Review: Hammerfall – Built to Last
Written by Mauricio Adan
The Templars of Steel are back with their tenth glorious studio record Built to Last. Hammerfall returns with a vengeance two years after the widely successful ‘(r)Evolution’ album, which provided instant classics like ‘Hector’s Hymn’ and ‘Live Life Loud.’ This new album is set to live up to its predecessor and then some.
It’s been nearly 20 years since ‘Glory to the Brave’ and Hammerfall appears hell bent on reminding metal fans exactly who they are, what they stand for, and why they are truly, as the title proclaims, built to last. Rock solid tracks like album opener ‘Bring It,’ ‘New Breed,’ ‘Second to None’ and the title track do just that; proving that this band refuses to take a backseat to new bands, sub-genres, or flavor of the week fads in metal that wish to take the fast track to heavyweight status. Lead vocalist Joacim Cans explains “The most important thing is that there is still a lot of energy. Even though we’re in our 40’s, [the album[ sounds like a young, hungry band.” As for himself, Cans delivers one of the best vocal performances of his career, adding, “I’ve never sung as high as I did on this album.”
The record gets right to the point with the hard hitting opener ‘Bring It.’ It’s got solid heavy metal riffing, the type we’ve come to love from the mighty Hammerfall, punches in along with the full band, all at once with. No introductory riff, no build up, no bullshit, just heavy metal. It’s a song about dedication and devotion to the lifestyle of heavy music. The song invokes a feeling of pride in this life we’ve chosen, the path of heavy metal. If metal bands were sports teams, this would be the fight song of the year. The record gets off to a head banging start. If anyone is unsure about what you’re in for, you know now. “Just Bring It”! Trust me, this new album is about to do just that.
The second track is another song in familiar territory; it’s very much of what we love about Hammerfall‘s classic sound. ’Hammer High’ is a slower song, a bit more of a head nodder than a head banger. Rhythmic double bass and that signature choir vocal chorus provides an anthem that you will be hard pressed not to sing along with by the end of the very first listen. “Hammer High until I die!”
‘Sacred Vow’ kicks it up a notch! ‘Hammer High’ provides a glimpse of what’s in store but ‘Sacred Vow’ really begins to show just what this album is all about. As mentioned before, vocalist Joachim Cans is at the top of his game on this record and he admits that this is his most difficult song to sing on the album. The lyric video for ‘Sacred Vow’ quickly sparked immense buzz and excitement and with good reason. When talking about the song Cans explains, “ the chorus was not supposed to be sung be me; we decided only to do it with a choir because it’s so damn high, you can’t really sing up there. But in the studio, I was in such great shape that day; I felt like I was breathing helium and was on cocaine and crystal meth and everything at the same time”! Whatever was pulsing though Cans’ body that day, we can all be grateful. On this track, his voice sounds like something straight off of 2000’s Renegade and virtually the same can be said for the song itself.
The next track ‘Dethrone and Defy’ continues, nay, intensifies this trend. Guitar leads strike like lightning to kick in the song then fast, double bass speed head long into one of the strongest tracks on the album. This song truly channels the spirit of Hammerfall’s glory days. Hell, when hearing it one might even say that the golden age of Hammerfall is back!
Halfway through the album we get ‘Twilight Princess,’ a power ballad. Again, we hear the glory of Cans’ voice, which hasn’t lost a step after all these years. Guitarist, Oscar Dronjak relates that “it’s been a hectic time, juggling the remaining shows of the tour with songwriting and ultimately recording.” Maybe that pressure can be attributed to the strength of the record. Whatever the case, it seems to have worked wonders. The entire band gives full throttle performances as can be heard on the heavy hitting track, ‘Stormbreaker’.
While we’ve been praising the vocals throughout the record, ’Stormbreaker’ provides the band with a moment to really shine. Drums and bass power through this awesome track, not to mention one of the shining moments for guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren. The super heavy, double lead solos on this track are just killer.
The rest of the album does not let up for a second and the last few tracks really drive the message home. Title track, ‘Built to Last,’ is another head banging, fist pounding anthem, perfect for flying the heavy metal flag to. “Star of Home” cranks up the action once more, and again allows Joacim Cans to stretch those super high vocals that have earned him his place among the greatest vocalists in heavy metal. ‘New Breed’ is a personal favorite, one I’ll be singing aloud for years to come as the track hits home with me personally, especially in this new age of metal with divisions in sound, tastes, genres, and sub genres. Opinions fly back and forth as to what is real metal and what is not; which bands still have it and which ones don’t. With this awesome track, Hammerfall puts it in simplest terms possible; “New Breed, old breed. We are all the same breed. Heavy! Metal! Running through our veins”! ’Second to None’ ends the record in glorious fashion. Hopefully, the running theme is picked up on by now.
Hammerfall have cemented their place among the scrolls of heavy metal history long, long ago. They are a band that shouldn’t have anything to prove. Nevertheless, they have come roaring back to the frontlines to remind newbies and veterans alike what it truly means to have a heart of steel and wear it loud and proud. With Built to Last Hammerfall embarks on an exciting new chapter and will once again hit the road, bringing the metal crusade to loyal fans worldwide. After all, the ‘World Wide (r)Evolution Tour’ was “a resounding success with half of all shows sold out,” so the band promises to follow that up with crimson colors. Hammerfall’s ‘Built to Tour’ kicks off this January in Germany and will hit stateside in April, co-headlining North America with powerhouse young guns, Delain. And of course, Metal At The Gates will be there to keep the flame burning with Hammerfall nearly 20 years in. That all being said Built to Last is one for the history books and this tour promises to be one you won’t want to miss. 9/10