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Hammerforce is a Russian group from the St. Petersburg area peddling a somewhat modern blend of power and progressive metal. Founded by keyboardist Nikita Merzlyakov in 2006, Hammerforce released their debut album, “Dice”, in 2009. Soon after the release of their debut album, the band added a new singer, in the form of Dmitriy Yanovsky. 2013’s “Access Denied” is the second full length album from Hammerforce and the first album to feature Yanovsky’s vocals. Speedy, electronica-infused power metal is the order of the day.
“Access Denied” is an energetic power metal album filled to the brim with all sorts of keyboard embellishments backed by upbeat and enthusiastic instrumentation and strong vocals. Rather than delving into the realms of symphonic or orchestral elements like many other power metal acts, Hammerforce utilizes the keyboards to give a very futuristic feel with synthesized sounds that border on dance, electronica or techno influence at times. Most of the tracks are speedy, rather typical power metal tracks with the prominent electronica keyboards, but there are varying tempos present. Tracks like “Wasted” show a speedy double kick drum pattern and some palm muted chugging while “Mass Media” delves into double bass runs with a catchy and rhythmic lead guitar overlay. During the more melodic, slowed down sections there are some prominent piano sounds that add a nice dynamic to the melodically picked guitar lines, most notably on the proggy ballad “Reflections”. The guitars stick with fairly average power metal approach and usually just serve as a backing to the prominent keyboard. When the guitars are to the forefront, though, they are forceful and driving utilizing standard power chord progressions mixed with the melodic touches and scale runs for emphasis. There are some strong leads guitar lines throughout, like the neoclassical inspired lines on “Mass Media” or the fast paced blazing during the album’s opener, “I Am I”. The entire album is saturated with those keyboards, though. It sounds like an odd pairing, electro-synths and power metal, but Hammerforce manages to fuse the two into a very coherent and enjoyable album.
The vocals of Dmitriy Yanovsky push this album onto a higher pedestal than most. It helps that the rest of the musicians are competent and the proggy, futuristic keyboards give the band a distinctive flair, but those vocals are just excellent. Yanovsky’s vocals remind me of Kai Hansen’s output circa “Somewhere Out in Space” or “Power Plant”, but they delve in the high pitched range of Ralf Scheepers during the early years of Primal Fear. A few sections see Yanovsky’s vocals getting a little deeper and gruffer, giving an almost harsh, yet still melodic, sound, as evidenced on “Earth is on Trial”. While the instrumentation doesn’t have a lot of in the way of hooks and catchy music, the vocals slightly make up for that. For an example, just listen to the vocals during the chorus of “Templates for All”, which is catchier than brand new fly paper.
Honestly if it weren’t for the vocals, I’d pass this off as a fairly average power metal act. The band doesn’t have a whole lot going for it in the way of instrumentation: they don’t have the lightning speed guitar lines, overly impressive technicality or overt proggy wankery. The band does have the dance styled electronica slash techno inspired keyboard lines which give “Access Denied” a unique sound but it’s those impressive vocals that really sell the album and make it something to be heard. This is one of the better, more original power metal albums I’ve heard in some time. While the general instrumentation on the album is nothing new under the sun, the keyboards and vocals help this to stand apart from a severely over-saturated field. “Access Denied” is a fast paced, enjoyable power metal album that should appeal to fans of Dreamtale, Nocturnal Rites and Stratovarius.
Originally written for The Metal Observer: