The Templars of steel remain unbowed

Heavy metal bands that have been carving a legacy of longevity have done so through talent, sheer grit and determination.

Sweden’s Hammerfall are one such band with a backlog of fantastic albums and a well celebrated live presence across many countries. Their twelfth album, Hammer of Dawn, continues in that tradition with plenty of crushing guitar riffs, galloping rhythms, falsetto vocals and a slew of melodic yet intricate guitar solos. This time around, they’ve also snared a cameo from none other than King Diamond, friend of lead guitarist Pontus Norgren, who also moonlights as Yngwie Malmsteen’s guitar technician.

Opening with Brotherhood, the rhythm figure hits the stride of a gallop following an introduction of power chords in quick succession. Front man Joacim Cans delivers clear and perfectly pitched vocals, as always, and carries the melody over a fast pedalling rhythm guitar figure. The twin guitar attack of Norgren and Oscar Dronjak set out to trade solos, harmonise phrases and also contribute backing vocals in varying capacities across the album. But on this opening track, it is all on show, pushed along at pace by the rhythm section of drummer David Wallin and bassist Fredrik Larsson. 

The title track starts with a haunting harpsicord sounding melody that is reprised during the chorus. A mid paced gallop rhythm figure bolsters Cans as he reaches high notes with excellent projection and delivery. Lyrics about ‘thunder, lightning, hammer, fighting,’ set the tone here which suits the attitude and approach of Hammerfall. Norgren solos with neoclassical inspired dexterity and a nuanced guitar tone that has immense clarity. No Son of Odin uses atonal musical tension before launching into the hard rock verse, followed by a half time feel during the chorus. The juxtaposition of double and half time sections is done with precision and allows the harmony guitar lines to float seamlessly.

Of course, a cameo by none other than the master of falsetto King Diamond makes Venerate Me an essential track. Hammerfall have delivered a classic styled heavy metal track with melodicism and a tight, catchy chorus.  It is a distinctive sound using irregular musical intervals between the vocal lines that is Diamond’s trademark, with a rising inflection. The intentional style fits remarkably well into Hammerfall’s music.

Reveries is slower paced, led primarily by the rhythm section with the bass sound prominent, alongside Cans’ doubled vocals. This track really goes into the singalong technique with backing vocals a couple of octaves below.

Hammerfall’s twin guitar aspect really takes effect on next track, Too Old to Die Young. Muted, syncopated, doubled, harmonised and sustained – it is all there for the guitar enthusiasts to enjoy in this track. Lyrics such as ‘Turn the amp up to eleven’ and ‘Carry on my rebel ones,’ summarise the sentiment.

Power ballads are always good vehicles for vocalist prowess and guitar virtuosity displays and both these components are present in the partially operatic performance of Not Today. Guitars gently arpeggiate initially but as the song progresses, guitar solo trade-offs between Dronjak and Norgren shows that there is still plenty of fire in a quieter Hammerfall track. 

Heavy metal resumes with the double kick drum power of Live Free or Die with the suitable soaring chorus, at half time whilst the drum powers along. A fast guitar solo with twin harmony lines kicks in with plenty of trills, trade-offs and swift sweep picking. Dynamics work a treat with lower volume chords giving the return to full bombast more power. 

Next track State of the W.I.L.D. is one of the heavier tracks on the album. As the power chords rip past, Hammerfall still manage to employ a key change on a later repeated chorus, naturally with lyrics about defiance and unity against adversity. A subsequent guitar figure that would fit perfectly with Helloween’s I Want Out, works beautifully as a bridge.

Closing out the album, No Mercy is a belter of a heavy metal track. A galloping double time rhythm figure powers proceedings as with lyrics about ‘all guns blazing’, ‘retribution’ and ‘rising fury’ are unleashed, without a hint of irony. The adherence to known song structure, stunning guitar musicianship and overall quality production lets them get away with lyrics that would be considered cheesy if performed by any other band, but that sense of diehard affirmation is the charm of Hammerfall and is an accepted stock in trade.

Hammerfall have no intention of reinventing the wheel. They have refined a good formula and whilst they do branch out on occasion, Hammer of Dawn is a top notch instalment in that ever reliable heavy metal canon. The album is mixed by Fredrik Nordström, and in that light, the sounds exactly as the artwork promises. Hammerfall deliver the goods on Hammer of Dawn and given the overall exceptional quality throughout, is very likely to snap at the heels of top album listings for the year. As Hammerfall would put it, the Templars of steel remain unbowed. 

Brotherhood
Hammer of Dawn
No Son of Odi
Venerate Me
Reveries
Too Old to Die Young
Not Today
Live Free or Die
State of the W.I.L.D.
No Mercy