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Sunday, January 27, 2008

CD Review: Hammerfall - Steel Meets Steel: Ten Years of Glory

Hammerfall - Steel Meets Steel: Ten Years of Glory
2007 Nuclear Blast Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Hammerfall is one of the unsung heroes in terms of helping usher classic-styled power metal back to the masses. With the sudden enthrallment of Dragonforce to the newer ranks of the worldwide heavy metal army, one can say thank God the kids are flocking towards true metal, one filled with outrageous artistry and mesmerizing guitar solos instead of dismissing the whole thing at face value as the nu-metal conspiracy contingents did not so long ago by declaring guitar solos fossil fodder. Of course, one can also say the newly initiated need to be steered in other proper directions to complete their heavy metal studies.

As one-time students themselves, Hammerfall are disciples of the Manowar, Saxon and Accept credo of metal, which is to strike hard, strike fast, strike with all you've got and let the chips fall where they may. Of the three aforementioned veteran bands, it was Accept that had the best shot at international glory, while Manowar has become the stuff of legends everywhere but their native American turf. Despite a stumblebum period in the mid eighties, Saxon today still commands worldwide respect as metal titans. It is in the shadow of these bands that Hammerfall studiously hedged their own brand of pounding power metal and for the most part, their revisionist hail-and-kill brand of Manowar-flavored metal has stayed honest to the old ways, though on their past two studio albums Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken and Threshold it's quite obvious that Hammerfall is seeking outside their perrenial punches for something a little off-kilter and more progressive. Considering that Hammerfall has frequently used harpischords in their larger-than-life metal thunderclaps, it's commendable they're seeking to stretch the boundaries of power metal even further.

As Hammerfall begins what might be considered a second period, Nuclear Blast quickly assembles a retrospective of how far the Swedish power lords have come through six albums and numerous world tours. To say that Hammerfall is not in Manowar's league (which a number of detractors sling from the security of their anonymous computers in chat rooms) is wholly unfair. While there's much to parallel the two bands--namely the intent behind the conquer the world and enslave all in shackles of metal mindset--Hammerfall is more a product of Euro influence that bears conscience to Helloween, Gamma Ray and Primal Fear as much as it does traditional sledgehammer-styled heavy metal. Also, if you listen closely, there's a daring tread towards the mainstream hard rock of the eighties such as Dokken, if you want to really disseminate a beat-heavy and tuneful ditty like "Let the Hammer Fall" from Legacy of Kings, which appears on this anthology in a live version from Hammerfall's 2003 concert album One Crimson Night.

That being said, Steel Meets Steel: Ten Years of Glory is a monster two-disc 30 song anthology with four previously-unreleased songs and three live cuts and say what you will about best-of albums, this one has plenty of the good stuff like "The Dragon Lies Bleeding" and "Steel Meets Steel" from Glory to the Brave, the titular tribute song "At the End of the Rainbow" from Legacy of Kings as well as "Keep the Flame Burning" from Renegade and the triumphant metal sonnet "Hero's Return" from Crimson Thunder.

As an album purist, I almost always recommend collecting the studio releases if you're a fan of a band, and I still maintain that stance in the case of Hammerfall, but one thing that cannot be denied about Steel Meets Steel: Ten Years of Glory is it's more than just a primer if you're new to these guys. It's a bible to this band. Yeah, you get songs their fans have been singing along to for awhile like "Blood Bound" and "Templars of Steel," but a Hammerfall hits package this comprehensive (even with only 3-4 songs lifted from each album) is damned near enough to satiate you in one sitting unless you're truly addicted. After two-plus hours of pure heavy metal banging in your ears from Hammerfall, you just might need a break, though no self-respecting 'banger would dare admit such weakness...

Rating: ****1/2


David Amulet said...

This is one of the "newer" power-metal bands I've wanted to get into but still haven't. This is a good reminder for me to pick up some of Hammerfall's music and give it a listen. Thanks!

-- david

Rhodeislandrock said...

I got into Hammerfall in '98 with LEGACY OF KINGS and then I went back to GLORY TO THE BRAVE (1997). Both are excellent slabs of pure Power Metal.

This is a great compilation, you can't beat a 30 song retrospective! This is a great way to get into the band but I would agree with collecting all the albums.

Heavy Metal Addiction

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Anytime, David, anytime...glad it resonates with you...this is a very solid collection from a band that found a surprisingly fresh way to tackle an old motif.

Rhodey, I was a few years later than you before I learned more and heard who they were, but I only began to appreciate them better a year or so after that...I'm surprised a lot of places are offering this at a reasonable price too...

fil1razorbak said...

I've been listening to Hammerfall for many years but I had never bought any of their CDs.
Now it's done, Steel Meets Steel is just what I needed =)

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