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Hammerfall - "Infected" (CD)

Hammerfall - "Infected" CD cover image

"Infected" track listing:

1. Patient Zero
2. Bang Your Head
3. One More Time
4. The Outlaw
5. Send Me A Sign
6. Dia De Los Muertos
7. I Refuse
8. 666 - The Enemy Within
9. Immortalized
10. Let's Get It On
11. Redemption

Reviewed by on June 18, 2011

"'Infected' may not change the metal landscape, but it's a healthy creative leap forward for its makers."

If any band can be accused of being stuck in its ways, it’s Hammerfall. Emerging from Sweden in the mid-to-late ‘90s well before the modern power metal movement reached its saturation point across the Old World, their game plan has defined consistency. Shiny, polished, straightforward traditional metal with thunderous riffs and soaring vocals, with un-ironic lyrics firmly rooted in Dungeons & Dragons territory, made for a fine niche for a while – but times change.

Seemingly unaware of the dead horse their legions of imitators had beaten to a bloody pulp, Hammerfall released “No Sacrifice, No Victory” in 2009 to a rather jaded power metal scene (outside their diehard fan base and their home country). A pleasant enough album, it nonetheless smacked of repetition and creative starvation, raising suspicions that the band was expecting Hammerfall tunes to write themselves. As it turns out, it was a recipe for generic – borderline bland – power metal.

In 2011, Hammerfall is back on much firmer ground, with a killer record that sees their songwriting revitalized and their missing exuberance reclaimed. “Infected” may not change the metal landscape, but it’s a healthy creative leap forward for its makers. Let’s explore the rather simple reasons.

First off, behold the album artwork. Where’s Hector, the heroic, hammer-wielding medieval paladin to grace the cover of every previous release? Where are the mighty swords? The burning castles? The frozen wastelands? All gone. Artwork can be a crucial liaison between music and one’s ears, and the visual clichés of power metal are awfully prone to cheesy predictability. So can you imagine a better coup than the genre’s poster band gracing their latest album with nothing but a bloody hand clawing its way through inky darkness? Even the band’s familiar logo has been adapted to a rough, vintage horror-comic look. These changes alone could not have been anticipated even as recently as two years ago.

Equally different are the track titles, lyrics, and music itself. While not exactly a pure concept album, “Infected” trades the tired, earnest chivalry as a dominant theme for the pulpy excitement and horror of a zombie outbreak. Not exactly unexplored ground in heavy metal, but previously unheard of for Hammerfall. Frontman Joacim Cans considerably narrows his scope, turning inward and digging up equal parts angst and enthusiasm, but with a slightly more sinister vibe than what we’re used to. The music follows suit. While Hammerfall still sounds like Hammerfall, these songs are rawer, less polished, and less produced, with almost a dangerous punk rock ethos (possibly thanks to American rocker/producer James Michael). The kick drums and ominous running riff on “One More Time” evoke a terror-driven, pulsing heartbeat, while opener “Patient Zero” rides a dark, sludgy groove before bursting into honest-to-goodness thrash metal. Hammerfall seems to be playing for keeps again, pouring passion and darkness into their songwriting and bringing it back to life.

Thankfully, the band hasn’t discarded its delightful hooks and melodies, which are strong and powerful as ever, and in fact boosted by the raw, newfound edginess of the music. And if you think Hammerfall needs a Cookie Monster to create a “brutal” record, think again: Cans and his piercing high range are back for another round, albeit with a touch of evil. Overall, these guys have bravely stepped out on a tightrope and performed an admirable balancing act - sticking close enough to their roots to avoid alienating fans, while freshening up their sound and image just enough to keep things interesting. That’s harder than it sounds, and Hammerfall never seemed an obvious candidate for such a feat, but they’ve up and done it.

Highs: “Patient Zero,” “One More Time,” “Redemption”

Lows: “Let’s Get It On” can be fun, but also confirms that if you weren’t a fan of Cans’ nasally vocals before, you still won’t be.

Bottom line: An energetic, subtly experimental growth record from a band that seemed destined for creative stagnation.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)