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Infected is HammerFall’s eighth studio album and many fans felt is marked the first major change for them. Hector, the band’s mascot, no longer graces the cover, and the song titles are noticeably darker. Despite the major change in image, the band doesn’t actually sound all that different. On my first listen of this album, I was extremely disappointed. Many of the songs seemed boring, slow, and uninspired; however, after repeated listens, the magic of this album became apparent.
Rather than draw their main influences from Helloween and other Power Metal bands, HammerFall has modeled their new sound after Judas Priest and Accept. This is no more apparent than in songs such as “Immortalized” and “Patient Zero”, where HammerFall combines a thunderous drum sound with immensely heavy guitars. While the music is still melodic, it feels much more powerful than the band has ever sounded. In fact, “Patient Zero” has a doom-influenced atmosphere until it breaks out into classic speed metal riffing towards the end of the song. After this track, HammerFall continues their homage to the metal gods with BYH. This is perhaps the only song that sounds like it would have fit in on any HammerFall album. There are a few other songs that would fit in on the more recent HammerFall albums; “Immortalized”, “666 – The Enemy Within”, and “One More Time” all exhibit the mid-paced, pounding anthems that the band has been pumping out since Crimson Thunder. “The Outlaw” continues in the vein of “Life is Now” from No Sacrifice, No Victory, as it sounds like a radio-friendly version of the band’s signature sound. Some of the other notable elements of the album include the well placed keyboards in “666” and “Redemption”.
Besides the change in sound, the best thing about this record is the performance by the members of the band. Joacim Cans has never sounded bad on a HammerFall album, but when I saw the band live on the No Sacrifice, No Victory tour, he sounded abysmal. On this album, he must have received some divine inspiration, as he sounds better than he ever has. The Pokolgép cover, “Send Me A Sign”, reveals Cans’ amazing ability to carry a somewhat average song. The only negative comment about his vocals is that he attempts to go too far outside of his range on “I Refuse”, but this is a small complaint about an otherwise perfect performance. The next member who stepped up his performance was Pontus Norgren. The band’s previous lead guitarist, Stefan Elmgren, was an excellent player with a knack for writing great solos; however, I am equally impressed by Norgren’s contributions to the band. One of his best solos is on the sole track that he wrote, “The Outlaw”. Ultimately, he does a superb job and somehow improves his work from the last album. The last noticeable improvement is in the drum department. Ever since Anders Johansson has been in the band, he has relied primarily on the steady rock drumbeat. He doesn’t play too differently on this album, but the drums sound punishing. While the snare sounds great, the bass drums really shine. Any moments featuring double bass work (particularly in “One More Time”) sound heavier than any power metal band I’ve heard. The improved contribution of these three members adds to the atmosphere of this remarkably different record.
When all is said and done, HammerFall have created something that sounds inspired. I certainly wouldn’t accuse them of going through the motions on their previous three albums, but there is no doubt that this record is far more interesting. The increasing experimentation works on most of the tracks, but falls short on a couple of others (“I Refuse” and “Redemption” are the weakest songs). HammerFall have been so consistent for so long that the negative reaction to this album doesn’t surprise me; I didn’t even like it upon first listen. If you give these songs a chance, they will really surprise you. Whether or not HammerFall continue in this direction, I will consider this album to be a major success in their discography.
Standout tracks: “Patient Zero”, “The Outlaw”. “666 – The Enemy Within”, and “Immortalized”