Album Review: HAMMERFALL Dominion
In 2016, when Hammerfall released their previous album, Built to Last, certain press outlets did the unthinkable: penned less-than-stellar reviews of said recorded work. If you had it in your head that blind praise is too common a feature of metal journalism in these days of shrinking advertising budgets and the battle for fiduciary crumbs, go read this mess and think again. There's also a brief history of the band outlined within that illustrates some of the thinking about the band's latter endeavours. However, it’s important to note that, despite how the mighty have stumbled over the course of recent years, there exists recognition of the band’s undeniable determination, contributions, and small-s saviour status.
Built to Last was a train wreck of bubbling musical missteps, clichés were flown higher than rainbow flags at Pride parades and high school poetry disguised as majestic text. All of which makes for a grand old time and near-perfect sense while fist banging in a German farmer’s field surrounded by 50,000 other battle vests. However, it makes a lot less sense and seems a lot hokier consuming it when sober and in the solitude of one’s own home. Hammerfall, on the other hand, know what butters their bread. A good portion of the thematic thrust on Dominion continues to address the inherent freedom that comes with being a metal lifer, rocking hard in the face of situations less-than-rocking situations and aggrandized esteem via well-worn motifs and symbolism.
As much as the sport of poking fun at middle-aged men mired in—if not stunted by—25+ years of recycled imagery, it’s precisely this reason Hammerfall is granted a pass. The battle for the legitimacy of an art-form and lifestyle many parents, acquaintances, and co-workers still think is a phase is highly commendable. Additionally, the band is well within its right to write a mid-paced pub pounder entitled “(We Make) Sweden Rock” with the caveat that they indeed have been non-ironically rocking the motherland since 1997, with the chart numbers and Grammis (Swedish Grammy) nominations to prove it. This, despite the fact that song, which is actually a tribute to their nation’s hard rock lineage, is as cheesy as a plate of nachos.
“Never Forgive, Never Forget” starts the album off on a discouraging note of flaccid clean guitar before shucking that albatross and transforming into a storming slice of power metal majesty that oozes infectious fun. The title track cracks open a thesaurus and appears to address current political events with a boot firmly planted in a world of fantasy, demons, fire, dragons, and thrones. The focus, however, is completely obscured by the fact the song liberally borrows from two of the best tracks on Accept’s Balls to the Wall.
The hilarious image in the mind’s eye is the band expending so much mental energy in penning nuanced lyrical layers that they were creatively spent when it came time for the music. Of course, that’s (probably) not true, but funny to imagine. Then again, the same thing happens on the very next track, “Testify.” The song tackles man’s creation of religion and appears to also be a sugar-coated condemnation of the decline of independent thought. But if Joacim Cans’ voice was a bit, or a lot, more gravelly, you’d be wondering if it was an Accept outtake or obscure B-side.
Herein lies the dark cloud hanging over Dominion. There are moments of meat and potatoes power metal in which glitz and sparkle coat NWOBHM and '80s speed metal riffing as anthemic and angelic choruses scrape clouds (“Scars of a Generation,” “Chain of Command”). On the other hand, there are far too many moments that are either phoned in or counterintuitive to the rest of the album. “Second to One” is ballad that, aside from the arena-sized solo section, sounds more like Bryan Adams as opposed to anything heavy metal. “And Yet I Smile” limps across the finish line with its wannabe Elton John solo piano/vocal sequences making it about as weak an album closer you’ll ever hear. And there’s the ongoing Accept worship in the above-mentioned tunes and “Dead By Dawn,” which is fine and dandy because who doesn’t like Accept? But the degree of individuation being shed on Dominion for a band eleven albums into the game with an identity long ago carved out is quite curious indeed.