metal's so called experts. The only song that manages to create interest and excitement is the Hearts of Fire. I do have to admit the intro is pretty good, and it features the best riff of the album. But aside from that, the album is very lacklustre, and very uninspiring.
If you even know the slightest thing about Hammerfall, you'll know that their lyrics are cheesy. The too go hand in hand perfectly. Cheese – Hammerfall. Hammerfall – cheese. However, their writing does not age very well. Oh no, the whole steel, honour, Templars, destroy the evil, glory ride lyrical approach gets really stale, really fast. There is very little variety until Dreams Come True, a sappy ballad that is just as cheesy as the likes of Riders on the Storm and Hero's Return. Normally I don't mind cheesy lyrics such as those by the likes of DragonForce and Helloween, but the difference here is that both of those bands make up for it with an excellent musical aspect, where as Hammerfall seems like they're on autopilot. I think they could have spent a lot longer refining their work, but hey, if unoriginal mediocre lyrics are what they were aiming for, then they certainly have succeeded.
However the worst part about Crimson Thunder is quite easy to identify. Vocalist Joacim Cans has a comically high pitched voice that while fun to laugh at, just destroys any momentum that the band might have built up through their riffs or harmonies. Just check out the single, Hearts on Fire. Despite probably being the most memorable track on the album, it could have been much stronger if it featured a singer who had some power in his technique. Instead, we're stuck with helium induced singing for the better part of 11 songs. It doesn't help when Cans' voice has very little variance in it, and gets more and more irritating as time goes by. But despite that, it isn't ALL bad; there are still golden moments, such as when Joacim wails "We hold our rebel banners up with pride!" Good Lord…
I like listening to power metal, I like it a lot. Chances are, I'll like most of the stuff I'll listen to, to a certain point. But Hammerfall is one of the exceptions to that. With atrocious riffs, laughably bad singing, dull song writing, lame lyrics, everything that's wrong with power metal can be found here. Crimson Thunder is quite a poor album and has very little, if any, redeeming factors. With albums such as this and Chapter V, it is very hard to see why Hammerfall has been hailed as such a great band, as neither album, particularly the former, display anything that would suggest it. Quite a disappointing record. Don't bother picking this up as there are plenty of better power metal albums worth looking into.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)
I’m surprised nobody else thought up the painfully cheesy pun that I used for my review title. Perhaps they did, but chose not to use it for sake of losing credibility. Speaking of painfully cheesy credibility destroyers that should not have been released for the sake of saving face, we have Hammerfall’s classic “How to Write Uninspired, Overrated, Power Metal That Your Fans Will Still Buy Part Four,” better known as Crimson Thunder. Taking the formula that was used to write their first three albums and overproducing it, Hammerfall has hammered another nail into their own coffin, as well as the coffin of the entire power metal genre.
The first thing to notice about the album is the production. Cleaner and processed, it’s much heavier than the production used on earlier albums, but at the cost of its soul. Whereas the earlier albums had little energy and sparse inspiration, Crimson Thunder is disgustingly devoid of either. There was no heart put into this album, no thought in its execution. Just another soulless, formulaic attempt of a band not clinging to life, but attempting to obtain it. Unfortunately, this album brings them no closer to that goal and on that level is a complete failure.
The songs themselves aren’t all that bad. Just like on previous albums, most of the songs are alright standing alone, but intolerable together on an album. A few riffs are kind of cool, such as the pre-verse riff to “Trailblazers,” but these are rare. Most of the songs are a bland sort of heavy, easy to headbang to while they’re playing but completely forgettable. The solos have gotten a lot better since the first album, probably the best Hammerfall solos thus far, but still can’t stand up to their contemporaries’ exquisite compositions. The ballad “Dreams Come True” sucks as much as any Hammerfall ballad can and the band’s lyrics are just as stale as ever, although the vocal lines surprisingly aren’t. There’s at least a few occasions where the singer actually sounds really good. The worst song on the album is undoubtedly the last one. Just when you think Hammerfall can’t insult your senses enough, they include a Kiss cover just before the album ends, so it’s the last thing you remember. Sure it’s probably the best Kiss song they possibly could have covered, but it’s still a shitty Kiss song, dressed up as a shitty Hammerfall song. Fucking ouch.
The best songs here? That’s a tough one, but that ‘honour’ would probably have to go to “Riders of the Storm,” “Trailblazers,” and “Crimson Thunder,” as these are the least repulsive. The best thing on the entire album is the intro track to “Trailblazers,” a brief instrumental entitled “Lore of the Arcane” based off of choir and keyboard effects that actual gives the impression that it’s the precursor to something amazing. Then “Trailblazers” comes in and you realize it was just the precursor to mediocrity. So the best thing on the album is essentially a mild letdown. Awesome.
