Album Title: Hammer Of Dawn
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 25 February 2022
I’m not entirely sure why I’m reviewing this record because it feels a little like a redundant exercise. Existing fans won’t care what I and others have to say for they will no doubt have the album on pre-order and will love every second, as with previous albums. Those who aren’t fans of HammerFall or power metal in general won’t care what I have to say either, because they’ll see the words ‘power metal’ or ‘HammerFall’ and run screaming for the hills. So why review ‘Hammer Of Dawn’, the twelfth full-length release of HammerFall’s career then? The answer is simple and straightforward. It’s a great record and deserves to be reviewed.
Since they came onto the scene in a blaze of glory back in 1997 with their debut album, ‘Glory To The Brave’, the Swedish quintet have been revered by many. I’d not go quite as far as the press release by declaring that they are the ‘Swedish saviours of heavy metal’, but I would certainly agree that they are deserving of many plaudits; whether or not you like their brand of melodic power metal, it is difficult to argue against the view that HammerFall have been remarkably consistent throughout their career. I’ll be the first to admit that I have, at times, become a little bored with their consistency, but that’s my issue rather than that of the band. HammerFall have a formula and by Thor or by Odin, they are going to stick to it. There have been a few tweaks and refinements along the way of course, but the basic modus operandi remains steadfast: rousing, anthemic power metal in the classic vein, laced with big choruses and strong melodies.
As you might expect, ‘Hammer Of Dawn’ sees a broad continuation of this approach across the course of these ten new tracks, their first new material since ‘Dominion’ was released in 2019. And, as you may expect if you have a weakness for this kind of music, result is really rather infectious. I haven’t had this record very long, but I have listened to it incessantly, often back-to-back without drawing breath. This is partly because I want to be able to offer a fair review, but also because it’s so damn catchy that I can’t help it. That’s got to be a positive attribute, surely?
Part of the reason for the band’s consistency in terms of their sound, is because the core of guitarist Oscar Dronjak and vocalist Joacim Cans remain in place, at the heart of everything HammerFall produces. Indeed, this is the inspiration behind the opening song on ‘Hammer Of Dawn’ entitled ‘Brotherhood’. The lyrics talk of the deep friendship between the two, using it as a spur to provide an incredibly powerful opening to this album. The intro is thunderous, the pace is brisk, with a lovely galloping feel to the robust rhythms courtesy of drummer David Wallin and bassist Fredrik Larsson, and Cans sings his heart out, sounding as vital and evergreen as ever. The song also has a great ‘call to arms’ feel about it too, topped off by a chorus that actually took a bit of time to fully appreciate. A slow-burn it may be, but once it catches light, the whole song burns with a vibrancy that can’t be ignored, especially when the neoclassical style lead solos enter later within the composition, not to mention choral-like vocals to add a touch of extra bombast.
The title track comes next, and this wasn’t a slow burn at all. It opens with an organ-led cinematic intro before launching into a really chunky mid-tempo stomp where the drums, bass and guitars act in unison to great effect. In particular, the guitars of Pontus Norgren and Oscar Dronjak sound great, full of strength and muscle, highlighting just how good the overall production is on this latest release. The ensuing chorus, complete with choir vocals is also fantastic, with the bridge before it just upping the tempo slightly to add drama.
What I really like about this record is, and I might be way off the mark here, is that it feels just a little bit more varied overall than previous releases. Between the all-out bombast of certain tracks, to slower, lumbering compositions, via the ubiquitous ballad, there’s a lot to enjoy about ‘Hammer Of Dawn’, more than I was expecting if I’m perfectly honest.
I really enjoy the dichotomy that ‘Reveries’ creates for example, because on the one hand, it feels like a heavy lament, full of palpable darkness and a little sorrow. At this point, especially with the anthemic chorus without lyrics, it is the perfect summer festival sing-along song without a doubt. And yet there are moments elsewhere within it that dial up the fun and catchiness too.
One of my favourite tracks, if not THE favourite, has to be ‘Too Old To Die Young’. It bounds along at another pleasing galloping pace, with lots of melody, but the chorus is utterly marvellous. With hooks so large they could snag a Great White Shark, Cans really puts in the performance of the album, further levitating the track to greatness. It may be blessed with abundant melody, but it also packs a punch, and lets rip a super lead solo to accent the hugely anthemic quality of the composition.
I even like the ballad here, entitled ‘Not Today’. I like the cheekiness of the opening guitar melody that has a bluesy edge to it. I can also hear echoes of early HammerFall ballads within the body of the track, especially from around the 2:18 mark, although I can’t for the life of me put my finger on exactly which song it is. The other reference is ‘Wind Of Change’ by Scorpions that I spot occasionally. But regardless, it’s just a quality song that always catches my ear when it arrives in the number seven slot on the album.
Being so placed, it means that there is still plenty of time for HammerFall to increase the intensity before the end, which they do with three very solid tracks, beginning with ‘Live Free Or Die’ which benefits from one of the fastest drum beats on ‘Hammer Of Dawn’, not to mention an electric lead solo, and another rousing, melodic chorus. The acoustic intro to ‘State Of The W.I.L.D.’ lulls us into a false impression that we’re faced with another ballad, because it quickly morphs into a driving power metal song, albeit with a slight whiff of cheese to the lyrics.
By the time the last notes of the hard rocking swagger of ‘No Mercy’ recede, I am certain that I have just spent 45 minutes in the presence of a high quality, highly enjoyable slab of power metal, the kind in which HammerFall have revelled throughout their entire career. Don’t expect anything fundamentally different from anything the Swedes have previously released but do expect a slight tweaking and a honing of their sound here and there. As I said earlier, unless you’re one of the rare few that sit on the fence where HammerFall are concerned, most of you will have made up your minds already before reading a word of this review. For what it’s worth though, I really like ‘Hammer Of Dawn’ and I do genuinely think it’s one of their best.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
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