Early HammerFall albums, such as Glory to the Brave and Legacy of Kings, were never far from my playlist in the late nineties, along with similarly powerful but melodic albums from their German peers Blind Guardian, before I shifted a little into the nascent gothic metal genre around the turn of the millennium. That meant that I was happy to see a new album from them a few years ago, an album that impressed me early on before it tailed off into what I kept calling "decent enough". I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it, but the ballads lost me and a few songs got overly cheesy.
This twelfth album almost plays like a response to my criticisms, ditching the ballads entirely (Not Today thinks about it but never really goes there) and turning down the cheese. Sure, much of this still plays in generic territory, especially from a lyrical standpoint, but even clichéd song titles like Live Free or Die don't lead to songs as cheesy as (We Make) Sweden Rock from that prior release, Dominion. Instead, this album focuses firmly on what HammerFall do incredibly well: wildly catchy hooks, high but strong vocals from Joacim Cans and a reliable underpinning from the rest of the band. No, you won't find anything original in play here, but it's all done with energy, passion and style.
Brotherhood is a belter to open up proceedings and No Mercy is another one to close out, echoes of Accept included. Hammer of Dawn and Reveries are utter anthems and I was singing "na na na" along to the latter on my very first listen. Too Old to Die Young is merely one example of a chorus to vie for most memorable. Not Today is definitely softer and approaches Scorpions territory but resists the urge to go too far in that direction. This band is always at its best when it's in full flow and the riffs keep on coming almost as often as the hooks. I do like the riffs that kick off Live Free or Die and State of the W.I.L.D., not that I don't like the rest of either song. They're full of melodic verses, catchier bridges and emphatic choruses, as all of these tracks do.
The question really comes down to whether you're content with entertainment or whether you're emphatic about your need for originality.
If the latter is important to you, you're going to be disappointed. There's nothing original here at all and, if you've heard an earlier HammerFall album, you won't be remotely surprised by any one of these tracks. It's so quintessentially HammerFall that, if you have any background in European power metal, you wouldn't have any trouble recognising them from any of these songs, even if you were listening blind.
However, if you just want to be entertained, I'd say that this is a solid step up from the prior album, which was itself a step up from some of their weaker releases of previous years. It really feels like they mean it again and they have the energy to deliver. I'd also say that it's a lot more consistent than Dominion. Every song had my attention while it was playing, and I can't say that any of them lost me to memories of an earlier track, something that happened a lot last time out. I'd be on the later tracks but still playing the choruses of earlier ones in my head. That didn't happen here.
So, take your pick. HammerFall are very much HammerFall and nothing much else, but that might be all you need today. If so, this will do the job for you.