An undercurrent to 2014’s metal story, particularly within Power Metal circles, has been that of a rediscovery of their essence and, ultimately, redemption by the more established bands whose works had shown diminishing returns since early vaunted and lauded releases; bands that have diluted, lost their way and their spark. Bands like Sonata Arctica and EdGuy have found the old magic and produced albums that don’t just throwback to yester-Golden-year, but are resplendent in the fairy dust of Power Metal brilliance, returning to form gloriously.
Despite pretty much being the catalyst for the return of Power Metal to a post nu-metal world with their classic debut Glory To The Brave in 1997, on (r)Evolution, their ninth album (all for Nuclear Blast), HammerFall find themselves needing to follow the narrative of other successful comebacks after the disappointing, limp and creatively redundant Infected and a decade of albums that whimpered in the shadows of their glorious first two.
The first thing to note is the return to Studio Fredman, and the reappearance of Fredrik Nordström in the producers chair for the first time since Legacy Of Kings, still to this date the band’s best outing, and the vibrancy he brings to their sound. Returning to the style that conquered Europe so many years ago, (r)Evolution hurtles out the gates with the self-referential ‘Hector’s Hymn’, a joyful call-to-arms that reasserts HammerFall’s trademarks, and screams that they are back on track and back on brand, mentally, lyrically but most important musically.
All the classic HammerFall elements slot into place, with main man Oscar Dronjak revitalised and doing what he does best, pulling out Dio-esque riffs on the fists-in-the-air ‘Live Life Loud’, or twisting the Priest strangle grip on the intro to ‘Tainted Metal’, with plenty of chugging power chords and flowing leads throughout. Where Joacim Cains sounded stifled on Infected, here his distinctive tones are free, as if he is enjoying life leading a heavy metal band playing traditional heavy metal once again, effortlessly finding the right melodies to turn songs into anthems replete with collosal choruses.
Both in the title of the album, and in several of the lyrics, there is an acknowledgement of what HammerFall is, does and should do, and by implication, the limitations that were exposed when they tried modernising and changing their sound too much. But the thing is, when HammerFall do what HammerFall does best, such as on the likes of ‘Bushido’ and ‘We Won’t Back Down’, it matters not that it has been 16 years since their last great album, only that on (r)Evolution they have found themselves again, and have lived up to their own legacy, the legacy of kings of Power Metal.