Friday, June 24, 2011

Hammerfall - Infected

Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment/Warner Music Australia

In their formative years, Gothenburg (Sweden) based act Hammerfall made a name for themselves as one of the bigger names within the European power metal scene.
But in the last couple of years, the band decided to broaden their sound, incorporating a bit more of a hard rock and traditional metal sound into their repertoire (Especially on albums such as 2005’s ‘Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken’, 2006’s ‘Threshold’ and 2009’s ‘No Sacrifice, No Victory’), which had many fans claiming the band had all but forsaken the sound that had made them so appealing in the first place.
Now returning with their eighth full-length effort ‘Infected’, it would seem that Hammerfall (Who comprise of vocalist Joacim Cans, guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren, bassist Fredrik Larsson and drummer Anders Johansson) aren’t about to cave in to the demands of fans, but instead strive to maintain their course of exploring territory beyond the confines of traditional power metal.
When the band unveiled the cover artwork to their latest release, the darker vibe and the notable absence of their beloved mascot Hector caused plenty of controversy amongst fans (Who has graced the cover of all of Hammerfall’s releases in the past). While some fans were disappointed with the change of imagery, I saw the cover as a positive and a possibly hint of another change of direction for the band. And it was for that reason that I held out the hope that this may just be the Hammerfall album to lift the band out of the realm of predictability and disappointment that’s plagued their last few releases. Unfortunately, ‘Infected’ isn’t the album I was hoping for.
The opening track ‘Patient Zero’ is something a little different for the band, with the cinematic effects at the start getting the track off to a horror movie start. The zombie infected theme carries through with the lyrical content of the song itself, which initially gets the album off to a darker start than usual. Song-wise, ‘Patient Zero’ is a good track, with some heavy duty riffing and thundering drums giving off a huge and steady groove, while Cans’ melodies are strong enough to keep things on an even keel.
But for all the build up the opener creates, the band quickly reverts to the safe and comfortable with the incredibly cheesy and cliché ‘B.Y.H.’ (Which is otherwise known as ‘Bang Your Head’) and the first single/promotional video clip ‘One More Time’. Hammerfall have never been known for writing the most sophisticated tunes of all time, but even so, there really doesn’t seem to be a hell of a lot of thought put into these efforts, both lyrically or musically.
Things do pick up with ‘The Outlaw’, ‘Immortalized’, the fast paced ‘Dia De Los Muertos’ and ‘666 - The Enemy Within’, all of which recall the somewhat anthem-like style and direction Hammerfall are well known for, while the obligatory ballad ‘Send Me A Sign’ (Which is a cover of Hungarian metal act Pokolgép’s ‘Hol Van A Szó’, and which is the second single from the album) is another solid track, with Cans’ putting in a great performance.
The remainder of the album however is a real letdown. Despite the band’s attempts to create something a little darker and heavier, the chorus within ‘I Refuse’ fails to generate anything to get excited about, while ‘Let’s Get It On’ is another cheesy anthem that slots alongside ‘B.Y.H.’ and ‘One More Time’ under the cringe-worthy bracket.
The closing track ‘Redemption’ does finish up the album on a high note, with the seven minute symphonic epic revealing enough twists and turns to keep the song from getting stale.
After a couple of less than stellar albums that came across as transitional more than downright failures, I was hoping that Hammerfall would finally take the lead and deliver an album that would not only be consistent in terms of its direction, but also in its song writing. Unfortunately, ‘Infected’ is neither. Instead, it’s another patchy effort that only highlights the band’s indecisiveness about what they want to do, and reveals their shortcomings as song writers.
Overall, ‘Infected’ is confused, and intimately another release in what has become a string of disappointing albums from the Swedes.

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© Justin Donnelly