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Swedish power metal band, Hammerfall, have returned to deliver their seventh studio release, entitled No Sacrifice, No Victory. This time round, however, the band is without longtime guitarist Stefan Elmgren and bassist Magnus Rosen. Both members joined Hammerfall in 1997, the year of their debut album. With those two leaving in 2007 and 2008, Hammerfall have enlisted the talents of bassist Fredrik Larsson and guitarist Pontus Norgren. Fredrik Larsson had already been a member of Hammerfall; his tenure was from 1994-1997 and did play on Glory To The Brave.
Hammerfall, unfortunately, is one band which takes a bit of a beating in metal forums around the world. It is primarily because of their change of sound from traditional fantasy power metal (Glory To The Brave, Legacy Of Kings and Renegade) to a more commercialized fantasy power metal sound (Crimson Thunder onwards). When Hammerfall arrived onto the metal scene in the late 90’s, their fresh power metal sound took the metal world by storm. Both Glory To The Brave and Legacy Of Kings were instant classics, while Renegade received less acclaim. Then, like a lot of bands do, they changed their style and many fans were not happy. Even though the musical change was minor, but significant, fans jumped off the bandwagon and the term “selling out” was thrown about. Suddenly the metal world was divided between fans who still loved the band and those who couldn’t embrace change; and their acting out was just a reaction to this change.
Still, Hammerfall have a big fan base (including yours truly) and previous releases such as Crimson Thunder and Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken, have kept the metal flame burning. Only on their last release have I felt that a Hammerfall CD has been a little disappointing. Threshold did contain some great tracks, like Titan, Rebel Inside and Howlin’ With The Pac, but their ability to make really cheesy metal hymn tracks were starting to go overboard. Overall, the song quality dipped somewhat with Threshold. Now, Hammerfall have a new release and No Sacrifice, No Victory is the continuation of Hammerfall’s previous recent releases, cheese and all. The first thing that is noticeable in terms of sound, is the new guitarist, Pontus Norgren; as Stefan Elmgren had a rather distinctive style throughout all of Hammerfall’s albums.
If you enjoyed all of Hammerfall’s CD’s from Crimson Thunder onwards, then there is much to like from No Sacrifice, No Victory. Some improvements worth noting here are the improved guitar solos and the more upbeat tracks. Much like on Threshold, Hammerfall have continued to write serious lyrics more than the typical fantasy, swords and mighty warriors content that covered a lot of songs in past CD’s. Overall, I feel that the album is a mixed bag, containing both good/great tracks and a few weak tracks too. The final track on the release is a cover of The Knack’s My Sharona, a power pop hit from the late 70’s, in which Hammerfall do pull off a decent version. I feel however, that this track should have been listed as a bonus track rather than part of the CD.
It seems to me that more poor quality tracks are starting to seep into their most recent releases, and part of it is due to Hammerfall trying to create a more “epic” sounding track, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to work. It didn’t work with the track Knights Of The 21st Century and again here with One Of A Kind. Some of the better tracks to mention on the album, would be the single and opening track Any Means Necessary, Punish And Enslave, Hallowed Be My Name (no reference to the Iron Maiden classic Hallowed Be Thy Name), and Bring The Hammer Down.
By continuing on with their current sound that has now lasted four albums, it will again be a difficult listening experience for those fans of the original sounding Hammerfall from the late 90’s. As for the true Hammerfall fans, I find that No Sacrifice, No Victory is again a little disappointing, but just enough (this time) to keep you satisfied. I do feel, however, that something has to change in Hammerfall’s sound for the next album, as the gap between great tracks and poor tracks is starting to widen and I feel that their sound is starting to stagnate.
(Originally reviewed for www.metalcdratings.com and www.themetalforge.com)