(Nuclear Blast)

01. Hector's Hymn
02. (r)Evolution
03. Bushido
04. Live Life Loud
05. Ex Inferis
06. We Won't Back Down
07. Winter is Coming
08. Origins
09. Tainted Metal
10. Evil Incarnate
11. Wildfire

RATING: 8.5/10

Power metal favorites HAMMERFALL are back and back to basics, it would seem. Their old mascot, Hector, returns, in art form and in ode on the band's latest album, "(r)Evolution". Hector was last seen on HAMMERFALL's debut, "Glory to the Brave", which was produced by Fredrik Nordström. After sixteen years since last working with the band, HAMMERFALL and Nordström are reunited for the delivery of "(r)Evolution" and it's evident the magic's hardly been lost.

The title "(r)Evolution" is a bizarre one, but it comes from guitarist Oscar Dronjak's recent viewing of the stellar "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" movie from this past summer. Translated in the band's native Swedish as "Apornas Planet: (r)Evolution", Dronjak and HAMMERFALL sound plenty inspired by the film as they rekindle their flames with Fredrik Nordström and cover artist Andreas Marschall. Not that HAMMERFALL has slacked off ever, the fan-pleasing "(r)Evolution" is sure to be a gimme grab for power metal freaks at-large.

Saluting Marschall as the "father" of Hector, HAMMERFALL opens "(r)Evolution" with the brisk and melodic "Hector's Hymn" with a floating fastidiousness befitting their veteran stature. Joacim Cans stands in the pocket as the band rolls triumphantly around him, together sounding as precise as even HELLOWEEN and GAMMA RAY. Afterwards, the title track drops back to a power pump anthem with steady strokes and gang-shouted choruses. The song is predictable as all hell, right down to the chucking grooves and tag solos from Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren. What matters is that HAMMERFALL engineers a banging sing-along to keep their fans invested in this album.

"Bushido" is one of a few expectant conqueror epics on the album (along with the fast-moving "Origins" and the fall of mankind elegy, "Evil Incarnate"), trailing through a valorous march down the samurai's path as proposed allegory to anyone in search of inspiration. The live by the sword, die by the sword ethos of "Bushido" would be a hair trite outside of the forum HAMMERFALL works in, but it's as metal as true metal gets and it's gloriously delivered. Grab some "Usagi Yojimbo" to read while listening.

"Live Life Loud" is another of the mandatories that come with a HAMMERFALL album, i.e. the metal-as-life anthem. Here, Joacim Cans wails and summons his followers to a fist-pumping party with loads of clout from Anders Johansson and bass bumping from Fredrik Larsson. This song belongs in the Eighties as a lost gem, but for any diehard of metal regardless of age, it's hard not to be suckered by the song's riff-heavy, chorus-driven declaration. Ditto for the pounding "Tainted Metal" (using the band's fantasy elements as metaphors this time) and the stepped-up, melodic swinger "We Won't Back Down". The latter has as much to do with environmental conscientiousness as metalhead solidarity. Cans' oscillating vocals on "We Won't Back Down"'s choruses are as smooth as the guitar solo.

The DIO-esque "Ex Inferis" is one of the heaviest, slower-dealing cuts on the album as is "Winter is Coming", the latter deriving its strength through emotive performances from all stations. By thematic contrast, the mostly speedy "Wildfire" wraps "(r)Evolution" as fast as it begins, leaving thrashes and listener smiles galore in its raging wake.

There's nothing about "(r)Evolution" that's revolutionary, but it is a headbanger's paradise and just about perfect in execution. As ever, HAMMERFALL comes with maces high and axes singing, defying to be beaten. Only a handful of bands are superior to this one, but HAMMERFALL remain committed to their cause and win their own battle convincingly.


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