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Exclusive pre-listening: Hammerfall - Threshold

Written by David, August 2006

Threshold is the sixth album from the Swedish top heavy metal act Hammerfall. It started with the raw and playful Glory To The Brave (1997). They followed up a small but unexpected success with the strong but more polished Legacy Of Kings. So far so good. But with their big breakthrough Renegade the critic started to flow from the 'true' metal fans. It was 'too soft, too catchy' and 'a commercial sellout'. Since then the band has taken small steps back to a harder sound on Crimson Thunder and Chapter V - Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken. Still with very catchy songs.

In connection to the headline gig at Gates of Metal in Hultsfred, Hammerfall held a prelistening on the forthcoming album. Hultsfred might not be that big, but restaurant Metropol lies almost as far away from the festival area as possible. My budget did not allow a taxi and no other transport seemed to be around; so after a 45-minute walk I arrived quite sweaty just before the band to the listening session. But it was with great expectations I finally sat down to listen to Threshold.

It certainly sounded Hammerfall in riffs and melodies. But it was another step towards a heavier sound. Not heavy in the sense of 'raw' as on Glory To The Brave. But more like pompous drums and a bit darker riffing. Not at least, repetitive choruses like Renegade and Hearts On Fire were almost non-existent. You have probably already heard the catchiest melody, The Fire Burns Forever, which is the official song for the Swedish athletes in the European Athletics Championships. Guitarist Oscar Dronjak presented the album and thought it was a step forward musically for each and all of the members, but especially for singer Joacim Cans. But let's get to the songs one by one.

1. Threshold - The heavier sound strikes you at once. At first the chorus seems to be too simple to be one of those you can't get out of your head. But when the song is played a second time a bit later, it suddenly appears as one of the strongest on the album.

2. The Fire Burns Forever - Oscar Dronjak presents it as a typical Hammerfall song and a cousin to Hearts On Fire. I would say that it is the most typical Hammerfall-song on the album. But don't judge the record by this one!

3. Rebel Inside - It starts with a soft 'clean' guitar, to eventually evolve into a really heavy piece.

4. Natural High - The first single is a bit faster with a typical Hammerfall-riff. The lyrics are about vampires getting high on blood. The video is made as a short horror movie that should illustrate the lyrics. According to Joacim not the typical Hammerfall single, but a song that will take a couple of times before you get it.

5. Dark Wings, Dark Words - This is the closest we come to a ballad, Oscar tells us - which is true. In fact it is a ballad, mostly. But then it grows into a quite heavy composition as well, with mighty choirs.

6. Howlin' With The 'Pac - For the first time Hammerfall has written a text about a night out with the boys, Oscar states. It is also a quite unusual Hammerfall-song. A bit lighter and catchier than most of what they have written before, it certainly stands out on this record. But to decide if it's for the good or bad I have to listen to it again I guess.

7. Shadow Empire - This is an old song that Oscar almost had given up, when the other guitarist Stefan Elmgren took it up and finished it. According to Oscar it will take a couple of turns before you 'get' it. I have to agree, because the first impression is that it is a bit difficult. Again the heavy choirs appear.

8. Carved In Stone - Another long composition, with a long intro. It is melodic, yet heavy. Melodic guitars are mixed with drum-attacks. My immediate favorite.

9. Reign Of The Hammer - This is an instrumental piece written by Stefan. As such it is surprisingly fast and ordinary as a composition. Why exclude the lyrics, one might wonder...

10. Genocide - This feels like a filler on this first occasion. A popular theme these days by the way. A quick search on www.darklyrics.com gave 424 songs with 'genocide' in the lyrics.

11. Titan - Another slow and heavy track. It is a fitting end with sing-along choirs. It certainly has a growing potential.

To sum it all up: Just as Joacim said later in the interview, this album is not sticking as direct as the earlier have done. Therefore it is hard to make a judgement after this one listening. The sound is very promising. It feels like a very worked through release, into its finest details. It definitely still sounds Hammerfall. But the future will tell how the songs grow in your mind.

David - August 2006