HAMMERFALL
"Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken"

(Nuclear Blast)

01. Secrets
02. Blood Bound
03. Fury of the Wild
04. Hammer of Justice
05. Never, Ever
06. Born To Rule
07. The Templar Flame
08. Imperial
09. Take the Black
10. Knights of the 21st Century

RATING: 6/10

You love 'em, you hate 'em, you think they're a pleasure guiltier than O.J. Simpson ripping the tag off a mattress. Seven years after their debut, "Glory to the Brave", galvanized a power metal scene then at low ebb, it's still hard to separate HAMMERFALL from the hype and discourse surrounding their existence. Five albums into a career that was never supposed to be more than a jokey side-project anyway, and three years after previous studio album "Crimson Thunder", what can we expect from the Templar Knights?

More of the same, pretty much. Strip away all the mug-hoisting hail-and-kill hoopla, and you've got some decent, pedestrian power metal. I use the term in the 1980s sense — this is more SAXON than DRAGONFORCE (check out "Fury of the Wild" for a very Biff Byford vocal and a rockin', if disposable, midtempo riff). There does seem to be a slightly darker, more classy shift in the songwriting — nothing as relentlessly goofy as "Crimson Thunder" stinker "Hearts on Fire" (“burning, burning with desire") rears its head, although we do get the pomp-y AOR puzzler "Hammer of Justice", which sounds like it coulda been fished from ACCEPT's trash bin circa "Metal Heart". Obligatory ballad "Never, Ever" shows up at exactly the right moment — have a lighter ready — and 11-minute closer "Knights of the 21st Century" features a ludicrous guest vocal from VENOM troll-for-hire Cronos that will have the most stalwart defender of the faith on the floor laughing.

"Chapter V" is a little more interesting than "Crimson Thunder", but it's not too far removed from anything else the band has done to change anyone's mind. If you've enjoyed HAMMERFALL all along, you'll probably be satisfied, and these choruses will have you lustily shouting along at your favorite sweat-and-beer-drenched Euro festival this summer. If you think they're a bunch of pandering no-talents reaping an unjust reward for doing what PRIEST, ACCEPT, SAXON and RIOT did better years ago… well, nothing on "Chapter V" is gonna convert you.

HAMMERFALL fill the need for basic, lowest-common-denominator metal that pushes all the familiar buttons, and they show occasional flashes of songwriting prowess. But ultimately, it was only timing and luck that brought them into the first tier of metal to begin with, and at the end of the day, their agreeable, forgettable MANOWAR-lite shtick will be lumped in with C-listers like PEGAZUS, DREAM EVIL and SACRED STEEL (well, okay, they're not that bad). Buy WOLF's "Evil Star" instead – it's much more interesting.

(And seriously, what is up with the intro to "Knights of the 21st Century"? It sounds like Cronos is fucking an orc or something. No one needs to hear that.)

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