It is times like this where I feel like an absolute rookie when it comes to music. In many ways this is a true statement. There are only so many bands I can listen to at any time, no matter how hard I try and no matter what anyone else tries to tell you, there is only so much time in a day (week, year, decade, etc.) that can be spent checking out new bands.
This offers me a little solace as there always seems to be a band cropping up that I really should know about but has somehow escaped my ears until the moment I am to write about them. Hammerfall is one of those bands. I have been aware of them for some time, but it is only now that I have had the opportunity to check them out as No Sacrifice, No Victory crosses my desk.
As the first notes of "Any Means Necessary" ring out, they seem to ask "What have you been doing for the past seventeen years?" It is not like they are a new band or anything. I mean, they formed way back in 1993 and have released seven albums since their 1997 debut. It is more a matter that I never gave them the time. There really are too many worthwhile band out there to listen to and enjoy that some just slip through the cracks. Fortunately, there is always time to check back into those cracks and look for the overlooked gems.
Hammerfall is one of those gems that has fallen into the cracks of my musical experience. No Sacrifice, No Victory is one tight, solid, to the point dosing of power metal. In a world that has recently been jam packed with all manner of grindcore, deathcore, and other extreme modes of metal, Hammerfall is a breath of fresh air. This is a band unswayed by the hot scene. They take their influences from the likes of Helloween and Iron Maiden and mold them into a sound that is their own.
They are not interested in adapting to whatever currently passes for popular; they don't try to appeal to the youth market. Hammerfall delivers straight up power metal, made with passion, drive, energy, and a distinct ability to wrangle their instruments in just the right fashion to make it all work. They forge ahead in their own direction and the fans recognize and respond to that.
As I listen to No Sacrifice, No Victory, I cannot help but get sucked into it. It is downright catchy and some of those solos are things of beauty. To be sure this is not destined to be one of my favorite albums, but it really does stand out as a fine example of the genre and is proving a good entry point into Hammerfall's catalog.
The album opens with the metallic groove of "Any Means Necessary." It has a good mid-tempo gallop and I dare you not to sing along at the group chorus. It is damn near impossible to ignore. That moves right into "Life As Now," another catchy little number, but not really one of the standout performers.
If you want to know what to focus on, there is plenty. "Punish and Enslave" has a rough and dark edge to it and is a high point that will have you singing along ala Maiden's "Fear of the Dark." Well, maybe just a little. "Legion" caught my ear as being one of the faster pieces here, it continues the dark edge and really wants you to get up out of you seat. Solid, solid tune.
Now what power metal album would be complete without a power ballad? Wait. Don't answer that. We get one here in the form of "Between Two Worlds." It opens with a big organ sound before the acoustic guitars enter the mix. It really is a good song and works an effective balance to "Legion," which came right before.
The energy picks back up with "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and the superb instrumental "Something for the Ages." For that matter, the entire middle third of the album is where everything shines. There is variety in sound and energy levels, solid songwriting, and some real strong guitar work.
The album closes with a cover of The Knack's "My Sharona." It seems like an odd choice for a power metal band to cover, but it works. It is an interesting, faithful, and fun take on the classic 80s pop tune. It is also a playful way to close out the record. It says they are still having fun and don't take this too seriously. It makes me smile.
Bottomline. I will certainly look into their older releases, but for the moment I am happy to have this album to experience. Hammerfall play their brand of metal their way and you like it or not. I do. It is a style that does not get a lot of attention in the mainstream, and perhaps it is better that way. It is good to have that underlying vein of a more pure metal sound.