Friday, October 28, 2016

Album Review: Hammerfall - Built To Last

Years ago, when I was first getting into metal, and power metal specifically, Hammerfall was one of the bands that helped me along. I had a compilation of songs from their first few albums, and it was the cheesy appeal of that brand of 'true' power metal that won me over, and started me down a long rabbit-hole of music. So in that regard, I have to respect Hammerfall, no matter what has happened in the years since. And there has been a lot. Starting with their veer into modern metal territory, and continuing through their abrupt return to swords and dragons, it's been a rough stretch for the band, I have for one have not been along for the ride. I don't remember the last Hammerfall album I liked in full, but I'm always willing to give them another chance, in the hope that they recapture what I remember about them.

In one respect, a band like Hammerfall can't continue on forever without changing. At a certain point, singing songs about heavy metal, swords, and dragons becomes painful. It's certainly a young man's game, and Hammerfall has been around long enough that they have reached the point where it's odd to hear men of their age still talking about the same subjects. "Bring It!" is a ridiculous song, as ten albums into their career, they are still writing songs trying to say how much they're defending heavy metal. If they haven't proven it yet, it's probably not true.

It doesn't help that the song is question is also a mediocre composition without a hook worth writing about. Hammerfall used to be about giant hooks to go along with the copious cheese, but those have dulled over the years. The music is drawing from the same playbook, but there's an element of fun that's missing. Hammerfall used to be the kind of band you knew was just tongue-in-cheek enough to laugh with, not at, all the while raising your fist and singing along. Maybe it's attrition from years of hearing the same thing over and over, but the music is more clinical and soulless.

Worse, we get "The Sacred Vow". It's a song that would be a legitimately great Hammerfall song.... if not for the fact that the chorus is a rip-off of one of their own early classics. I know certain keys are hard to avoid when you write hundreds of songs, but this was so jarring a similarity that Joacim hadn't finished singing the first line of the chorus before I was smacking myself in the forehead. It's embarrassing.

Ultimately, I think "Built To Last" is a fine album, if you've never been a Hammerfall fan. If you were, and you remember how good they once were, then I have to say this is a disappointing album, because it reaffirms my belief that they have nothing left to say. I'm not writing them off for good, but this album doesn't help.

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