Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken
I'm not a fan of this title. I hate the whole chapter thing, with one of my favorite power metal units, Metalium, using the chapter thing for each of their records. I guess it makes sense, but I really don't like to look at a band's career in chapters. Instead I like to focus on the individual, which leaves me to look directly at "Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken", a suitable secondary title that really sums up these Swedish hotshots. The band just keeps marching, moving forward into familiar territory, but taking their own strides with careful consideration, making sure that each step is remembered in it's own way. Perhaps the band has achieved too much over five albums, with tours all over the universe and a recent road trip with metal icon Ronnie James Dio. Love them or hate them, Hammerfall have worked wonders for the power metal genre, opening up doors and building bridges for a new generation. Now they are out of the ice again, resurrected with a brand new record and a promise of something a little different this time around.
With one listen to the band's new record you can hear a sense of maturity in their sound. After repeated listens I can hear a few different things, a touch of something a bit more aggressive. The influence could have certainly carried over from vocalist Joacim Cans' recent solo output, which was by far the heaviest thing I have heard the man involved with. With that heavy, groove oriented style, Cans has somewhat transformed Hammerfall, bringing them up to speed with the likes of Brainstorm, Primal Fear, Sinner, and even Mystic Prophecy. The group seems to go at it a little less happy, with the mood of the record certainly not sadistic or angry, but still somewhat dark, showing off the band in a little less light. Of course the album is extremely polished, sounding machine like at times, much like previous Hammerfall records. This seems to be an element that throws some listeners, the connect-the-dots makeup that seems to make the band sound "too good", as if everything fits together too well. Sometimes a band needs raw features, but with bands in the power metal genre I have always been attached to that flawless soundscape.
The first song that really comes to mind as far as different approach or method is "Fury Of The Wind", a new wave piece that recalls Mercyful Fate. Cans hits some of his highest notes here, with the whole track moving with a sinister groove, at times recalling the same sound recently made famous by Wolf. The aggressive tone I was describing earlier can be found on "Blood Bound", a cut that sways with a huge stomp riff, really sounding like something off of Cans' solo album. The big chorus part is still intact, a signature of Hammerfall, but with this particular arrangement the chorus just sounds a bit more vicious than usual. The same can be said for the powerful opener "Secrets". One of metal's most famous villains, Kronos, stops by to lend a hand with the risky "Knights Of The 21st Century", a rather atmospheric closer that really doesn't seem to break into any sort of rhythm. As always the wimpy ballad finds it's way through, this time in the form of "Never, Ever". Fans of "Renegade" and "Legacy Of Kings" will really enjoy "Take The Black", "Hammer Of Justice", and "The Templar Flame".
"Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken" is another fabulous entry in the Hammerfall franchise. The band's attention to detail is just amazing, with so many little things perfected before sending these to press. Cans and company really show off a new side and delivering what has to be their heaviest album to date. Much like "Crimson Thunder", the group seems to have found a new direction, a slightly heavier code of honor. Fitting that the group will tour with Edguy to support this record, with Germany's premier metal band going through this same transformation with "Hellfire Club", an aggressive shift for them as well.