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Ah Hammerfall...just like the power metal equivelant of AC/DC, their motto has always been "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". And this is a sentiment which unsurprisingly continues on their latest album, "No Sacrifice, No Victory". If you've never liked Hammerfall...well you still won't! If you're a fan, or even someone who's liked anything by them, you will likely find something on this album to enjoy. Hammerfall have been threatening to make a classic album ever since their debut, and have came close on a few occasions, but have always been let down by 2 or 3 filler tracks which drag the album down. That unfortunate trend also continues here. But fear not, Hammer-fans, there is lots here to like!
The first 5 songs on this album give the impression that at last, Hammerfall may be about to break the trend of forcing the listener to endure numbing fillers on their albums, and produce their most thrillingly consistent work yet. Opener (and the single from the album) "Any Means Necessary" is a stomping, classic metal anthem. Okay, it's unoriginal as hell, but this is Hammerfall! This is a hugely fun and enjoyable song, stuffed with hooks, and will definitely be crowd pleaser! "Life Is Now" sounds like the sort of mid-paced, ultra happy sounding track you'd find on one of Helloween's later albums. The pre-chorus and chorus backing vocals in particular sound amazingly Helloween-ish. It's an incredibly upbeat, and infectious song. Any fan of catchy, cheesy, power metal will love this one. I know I do! New guitarist Pontus Norgren also plays a great solo on this track. It's a great little tune! Next up, is my personal fave on this album, the absolutely huge "Punish And Enslave". The pounding mid-paced riffage is enough to take your head off, and the chorus is just massive. This is the Hammerfall I love! It doesn't really need to be said that Joacim Cans sounds awesome, but I will say it anyway. He really is one of metal's great vocalists, and here he delivers a great performance. By now, I'm beginning to think the high quality of this album is going to take a dip, but the magnificent "Legion" makes me look foolish for even thinking it! The song begins with a demonic voice bellowing some beelzebub-ish talk, before launching into a barrage of lead guitar harmonies, and pounding drums. It really is great to hear the band hit the accelerator once in a while, and this speedy little power metal number is just the ticket. This track has everything a power metal fan could ask for: Fast, memorable melodies, scorching solos, some great riffage, a soaring vocal by Cans, and returning original bass player Fredrik Larsson giving an inspired performance. The lone bass with the drums just before the solo sounds very much like Helloween's Markus Grosskopf. And that is definitely a compliment! The song ends as it began, with the demonic growling, but this time fading out. This really is Hammerfall in classic form!
Next track up, is the ballad, "Between Two Worlds". The cathedral like, keyboard opening is evokes much atmosphere, and sounds amazing. The song proper, is just stunning, It's dark, haunting and emotional, and is totally acoustic aside from the guitar solo. The solo by Hammerfall co-founder Oscar Dronjak is understated, but sounds just perfect for the stripped back nature of the track. I did shed a few tears during this song, and if a ballad brings that out of me, then it's done it's job! Definitely one the best, if not THE best ballad yet by Hammerfall. Then sadly, the inevitable happens. The next track is a filler. "Hallowed By My Name" is decent enough, but it lacks any of the hugely memorable hooks or riffs contained in the album's first half. The main riff sounds like a half hearted copy of a signature Primal Fear riff. The chorus is the best part, but even that is just okay. Definitely a comedown. "Something For The Ages" is an instrumental, and the first songwriting credit for Pontus with Hammerfall. This is basically a showcase for his soloing abilities. And he's certainly no slouch! I really enjoy this track. There's some inspired, otherworldly melodies going on, alongside the blazing lead guitar work. I haven't really been a fan of any of Hammerfall's previous instrumentals, so this one was a pleasant surprise. It just gives a feeling of excitement while listening to it. On the evidence of this, I hope Pontus writes more material in future for the band. The abrupt ending is quite funny too! The title track is typical Hammerfall, and a good track. The feel of this track is brooding, with it's slow and moody main riff. but it still contains the triumphant feel of the band's signature work. The song isn't quite of the very high quality of the album's first 5 songs though. Hammefall's silly habit of putting one song on every album ("Crimson Thunder" is the only album to date which has escaped this tradition!) with the word "Hammer" in the title continues here. "Bring The Hammer Down" was co-written by previous Hammerfall guitarist Stefan Elmgren. (Who also lends some lead guitar to this track) This song features yet another derirative mid-paced Primal Fear-A-Like main riff. The pre-chorus and chorus itself are enjoyable though. Hearing the departed guitarist duelling with the new boy on the solo is a fun novelty, though it should have been a lot more explosive than it actually turns out to be. All in all, a good track, but again, compared to the album's first half, it ends up falling short. Closing track "One Of A Kind" (interestingly enough, co-written by Hammerfall co-founder and In Flames guitarist Jesper Stromblad) charges to the finish line, and lifting the album back to the heights of it's beginning. This is a mini epic, featuring triumphant guitar riffs, a thundering pace in parts, a huge chorus, and a medieval sounding acoustic breakdown. A stunning track, and Hammerfall at their best! Poor Jesper, this song is better than anything he's written in years for In Flames! The cover of "My Sharona" is predictably silly, but then so was the original! Like the original, it's fun, and enjoyable to listen to. They didn't really change the song at all, it's pretty much a straight up cover of the original, which isnt a bad thing! It's not really necessary, but being placed at the album's end, it at least doesn't break up the flow of the album.
All in all, this is a very good album, and one of Hammerfall's best and most consistent. It is annoying though, because they still cant shake off the knack of allowing some filler onboard to bring the album down. However, in this case, the killer far outweighs the filler, and it contains some real trailblazing new Hammerfall classics! For fans of no frills, upfront good ol' heavy metal, this album comes highly recommended!