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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!