Wednesday, November 9, 2016

HammerFall - Built To Last (2016)

With the release of "Built To Last", Swedish power/heavy metallers HammerFall have finally reached their tenth release, a milestone that many bands wish to reach. It is proof that the band's determination and hard work have really payed off, building a grand fan base and a reputation of quality that has stood with them ever since their first couple of releases. It has become a stronghold that is guarded by their loyal hero/mascot Hector, and will most certainly stand tall for a lot more albums to come.

With that said, the band has had a nasty habit of almost being safe in their song writing. If we look back in their catalog, it is easy to see that the band are comfortable in their style and themes, but rarely want to go away from them (and when they do, they mostly get hammered by the Templars). The same story is told here in "Built To Last", we get a lot of familiar themes here that we almost expect from the band, songs about warriors, steel, and battles. I know the guys can tell these stories well, but it can turn to cheese quite easily, and there is a lot of it on this record. But then again, what would a HammerFall record be without some cheese? The answer, a boring one.

The music is very familiar too, we got several classic HammerFall tunes here that are surely enjoyable, but far from any future classics. We got some pure power songs that gets you pumped up, some slower and catchier songs with classic battle choirs, and also that pesky ballad that the band forces into every album. There is no song in this record that seems to steer away from what HammerFall has been doing since the start, which is truly a shame, especially since "(r)Evolution" had a couple of songs, like "Wildfire" and "Origins", that may have borrowed a lot from other power metal bands, but was new and exciting to HammerFall. Simply put, the innovative energy is not here in "Built To Last".

That is not to say that there is no energy here though, because there is plenty of it. "Dethrone And Defy" has some good pounding double bass, chugging guitars, and a force that gives the whole album a needful spark. It still lacks in star power when compared to the fantastic "Hector's Hymn", but the solo itself makes it a clear highlight that cannot be missed. "Stormbreaker" and "The Star of Home" continues in the same fashion, but the plot thickens in the final song "Second To None", a fresh finisher that has a really nice mood, and some great performances in this semi ballad. It is the cherry on the top of a tasty second half.

Unfortunately though, the whole album has a problem with lasting all the way through, forcing you to skip some songs. We have a clear Accept rip off in "New Breed" that shows that the band has not lost their more traditional heavy metal vein, but it just does not work this time, and "The Sacred Vow" is just sluggish, having a hard time catching my interest. And of course, the ballad "Twilight Princess" is also very forgettable, being one of many bland HammerFall ballads that is not even close to reaching the heights that "Glory To The Brave" reached. So overall, the quality of "Built To Last" is decent, but far from spectacular.

One thing that is always spectacular though is the band's performance. Joacim Cans and his high voice is on point as always, and the twin guitar attack of Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren is as solid as ever. My worries were with the new drummer though, especially since David Wallin comes from a different spectrum, playing in the industrial metal band Pain. Fortunately, he does a good job, maybe mimicking Anders Johansson a little too much, but he does what he is asked to do, so job well done.

While I do believe that "Built To Last" is a good album overall, it has some dents that needs to be taken care of. Some songs are really enjoyable, but the album as a whole feels like one big deja vu, not adding anything that we have not already seen from the band. If you are a fan, this album will go down smoothly for you, it is classic HammerFall stuff that seems to never grow old. For you others, you better just ignore this one.

Songs worthy of recognition: Dethrone And Defy, Stormbreaker, Second To None

Rating: 6,5/10 Hammers High

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