Sometimes I wish AMG released audio reviews. If we did, the first thirty seconds of my review of Hammerfall‘s Built to Last would be uncontrollable laughter. I mean, for fuck’s sake, they have a song called the “Twilight Princess.” But, for all the laughter and poking fun I can have with Built to Last, Hammerfall never let me down. Maybe it’s because I don’t expect that much from them, I’ve never taken them too seriously, and they’ve been pretty damn consistent for over twenty years. After a couple good records in the ’90s, they switched on the cruise control and haven’t deviated from the settings much. Sure, their album covers suck and there are a few albums that stand the test of time as well as bare steel in the Amazonian rainforest, but none of their albums disappoint me. Hell, even Infected wasn’t dogshit. It just wasn’t any good. Again, you have to know what you’re getting into and you need to keep your expectations to a reasonable level.
But, what’s the most interesting part of this year’s Built to Last is its release via Napalm Records. Up to now, Hammerfall has never released an album outside the halls of Nuclear Blast. What does this mean for the band and their music? Well, don’t look too deep into this change. Switching labels doesn’t mean anything changed musically. Built to Last is not a return to the Glory days, but it is a serious piece of history. It marks a new era for the band and that’s gotta be worth something, right? Like a listen or two?
Press “play” on Built to Last and “Bring It!” gets this sumbitch going in a hurry. It’s got everything a standard Hammerfall song should have – punch, melody, and a catchy chorus as only Hammerfall (and Dream Evil and Primal Fear) can write. “Dethrone and Defy” and “Stormbreaker” are like the opener, delivering fast-paced power metal, firecracker plucking, and soaring solos. The former chugs, chills, and builds up to gigantic choirs and Cans’ Halford-ish demon wails. The latter sets out slay a dragon in the most Dream Evil kind of way but fails to grasp my attention. But, if you’re looking for the best fast-paced number, look no further than “New Breed.” It’s ridiculously old-school and has one of those classic, crowd-pleasing choruses that sandwiches the band between a full choir and thick slices of Västerbotten cheese.
If you’re looking for something addictive, then check out “Hammer High.” It has barbed hooks like the quills of a porcupine. Exaggerated by sappy melodies and punchy builds, this track has everything for that sing-along Hammerfall concert goer. You may not know it, but all you have to do is listen to “Hector’s Hymn” again and you already know the lyrics to “Hammer High.” More hooks snag us as we turn the corner and run into the title track and closer track, “Second to None,” which opens with some ballady keys and gentle vocal arrangements, it passes through another catchy chorus and into some nasty chugging reminiscent of Infected. The riffs are subtle, but they have just the right amount of memorability—causing even the weakest neck to sway back and forth with the beat.
But, no Hammerfall record is complete without a sappy ballad. And, as you might expect, “Twilight Princess” is it. It’s cheesy and whiny as fuck, but Hammerfall wouldn’t be the same without its usual plate of tooth-picked cheese cubes. As you may have noticed, this review reads like every review ever written for a Hammerfall record. Built to Last has anthems, it has power-metal ballads, and it has dynamics as tight as a twilight princess [Report to HR. – Steel Druhm]. But, when compared to the band’s more recent outings, Built to Last mirrors the sound and direction of (r)Evolution. There’s really nothing new here, but it’s far from disappointing. Built to Last is fun and it will continue to get some spins from me for the rest of the year.