Review Summary: The only thing HammerFall ever sacrificed was originality.
Does anyone still like HammerFall? It's a question you have to ask. HammerFall, when they started in the late 90s as a sideproject of members from bands such as In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, adopted a rather dated sound, hearking back to old heavy metal greats such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. They soon rode the wave of popularity that power metal enjoyed, but they were fast overtaken by better and bigger bands in the genre. And now, almost 15 years after their inception, they are still releasing albums. What new things could HammerFall possibly have to offer on this new record?
The answer seems to be "nothing". This album is HammerFall, as played by HammerFall, since the inception. HammerFall have admirably stuck to their swords. The only problem is, where some power metal bands cleave iron with steel, these guys have plastic toy weapons. It's weak, it's mediocre, and it sounds helplessly old; for the umpteenth time, a HammerFall record sounds like it was written twenty years ago, belonged there, and should never have been released in this day and age. If Iron Maiden and Gamma Ray are your gods, then by all means, purchase this, but HammerFall have offered zilch we could not buy another HammerFall record for (or, actually, a record from a better band).
Is there technically anything wrong with the record? No, there is technically nothing wrong at all. HammerFall's guitarists can obviously play. The issue is they are playing boring, recycled Iron Maiden riffs that probably wouldn't even have made it onto Fear of the Dark or any of the other turgid CDs IM released in the 90s. Opener Any Means Necessary is such a Priest ripoff it's not funny. The other band that HammerFall seems to enjoying stealing from is Gamma Ray, with Joacim Cans adopting a very Kai Hansen-like high-pitched snarl, to the pleasure of the fans maybe but to the annoyance of this reviewer (and everyone else who thinks typical power metal vocals are annoying as all hell).
When HammerFall aren't being derivative, they are being outright cheesy or outright annoying, which only makes matters worse. The only slow track on the record, Between Two Worlds, is a power ballad. This means, that it is a ballad HammerFall style, which is comparable to 100% homosexual (aka only allowed for anal buccaneers such as Rob Halford). This is not just bad, this is gayer than Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Rob Halford and Gaahl after a night of flaming homo orgies. This is the dripping fondue-fat reserved for Swiss cheeses. It doesn't help that the actual song is turgid, with the lyrics sounding completely vapid and the music being as cookie-cutter as humanly imaginable. No, being a power metal band does not excuse you from coming up with a good melody.
As an added bonus, we get a totally redundant cover of My Sharona, which is neither interesting nor original, which means that HammerFall are just basically out of good material and needed a cover song to make up for the lost time. It's not explicitly terrible, just horribly dull and superfluous, but at least we can be glad they didn't cover a Helloween song from Pink Bubbles Go Ape. Furthermore, the lyrics they write are the standard heavy/power metal trite (so, songs about beer, swords, dragons, templars, and hammers).
I wish HammerFall would find a good songwriter, fire the vocalist, stop ripping off Iron Maiden, and write something decent for a change. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear anything from them that resembles this possibility. I guess Joacim sounds less annoying than he did on the band's earlier albums such as Renegade. If you were thinking of buying this, well, don't, and save up for Land of the Free instead. You get more bang for your buck, you get better compositions, you get more original works; basically, you get everything HammerFall isn't. Why this band ever got any appeal is beyond me and whey they still record albums is beyond me too. I hope you girly metallers go curling instead. At least that would get you laid.