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Swedish metallers Hammerfall are veterans of the metal scene, since their inception in 1993 and have directly contributed to the success and size of the power metal genre, particularly in Europe. With their popularity peaking early on after the release of their first 2 CDs (‘Glory to the brave’ and ‘Legacy of kings’), which was considered to be true heavy/power metal; Hammerfall have since tweaked their sound and found their niche within the genre.
Similar to America’s Manowar (but with less cheesiness), Hammerfall have fought on, literally, containing songs of fantasy lyrics and themes. Often given harsh judgement and criticism from ‘Renegade’ onwards, Hammerfall have built quite a large fan base in their 18-year career. They are one of those bands who you either like or despise (like from me), mainly due to their simplistic sound and the same likeness of each CD released, from ‘Crimson thunder’ onwards.
I personally feel that when Hammerfall released ‘Threshold’, it seemed as though their “gimmick” was starting to wear thin. How many CDs can you release, containing virtually the same fantasy themed power metal tracks before they run out of ideas and the fans begin to grow tired of it? ‘No sacrifice, no victory’ again pushed that theory, with the band releasing a decent, but tired sounding CD that was quite inconsistent and containing just a few killer tracks. Something had to change as it was quickly becoming stale and some fans were starting to jump off.
The fellas at Hammerfall must have also felt this pressure building up over the years and have finally responded accordingly with their latest release, entitled ‘Infected’. The first notable aspect of the CD is the cover art, which shows no trace of Hammerfall’s mascot, the hammer-wielding ancient warrior. That, plus the usual Hammerfall logo has been slightly changed and given the impression that it’s been written in blood; you are not alone if alarm bells may be going off in your head right now. Traditionally, those types of changes mean a major change of sound of direction for a band, but in this case Hammerfall’s change is more about the songwriting if anything else. Instead of lyrics about warriors bound for glory, brotherhood, swords (etc, etc); the lyrics throughout ‘Infected’ are quite diverse and not keeping to any particular theme or story.
Hammerfall elected not to continue with producer Charlie Bauerfield, who has produced their last 4 CDs; instead going with James Michael who has previously worked with the Scorpions, Meat Loaf and Motley Crue. Michael was placed in a co-producer role, alongside Hammerfall guitarists Pontus Norgren and Oscar Dronjak. Because the band has treaded in different waters lyrics-wise this time round, there is a distinct sense of uneasiness, awkwardness and a slight lack of confidence within the songwriting and it comes out here and there during some of the songs on the CD. Quite a few of the tracks has a hit ‘n’ miss formula to them, where in some parts they kick ass, but in other sections of the same song it can be cringe worthy or irritating.
Let’s take the track “Dia de los Muertos” as an example. A memorable track with a great flurrying melody with a catchy chorus and an excellent guitar solo, however after the solo the track trundles on for another minute, almost lost, with no direction or vocals until the song closes out. It just seems like an odd way to end a song, after the great build-up beforehand. Another top track “I refuse” has a brilliant and powerful beat that just makes your head nod hypnotically, and everything is going great guns until you get to the god awful chorus where you hear vocalist Joacim Cans shriek I refuse a couple of time. It’s painful to say the least, but you just have to grin and bear it as overall the track is excellent. Lastly, the cheesy introduction to “Let’s get it on” with producer James Michael himself performing the spoken word intro was really not needed and almost spoils the terrific 80s throwback, riff-laden energetic track.
Where Hammerfall have got it 100% right with the tracks on the CD is with the opening song entitled “Patient zero”. The introduction sets the scene of the ‘Infected’ cover art and once the track launches in gear we are privy to an old-school yet awesome guitar riff and beat that makes you grit your teeth and bang your head like there’s no tomorrow. The whole track is a huge standout, including a sweet solo to boot. Another fantastic track is “666 - The enemy within”, a more darker-tinged arrangement, with heavy bass, and numerous thundering guitar riffs and solos from the constant tempo changes throughout the track. It is definitely a track that Hammerfall don’t normally do, but that’s one of the more positive differences on this CD compared to their previous ones.
“Immortalized” is another pummeling track and one which probably goes under the radar a bit too. Again it’s a speedier and diverse track with a clash of old and new, guitar driven with slabs of memorable riffs to get the fist shacking, while featuring pounding drums all the way. To a lesser extent, both “Bang your head” and “The outlaw” are decent tracks that a fair amount of appeal to fans but not as good as the tracks previously mentioned.
In the end, ‘Infected’ is a spirited and creative effort from these veteran power metallers. I commend and respect them for doing something different than what they’re used to, and while it is a bit inconsistent quality-wise from top to bottom, there are plenty of highlights throughout. While their sound of this CD is not a massive change from their norm, it is enough to be noticeable and possibly a few extra spins will be needed to fully appreciate (or not) this release. It’s far from their best effort, but still a CD that fans of Hammerfall can enjoy. And for those who have dismissed this band in the past, who knows, ‘Infected’ may surprise you.
Originally written for www.metalcdratings.com and www.themetalforge.com