~reviewed by Joel Steudler
Listening to Hammerfall's latest album is like stepping into a documentary on the golden age of classic power metal. 'Crimson Thunder' is a veritable time machine, whisking the listener back to an age where metal was about soaring leads, vocals that sailed through the stratosphere, and glorious clashes of epic heroes. You will find no guttural growling on this album... no harsh, raw assaults on your ears. Every second of sound is so glossy and polished it's a wonder the CD didn't slip out of my hands before I could insert it into my stereo. Hammerfall embodies every virtue that Brothers In True Metal aspired to back when metal was a lifestyle and not just a genre of music. Depending on your point of view, all of this combines to make 'Crimson Thunder' either a must-have album or totally hilarious to listen to... or both.
Nuclear Blast has a stable full of acts that seem to have stepped directly out of 1985 and into modern recording studios. Along with Primal Fear, Manowar, and Stratovarious, Hammerfall carries on the proud legacy of bands like Iron Maiden (who surprisingly still exist to this day), Judas Priest, and Helloween. Come to think of it, Helloween still exists too. So does Gamma Ray. Who would have thought that such a goofy genre of music would be so enduring?
Hamerfall masterfully capture every nuance of the classic powermetal sound. This is as historically accurate a recording as anyone could ever hope to create. From the wailing siren vocals, chant-like choruses, bouncy riffs, lyrics that take themselves far too seriously... every aspect of classic metal has been recreated. There's a traditional metal ballad (the far too earnest but true-to-the-time 'Dreams Come True'), speedy fist pumpers, and slow churners... all aspects of the genre from that time (aside possibly from a true 'happy metal' tune ala Helloween's "Livin' Ain't No Crime") are covered in loving detail. What's more, the production could not possibly be any better. Every note is clear and beautifully rendered, every vocal line drenched in lush reverb. The sound is so candy-sweet it could rot your teeth. 'Crimson Thunder' is a miracle of modern science... ancient classic metal grown anew in the labs of the mad scientists Hammerfall.
If you still dress in a studded black leather jacket, sport hair that flows down past your shoulders, and commonly wear skintight pants and shiny black boots (oh, and are male!)... you probably have bought this album already. On the off chance that you didn't know about Hammerfall, well, now you do... and in order to stay on the Righteous Path Of Metal, you're obligated to go purchase it. This album is for you, and is made by people just like you. You'll love it.
If you're like me, however, you have a more difficult choice on your hands. I am a fan of metal from the era Hammerfall recreates... but I heard enough of it then and still have enough of it in my CD collection to satisfy me. I am no Brother In True Metal. I like progress, and even when I get a hankering for powermetal, there are other bands out there that have added new ideas and original sounds to the genre. Labels like Scarlet Records keep coming up with groups like Thy Majestie and Heimdall who take the old formula and push it to new heights. Hammerfall is so rooted in the past that they add nothing to the body of work already available in the genre. Despite that, 'Crimson Thunder' may be the most exquisitely produced powermetal album I've encountered. It can be enjoyable to listen to merely to hear the beautiful sound quality... and I have to admit, a number of the songs put a smile on my face as I recall the pumped up bravado their kin inspired back when such music was relatively new.
Depending on which camp of people you fall into (those like me vs. the Brothers In True Metal), Hammerfall's blast from the past will either be a mandatory purchase or mostly redundant. The near perfect production of the album may be enough to win you over even if you've heard it all before, but the utter lack of any new ideas may turn off other listeners. Historians, though, should certainly pick up a copy for their archives.
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