I really can’t preach against Hammerfall enough. Up to this point, they’ve released a handful of a decent songs over the course of four fucking albums. Four whole albums. Just about every other power metal band on the scene has at least one album that has more classic songs on it then Hammerfall’s entire discography. The band is a guilty pleasure at best, with a couple decent riffs and melody lines worth listening to more than once. Avoid this if possible; there’s so many other bands out there that need the support. Bands that are more talented, more innovative, and willing to expand their horizons and improve themselves rather than piss out more of the same tired material. Bands that won’t disappoint year after year. Bands that Hammerfucked could never hope to imitate. Forget this album, it doesn’t accomplish anything worth hearing.
I had just heard of HammerFall thanks to them touring with Dio sometime in the early 2000's, and I found this album in my local record store and it was like $18 (something a few bucks more than regular albums). And despite my better judgement I bought this and Legacy of Kings. I was pleasantly surprised with both of them, but whereas it took me awhile to get into Legacy of Kings, I pretty much got right into this album. If Blood Bound, off their newest album Chapter V, was on here I'd probably go insane over how much great music it contained. Especially since I went into this spending alot of money, not even knowing what I'd get in return.
The guitar work by Stefan Elmgren and Oscar Drojnak is superb. The harmonies, solos, and unique sound that is HammerFall (one cannot forget Magnus Rosen's bass or Joacim Can's great power metal singing). Alot of people can't get past the fact that they're a bit cheesy, but I don't think it detracts from them at all. They like what they do and most importantly they do it well.
Starting the CD out is a great track called Riders of the Storm. A great track to start the album with, featuring a great main riff and chorus lines, as well as a great bridge riff that leads into a sweet solo featuring a guitar harmony. This is followed by Hearts on Fire, a definite fist pumping power metal song with more great chorus lines.
After a great track in the semi-thrasy upbeat tempo song On The Edge of Honour, you get the title track Crimson Thunder. It's a change-up, because it starts up slow like earlier great HammerFall songs like Legacy of Kings of At The End of the Rainbow. The solo is sweetly melodic and fits the song perfectly, and they even leave this awesome place for the song to go quiet and come back in, which they use to their advantage on their live DVD & CD "One Crimson Night". It's a cool idea.
Lore of the Arcane is a track of "ooohs" done with some synth and keyboards I believe, and it sets up the scene well for Trailblazers - which is another incredibly fast and upbeat song. Dreams Come True starts out accoustically with great vocals, and surprisingly never has the distorted guitars kick in at all! I was surprised, expecting the usual heavy riff to kick in.
Then Angel of Mercy starts with a guitar and piano intro that goes into this slow heavy riff with a later great solo that flows perfectly with the background riff. Melody, and all that good stuff right there. Flawless. Then the song The Unforgiving Blade is kind of sludgy and drags on for awhile, and seems rather generic in my opinion.
In Memoriam is a great track, since it's like this 4 and a half minute instrumental with a great guitar part throughout. Such a great solo that isn't wankery, but instead thoughtful and well placed. This leads into Hero's Return that starts out with a great guitar solo, but isn't exactly a heavy hitting song to end the album on. But hey, most of the album was pretty good, regardless.
So if you're looking for a good point to jump into HammerFall, I recommend you pick up this album. It's got all the good aspects of Legacy of Kings, Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken thrown into one pot... Just a few dull moments here and there, but easy listening power metal that shows you what HammerFall is all about. And it pretty much shows you what type of lyrics they have on all of their albums as well, all about warriors and steel and shields and swords and so forth. A happy version of Dungeons and Dragons comes to mind, and they manage to keep their guitar playing very unique (and also rather heavy and fast) so that you can easily tell you are listening to HammerFall!
Since the new Hammerfall disc is due on March 7, 2005, I thought it would be cool to revisit the prior 4 albums. I started with the most recent output - Crimson Thunder. This album received some praise a "return to form" because of the allegedly too polished Renegade. Since I love Renegade, I did not see this album as any return but instead as a continuation of kick ass power metal.
I think the best thing about Hammerfall is the actual music, Cans is not the strongest vocalist, the lyrics are cheesy as heck, and the ballads would make Celine Dion cry. However, the music is top notch power/heavy metal.
