“Contamination breach in sector 7-G. Beginning emergency shutdown in 15 seconds. Contamination breach in sector 7-G. Evacuation protocols for project Legion in effect. Beginning emergency shutdown in 5 seconds, 4, 3, 2, 1.”
Radiation clouds, torn limbs, zombies on the loose, Armageddon closing in, Aaah! In other words, heaven on Earth for horror maniacs such as myself. Just the perfect cliche plot to fit your favorite movie in the genre or some random Left4Dead-ish first-person zombie shooter which despite all plot holes always provides a lot of fun and action. And I really wish I was reviewing something of this sort, but well, life’s a bitch. What I’m actually whining about is the mere fact that we’re talking about HammerFall’s newly born record, Infected, which will not entertain you even nearly as much.
Last time I checked, this band was all about Templars, steel, glory, more Templars and even more steel! A precious band that I always looked up to despite a lack of poetic lyricism. Cause, let’s face it, their music has just been catchy and enjoyable enough to listen to. Heck, they even held the front line of the genre and continued their crusade in dark times when Halford said that “metal is dead” and Kiske was “ashamed to be a part of it.” But listening to albums of this sort, I’m willing to believe that the former statement had some truth to it. After all, Infected is recorded by one of those bands which were always “there for me.” And yes, the introductory quote to this review is taken off the album, and it feels wrong. Along with pretty much everything on this album, starting with the poor artwork, production issues and tons of unconvincing music.
The sad truth is that Infected can’t even hold a candle to any of its predecessors. Light years away from the debut and even more from my dear Renegade/Crimson Thunder era; it doesn’t share lots of significant similarities with the 2009′s No Sacrifice, No Victory, while it’s closest to its softened nature. What bothers me most about the new release is that despite several glimpses of hope, it is still the spineless record that it was when I first tried to listen to it. If you want it in black and white, just go and re-watch your favorite George Romero horror classic and then compare it to the last year’s squeaky, polished, watery-diluted and over-exploited supplement to the Resident Evil series. Doesn’t feel all that good, right? Well, I guess I won’t be the only long-time HammerFall fan to be offended by the ill spirit of Infected anyway.
As it is difficult to fill just one hole in a big problematic mess, let’s get straight to the compositions themselves – from all those 11 tracks, there are about 3-4 good ones (at best) that could’ve easily been put on an EP of some sort in order to spare us lots of trouble. Something’s utterly wrong throughout the entire effort – most of the elements which shaped this band as an important name for the old school heavy/power metal worshipers are completely gone! You’ll neither find glorious anthems like “Templars of Steel,” “Legacy of Kingsâ€ and “Crimson Thunder,” nor do we enjoy some solid headbanging time with “Hearts on Fire” or “Blood Bound”-like tracks. The hard rock elements which broke through on the previous record are here to stay, with the producing “help” of James Michael (Scorpions, Meat Loaf, Motley Crue) who came in to fill for Charlie Bauerfeind who instead still does a tremendous work for Blind Guardian and Helloween.
Next comes an act of compositional suicide by Oscar Dronjak & co who successfully accomplished the impossible and ruined what could’ve been more or less bearable songs with weak verses and even weaker choruses, something intolerable for a band well-known for its dangerously catchy climaxes. And I don’t mean just the lack of choirs which was present back on No Sacrifice, No Victory – no sir, Infected features tracks literally lacking choruses like “Bang Your Head” and “I Refuse” with pathetic two-words-of-an-excuse for a “chorus.” It all would’ve been lost even more if it wasn’t for a few good power metal flashbacks to break the mid-tempo domination for all time’s sake like The Outlaw” and “Dia De Los Muertos.” It’s also fair to give credits to Oscar for the man tried his best to compensate for the compositional weak spots with some guitar duels with Pontus Norgren who sounds as if he really found his rightful place in this band – full solo passages here and there are at least good enough to twist the lame songs and cheer the listeners with energetic riffs and melodious digressions. Finally, we have Joakim Cans still singing his heart out in his own manner on the acoustic ballad “Send Me a Sign” and the 7 minute long ending “Redemption,” which is true to its name as it’s a vague light at the end of the tunnel and a real treat for fans of the old HammerFall style.
Yeah, it’s one hell of a hard ride. Got me thinking that most reviewers usually address disappointments recommending them “only for die-hard fans”, but I’m far from being convinced in this as one of them myself, so you won’t hear it from me. It’s clear that one or two bad albums can’t spoil the big picture that I’ve been dealing with through the years with HammerFall’s music, but damn, they sure tried my patience to its very limit with Infected.