• HammerFall - Threshold (2006) - A lesson about the spirit of heavy metal - 80% (31/01/15)

    HammerFall - Threshold (2006)

    HammerFall has a very particular strength. While the band's song writing might be predictable and their musical qualities only of an average quality if compared to several genre colleagues, the band is able to write inredibly catchy songs that won't get out of your minds once you've heard them and you still can easily sing along to these tracks after consuming a case of beer. HammerFall may craft addicting party music, yet they put a healthy dose of emotions and honesty in the execution of their material. HammerFall could play a different kind of music as they have by now proven by releasing "Infected" five years after this effort but it wouldn't sound like the Swedish quintet. HammerFall may sound limited but they do what they do best and this simple attitude is actually highly efficient. "Threshold" perfectly resumes all of HammerFall's strengths and weaknesses in one album. Fans are going to love this release and admire its melodies, lyrics and joy while those who depise the band will claim that this record is too soft, too slow and too stereotyped. I believe this is one of their better records.

    One of the band's strengths is to write epic half ballads with great guitar melodies and passionate vocals. "Dark Wings, Dark Words" might be an unspectacular mid-tempo track with a rather ordinary rhythm section from an objective point of view but the heart-breaking guitar solo in the middle part, the passionate and variable vocals and the glorious choirs in the heroic chorus make up for the lack of innovation. Emotions are more important for me than technical abilities in this genre and that's why this track is my favourite on the album. "Rebel Inside" hits a similar vein and is solely carried by engaged melodic vocals and beautiful guitar harmonies. Despite the plodding verses, the chorus erupts as a powerful statement about rebellion which is an important main theme in metal music.

    There aren't any really fast and fierce tracks of a more traditional style of European power metal on the album but a couple of short and engaging mid-tempo power metal songs with heavier riffs and more powerful and less strained vocals that should please to genre fans. These tracks are short and to the point without any unnecessary distractions. One of the best examples is the epic single "The Fire Burns Forever" which was recorded for the European Athletic Championship. The track fits this topic from an atmospheric and lyrical point of view. "Howlin' with the Pac'" mixes epic sounds with a few meaner guitar melodies and a chorus where manly gang shouts meet almost androgynous high pitched vocals. It's a perfect song for groups of young metal heads as the lyrics deal with topics such as belonging, freedom and identity.

    In the second half of the record, HammerFall shifts away from its balanced mixture of epic half ballads and short rebellious mid-tempo tracks and introduces a couple of longer songs based on atmospheric and slightly progressive instrumental sections and more serious lyrical topics. The majestic and almost sacral keyboard sounds introduce the enjoyable mid-tempo epic "Carved in Stone". "Titan" mixes desperate and powerful tones and features heavy metal riffs taken straight from the eighties with melodic choirs that could come from a rock band from the seventies. The song almost sounds like a mixture of Loudness and Queen. The most intriguing tune is the powerful up-tempo track "Genocide" that probably deals with the downfall of the heavy metal genre and in general with the fact that you should always hold on to your dreams no matter what. The mixture of longing and melancholic vocal lines and powerful riffs and solos on the other is a symbol for the resurrection of a weakened scene for me. Some of the heavier bands and their fans might ridicule a band like HammerFall but as a matter of fact, the Swedish quintet stands for the pillars of freedom, identification and otherness which are some of the genre's most important values like almost no other band. HammerFall manages to deal with these topics without sounding pretentious, didactic or arrogant. This is the main reason why this band still deserves a healthy dose of attention and respect no matter if the band concurs with your own musical tastes.

    In the end, this one of HammerFall's better releases. This is largely due to the quite balanced mixture of short and heavy power metal tracks, emotionally crafted melancholic half-ballads and atmospheric epics with lyrical depth. The guitar solos on the record are spot on and especially the energizing, honest and passionate vocal performance is the best in Joacim Cans' career so far in my humble opinion. "Threshold" is an album that should please to most fans of the band and it's also my recommendation if you wanted to get to know this band and didn't know where to start discovering them. There might be better HammerFall albums but this release stands for both past and contemporary HammerFall and represents the spirit and values of this band like no other release. Get together with a few friends on a Friday night, get something to drink, crank up the volume, play this record and have a great time!

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