Another cry from bashers is that these Swedes are not original. True, I will concede that point but the great thing is that they take influences from many bands and not just one. Many power metal bands want to be Helloween, Hammerfall want to be Helloween, Accept, Dokken, Manowar, DIO, etc...They take some of the great elements of these legendary bands and mix it up to create an awesome power metal stew?
Anyhoo, to the songs. This album starts with a couple of scorchers - Riders of the Storm, Hearts on Fire, and On The Edge of Honour. You may have to pause here because the headbangin' is quite fierce. Catch your breath and move on to the title track which is a mid paced cruncher and very good.
Then you have the instrumental and Trailblazers which is another speedy ass kicker. The dual lead guitars are intense and heavy. This leads me again to the point of great music. The great thing about Hammerfall is the guitar work. Its a great balance of crunch and shredding. They shred but not to the point of wankery. They just seem to realize how much of a solo you actually need. No more, no less.
Next up is the typical Hammerfall ballad - Dreams Come True. All I can say is that if you hate their ballads, this won't change your mind.
The five remaining tracks are prolly the best set of 5 songs that Hammerfall ever put on record. You have 2 amazing covers in Chastain's Angel of Mercy (this could be one of the great covers of all time) and Yngwie's Rising Force. Both are respectfully done and given a little extra kick.
In Memoriam is an instrumental but this is not an intro/outro. This is classic metal. Great song. Definately don't skip this one.
The other 2 tracks are some of the best original Hammerfall songs of all time, IMO. They are The Unforgiving Blade and Hero's Return. This is metal that is energetic, fun, and still kick ass. The choruses are grand but catchy and the guitars sizzle throughout.
Well, what can I say, Hammerfall have recorded a monster of an album...AGAIN. These guys deliver the goods time and time again. Some respect is deserved.
If True Metal is what you want, then True Metal is what you're going to get. This fourth studio album for Hammerfall has a ton of different versions, of which I own a very limited "Gold Award Edition", which includes an extra live bonus track, video of "Hearts on Fire", a gold disc, and Hammerfall pick! (All in a dvd box!?) Nice. The actual album itself is not quite a match for its lavish packaging. I like the style of Hammerfall, and I'm not in any way tired of the style of metal they specialise in, but this album just failed to click with me in places where it could have just grabbed me and taken me on a intense and spellbinding ride.
After many tries, this album did click with me, and I began to appreciate it more. The album opens with a high energy, high quality heavy metal tune, "Riders of the Storm". It's not mind blowing as such, but it's not boring, mundane, underdone or even lacking in anything specific. It does its job well and heats you up for what would potentially promise an exciting 40 minutes to come. Of note also is the great melodic soloing here. The single "Hearts on Fire" is the logical successor to the first track, and is another upbeat, catchy slice of eras bygone. It won't win surely in an originality poll, but for me that doesn't really matter right now. Pure fun sing along material. The next track, "On the Edge of Honour" is a little weaker by comparison but still acquits itself well, the chorus being particularly memorable. The title track was one that took its time to sink in, it's slower really, and the chorus more anthemic. But once fully adjusted to the mood here, it shows itself to be another winner.
Oh dear, instrumental intro/mood enhancer "Lore of the Arcane" is one for the skip button. It's very much cringeworthy keyboards, that are really too much to bear after a while. But the song that comes after it is reason enough to get ahead, "Trailblazers" gets us back on track, with a particularly Gamma Ray-esque mid section (at least I find it bears some similarities!), it's not as strong, but it has those parts that bring it back up to speed with the rest. Now what next, acoustic balladry!? "Dreams Come True" is quite pleasant for what it is, but just nothing that really makes you want to listen to it during the course of this album so far. Now I find things take a turn for the worse, I can't seem to get into much after this point, "Angel of Mercy" is I take it a cover, and not bad, it just doesn't really stir me up. The same story with the rest of them, "The Unforgiving Blade" is just a workmanlike heavy metal tune that has nothing that truly stands out. "In Memoriam" is a melodic and lead guitar oriented instrumental piece that kind of stands tall over the rest of the latter half of the disc. It's got some hooks and atmosphere. "Hero's Return" is the same story as "The Unforgiving Blade", leading on to the more interesting and switched on Malmsteen cover "Rising Force". On this version there's also a live track from the Legacy of Kings album, "Heeding the Call", which is also heads and tails above what we've been hearing throughout the last half of this disc.
I'm quite fond of Hammerfall, though on this disc they've managed to just lose it half way through. Perhaps they're losing their touch, how much can you do with the old formula before it runs dry? Let's hope they can think of something for their next studio outing!