Power metal vets HammerFall have been pummeling us with their, um, hammers since the turn of the century. Built to Last is the band’s tenth studio album. Cheesy power metal is never a bad thing, but it is also rarely a great thing, as these stalwart warriors have proven over the years.
HammerFall are known for putting out consistent records chock full of uplifting anthems and galloping rhythms – basically being a guiding light for the power metal genre – but no more or less than that.
Opening track “Bring It!” bursts out of the gates with an up-tempo driving beat, Singer Joacim Cans nobly belting out the lyrics until we get the gang-chanted chorus – “Bring it! Just bring it!” The song is good old-fashioned straight-up power metal.
“Hammer High” is a bit slower, but still another fist-pumping anthem, as are the next two tracks as well. Gang-style choruses, lightning-fast lead breaks, and inspiring medieval lyrics dominate proceedings.
There’s no need to change a formula that works for HammerFall here. In fact, the band plays things so close to the vest, using the same cookie-cutter template, that most songs end up sounding like one another. That’s a problem, because Built to Last is only eight songs and 37 minutes long. When seven of those eight songs are this similar to each other the album is almost a blur. “Twilight Princess” is the perquisite power ballad on the album, splitting it in half and giving us a break from the anthems. Like all the songs on Built to Last, it is well executed but ultimately leaves us with an empty, unsatisfied feeling.
Performances are strong across the board, with appropriately theatrical, epic vocals by Cans and excellent guitar work by Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren (check out closing track “The Star of Home,” the best song on the album). Production is clean and modern, and nothing sounds out of place. There are also no gimmicks: minimal use of keyboards and effects leaves us able to focus in on what matters, namely the guitars and lyrics.
If you’re lactose-intolerant, Built to Last won’t be the cheese for you, but for the genre this is a fun, exuberant, and well-played album. At their best HammerFall remind one of early Helloween, at their worst an over-the-top generic power metal band. It’s a fine line to straddle, but HammerFall are pros and manage to do so with aplomb. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a dragon to slay…
(released November 4, 2016 on Napalm Records)