Widely credited for having spearheaded the current traditional metal resurgence in Europe, Sweden's HAMMERFALL have always fallen a bit short of the mark to these ears, boasting a sound that is neither innovative nor particularly convincing, with many of their songs coming across like poor second-rate imitations of early HELLOWEEN.


In spite of the fact that it was produced by veteran studio wizard Michael Wagener, the group's third album essentially follows the same musical path as its predecessors, featuring ten songs that tread along competently, but never manage to reach the kind of soaring heights attained by their much more effective countrymen NOCTURNAL RITES (whose Afterlife effort puts this CD to shame). At least some of the blame for this could be placed squarely at the feet of vocalist Joacim Cans, whose thin, high-pitched approach gets tiresome rather quickly, thereby preventing him from delivering anything but the up-tempo speed metal numbers with a serious degree of conviction. This is no better evident than in the ballad "Always Will Be", an otherwise impressively written number that would have come across as way more powerful in the hands of a more traditional hard rock vocalist such as Jonny Lindqvist (N. RITES) or Anders Engberg (ex-LIONS SHARE), both of whom have ironically had far less success with their own respective bands (for reasons other than their lack of ability, obviously).


Cans' shortcomings aside, HAMMERFALL churn out relatively enjoyable power metal that is virtually tailor-made for the fans of the sing-along style favored by the German groups, such as HELLOWEEN, GAMMA RAY and BLIND GUARDIAN—an approach that is still immensely popular in parts of Europe, Latin America and Japan. A few quality moments abound, as on the album's title track (and first single), the aforementioned "Always Will Be" and "Living In Victory", but on the whole, one can't help but feel that HAMMERFALL's substantial hype has outweighed the band's ability to deliver quality material, and as such, it is only a matter of time before the group's star begins to fade.

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