Overall Score: 6/10 Songwriting: 5/10 Creativity: 5/10 Performances: 9/10 Pros: It's the same HammerFall you've known for the past 25 years. Cons: It's also the same HammerFall you've known for the past 25 years.
Power metal is certainly a niche amongst niches. It’s there for those partial to the most potent of selections on metal’s cheeseboard – complete with a complimentary set of chainmail and some stupendously named weapon – but it rarely breaks out beyond those accustomed to the smell. Yet the opening stages of 2022 alone have shown shining examples of the genre’s grand potential from newcomers like Power Paladin and revered legends like Battle Beast leading this bombastic charge. With this in mind, you could be forgiven for expecting a fine example from one of power metal’s most prolific instruments of war; HammerFall. With the band’s latest LP Hammer Of Dawn marking their 12th album since 1997, however, what we find is a sadly diluted bag of worn-out tricks that has severely outgrown its fancy dress costume…
Let it be known, before anything else is said and the legions of fans begin amassing, that Hammer Of Dawn is a good album, just not a great one. Technically proficient and mostly inoffensive to the ears but otherwise unremarkable. The genetic makeup is very much as you’d expect, 10 mid-length tracks replete with ample servings of chug-heavy riffs, screeching solos, the all-important high-flown choruses and enough references to ‘hammers’ to start a pretty good drinking game (best to avoid shots if you don’t fancy a night in A&E). The issues, however, lie with that very same expectedness. HammerFall flies an impressive flag but they’ve been flying the same one for years now and while the old ‘if it ain’t broke’ adage is true to an extent, there’s very little reason to dig out Hammer Of Dawn’s cuts even over 2019’s Dominion.
The record’s only foot wrong are minor moments of undiluted cringe – Venerate Me sports a bridge where the band (plus a feature from King Diamond himself) replicate the lead riff in a hideous, half-hearted whine and Reveries’ “nah nah nah” chorus belongs nowhere but crushed beneath the band’s titular hammer. Minor moments of difficult listening aside, Hammer Of Dawn has its own triumphs beyond being decent backing music if you’re not phased by what you’re really listening to.
The band’s consistency, for example, may have led to a feeling of overall homogeny but it’s undeniable that their passion or proficiency have ever faltered in their near-three decades on the scene. Whilst the songwriting and riff selection are a little by the numbers, there’s no feeling that the slow march of time is picking apart their performances. Each of the quintet is on form throughout with every ounce of the above-average material squeezed to its utmost limits. It’s well-produced, proficiently performed but is generally a no-risk venture making repeated listens a task of redundancy.
There simply isn’t a great deal to be said about the record and it’s frustrating. One of Sweden’s finest combatants has either had their creative embers smouldered or have simply seen fit to remain in the middle of the road where their new material seems at home. It’s true that power metal is built on a regimented formula but the things that bring it its flavour – the riffs, the over-macho chorus chants and the stupendous lyricism – sadly seem subdued. Especially when compared to the efforts of aforementioned fresh faces like Power Paladin, HammerFall is pulling out the same cup and ball tricks while their contemporaries are swallowing swords and breathing fire.
Hammer Of Dawn releases February 25 via Napalm Records.