REVIEW: HAMMERFALL – “Dominion”
Hammerfall have always been a “to-go” band for me when I was a teenager. Back in 1997, ‘Glory to the Brave’ blew my socks off with strong songwriting, awesome atmosphere and a most welcomed back-to-the-roots attitude at the time. I had a similar feeling when, after many years of just…well, basically existing, the Swedish Templars got their priorities together once again and delivered the powerful ‘Built to Last’ (2016). Here we are again, then, with Hammerfall’s eleventh crusade to the depths of the Metal realm, ‘Dominion’, which continues in many ways were their previous endeavor left off.
Starting out in what could be featured on ‘No Sacrifice, No Victory’ (2009), “Never Forgive, Never Forget” starts things in a frantic, semi-energetic way. The riffs are heavy and Joacim Cans’ choice of the vocal range sits somewhere between a safe space and some timid higher screams – which is acceptable giving the fact that the dude has been a total powerhouse for the last 20 or so years.
The hammer continues to hit hard in the title track, this time around in a heavier, less power-esque way. The song serves as a testament to what Oskar Dronjak, Cans and team are always searching for in terms of musicality, especially when the chorus sinks in.
As it is with many of Hammerfall’s previous efforts, though, there is a small – yet very prominent – chunk of forgettable, inoffensive moments. Here we have the uninspired “Testify”, a song that could easily be part of the horrible ‘Infected’ (2011), as well as the sappy “Second to One” (because it’s not a Hammerfall album without a cheesy as hell ballad). These have their moments, but it’s just not enough to make the tunes anything but fillers.
On the other hand, maturity seems to have caught up with Dronjak and team in moments of pure inspiration such as “One Against the World” and “Scars of a Generation”, for instance. Both are constructed to be heavy hitters and future consolidated classics like “The Way of the Warrior”, “Heeding the Call” and “Hearts on Fire”, just with less raw quality and a more professional approach.
The trigger happy “(We Make) Sweden Rock” will most likely please the casual and the more laid-back listener, as it’s actually just an unpretentious, brainless track made for raising your fists up high. Similarly constructed is the ok “Dead by Dawn”. Heavier than the former, though, and with a cool chorus, it’s perfect for playing live and keeping it as background music.
The final portion of the album, which features a strange, but passable semi-ballad “And yet I Smile”, also houses two of the great tracks of the record. Summoning the early days of dual riffs, pompous, heroic aura and catchy passages, “Bloodline” – which comes after a killer intro in “Battleworn” – and “Chain of Command” serve as the cherries on the cake and puts things back on track for the Swedish quintet. Marvelous guitar lines by Dronjak and Pontus Norgren, tempestuous solos and bombastic drum lines accompanied by groovy, competent bass glue these together and make both a treat to listen to; a wonderful trip to the heydays.
Cans is singing as great as ever, Dronjak and Norgren are hammering their instruments with perfection, the great Fredrik Larsson is gallantly pounding his bass with some cool twists and David Wallin provides competent support in the drum kit. Musically and instrumental-wise, ‘Dominion’ is exactly what you would expect from Hammerfall. The problem is that the songwriting and the inspirational parts are also what we could expect from them in a more negative way in some selected parts.
As a fan, it pleases me to see another good album by Hammerfall filled with nostalgia and some cool new twists, especially in the maturity and easiness of their way of playing. As a reviewer, I see a few flaws in ‘Dominion’ that could have been prevented with some more rawness and passion instead of polished songwriting, but nothing that turns it into a mediocre album. I would put the album in a middle shelf as far as Hammerfall records go, somewhere between ‘Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken’ (2005) and ‘Threshold’ (2006). Albeit a stepback compared to ‘Built to Last’, it’s a good statement that the Templars of Steel are alive and well.