There are some bands that I, Mikesn, while probably never enjoy to their fullest extent. Outside their breakthrough album Cowboys from Hell, I have an extreme dislike of Pantera. I don't know why, I've just never been able to get into them. Another band I rather dislike is Dream Theater. Metropolis Pt 2 Scenes from a Memory is a fine album, yet it's not something I find myself enjoying all that much. Aside from that album, I have a hard time listening to the band at all. Finally, there's Hammerfall. Despite them being universally recognized as powerhouses of the power metal genre by fans and critics alike, they're pretty high up on my *** list. In releases like Crimson Thunder and Chapter 5: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken, they've proven to be nothing more than an average, generic power metal band. Sorry, but that isn't the way I like my metal. So when I heard that Hammerfall was working on a new record, Threshold, my expectations for the album were astronomically low. But when I heard the album, I was pleasantly surprised. Never before had the Swedish quintet ever sounded so good.
Right from the start of the albums opener, it is evident that the band has gotten better. The opening riff of the album's first track, Threshold, is much heavier and stronger than anything the band has done in their past few releases. Only, this time the band is able to build on this early momentum. The title track is a very solid showing of Hammerfall's true potential, as it combines the power and strength or the genre, and mixes it with the melodic prowess that fans of power metal have come to love throughout the last 20 years. Throughout the album, Hammerfall replicates the energy of the opener through songs like Natural High and The Fire Burns Forever. Hammerfall's rise to decency has a lot to do with guitarists Oscar Drunjak and Stefan Elmgren. No longer content with playing simple, boring riffs and melodies, the pair has an outstanding outing on Threshold. Their playing is tasteful and exciting, and at can get very interesting at times. With Oscar and Stefan leading the way, it seems as though the band has had a fire lit under them. I must say, Hammerfall write some pretty good material when they're inspired. Generic, but still pretty good.
However, Threshold is definitely not a perfect record. Despite being a vast improvement, Hammerfall still falls back on the vices that plagued their earlier releases. Threshold's ballads are particularly bad, and they hurt the overall score of the album immensely. Some things never chance unfortunately, and these Swedes have never been good at writing ballads, and continue this bad streak here. As cheesy as songs like Howlin' with the 'Pac and Shadow Empire are, the cheese factor in songs like Carved in Stone and Rebel Inside is off the charts. A large reason for this lies in the fact that instead of being lead by the guitarists, vocalist Joacim Cans takes charge. He's improved slightly, but he does not develop as a singer nearly as much as his band mates improve in their own roles. Cans' voice can get extremely cringe worthy, especially in the ballads. This can get exceedingly irritating, and can ruin a track. Luckily, Joacim has mercy on his listeners, and this does not happen as often as it does on say, Crimson Thunder. Another reason why Threshold's ballads are not really all that interesting is because of the music itself. Hammerfall's greatest strength rests in the hands of their two guitarists. When they cannot dominate the song, as is the case in Rebel Inside or Dark Winds, Dark Words, the music gets very dull, very fast. The material is just significantly weaker that the rest of the album.
Hammerfall has never been a band I really liked. I've always thought they were one of the more generic, over rated power metal bands. And, well, I still do. But I was also pleasantly surprised with their sixth studio effort, Threshold. It's heavier, darker, and stronger than anything the band has done thus far. Tracks like Threshold and The Fire Burns Forever are superbly done written and performed tracks, definitely among the band's greatest tracks. Though there are some weaker tracks, the Swedish quintet seems to be on a mission, and have produced a very honest, inspired album. Threshold may very well be Hammerfall's best record yet, and is definitely worth looking into, even if it is generic.
The Fire Burns Forever