• HammerFall - Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (2005) - Random elevator music meets epic anthems - 70% (08/02/15)

    HammerFall - Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (2005)

    HammerFall’s “Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken“ is an album with many ups and downs. While the middle part includes several forgettable songs, the album also includes some of the band’s greatest efforts, a few controversial tunes and a hidden pearl.

    Let’s start with the most amazing efforts. The album kicks off with “Secrets” which is maybe the best HammerFall opener ever. Right from the start, the band builds up an epic and majestic atmosphere before a ferocious up-tempo anthem kicks off with gripping guitar and keyboard melodies, a ferocious rhythm section and powerful vocals. The chorus is not only very catchy and features great melodies but is also quite meaningful. The highlight of this perfect track is the instrumental middle part featuring three extremely well executed guitar solos where Stefan Elmgren and Oscar Dronjak show off their hidden talent and prove that they can be on par with the greatest heavy metal guitarists of all times. I’m seriously asking myself why these obviously brilliant musicians seem to restrain themselves most of the times by playing rather tame, repetitive and ordinary solos in most of their songs. Now, this is an amazing way to start a record but it also sets the bar pretty high for the rest to come. The single “Blood Bound” fulfils the elevated expectations. It has no impressive solo passages but the track has other strengths. The song is to the point and doesn’t include one unnecessary second. It’s a powerful anthem with gripping vocals and harmonious guitar melodies leading to one of the strongest choruses in the band’s career which makes this track the best single the band has released in its career. This unbeatable opening duo seems to announce the band’s very best record but the following songs can’t keep the high quality and are only good average mid-tempo tracks somewhere between traditional heavy and power metal.

    A promising exception may be the ballad “Never, Ever”. Some people may find the controversial track too cheesy, too soft and too weepy and when I’m listening to the strained vocals, the kitschy acoustic guitar and keyboard melodies and the melancholic guitar melodies in the chorus and bridge as well as the heavily emotionally charged vocals I can understand that point of view. On the other side, this song is truly moving me as I can somewhat relate to the lyrics about a sad end to a love relationship and I’m sure that I’m not the only one. That’s why the concept works perfectly for me and I really prefer this track over similar efforts in the past. Another controversial tracks that works at least partially for me is the album closer “Knights of the 21st Century” which clocks in at almost twelve and a half minutes as the longest HammerFall song ever. The truth is that the actual song already ends after about ten minutes and that the rest consist of two minutes of silence and a short humorous hidden part. This song combines Joacim Cans’ melodic vocals with Cronos’ guttural black metal growls of Venom fame. His exaggerated and theatrical performance sounds mildly amusing but I get the impression that this was the desired effect. Maybe the band wanted to build a diverting and slightly humorous contrast instead of truly adding an evil atmosphere to the tune. To my positive surprise, the two quite different vocalists complement each other and the entertaining vocal performances carry a track that is otherwise a little bit overlong and unspectacular from an instrumental point of view. In the end, this quite unusual song is a welcome change of style even though it’s only an average tune after all.

    The hidden pearl of this album which includes a few too many fillers is “The Templar Flame”, a short yet epic heavy metal anthem almost on par with “Blood Bound”. The song is a little bit slower and the chorus is a little bit less euphoric which might be the reasons why this track is often overlooked. Still, the guitar melodies and vocals remind me of a mixture of HammerFall’s later single “Any Means Necessary” and Mike Oldfield’s “Moonlight Shadows” with a healthy dose of heavy metal of the eighties in the key of Iron Maiden with a fun sing-along part in the middle section. I really hope this song is on the set list when I’m going to see HammerFall live because this kind of tune is meant to be played in concert. I can only warmly recommend to rediscover this hidden gem again as it’s one of HammerFall’s catchiest and most entertaining tracks on here.

    As you can see, this record is somehow a double-edged sword. It includes two undeniable band classics with the ferocious opener “Secrets” and the catchy single “Blood Bound”, an amazing heavy metal song meant to be played live with “The Templar Flame” as well as one of the band’s very best ballads with “Never, Ever” and one of their most experimental tracks with the unstable epic “Knights of the 21st Century”. These five tunes would have made an excellent EP. Sadly, the rest of this full length release is really unspectacular and sounds like random background music that can be skipped without any regrets. If a company ever decided to choose some metal tunes as elevator music, then they could find five candidates right here. My final verdict is that faithful fans of the band should purchase this release while occasional listeners may find the very best songs on here on the “Steel Meets Steel – Ten Years of Glory” compilation or the live outputs “Rebels with a Cause – Unruly, Unrestrained, Uninhibited” and “Gates of Dalhalla”.

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