It has always been known that music has the power to transport us to other places, to resurrect memories that have long ago been encoded with the signature of sound, only to be brought back before our eyes when that sound crosses our ears again, years later.
For many of us, those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up during the golden age of heavy metal, Hammerfall's new album Glory to the Brave is a precious key to a time when things were simpler and music really could change things in the blink of an eye.
As "The Dragon Lies Bleeding" passed through my headphones for the first time, I was whisked back to a cold morning over a decade ago; my adolescent hands gripped the wheel of my sorry-ass Mercury Zephyr with a race driver's confidence, and from my speakers poured Iron Maiden's "Sea of Madness."
I hadn't thought about that car in a long time. I hadn't thought of Maiden in a while, either (although I've certainly thought of Maiden more than that sorry-ass Zephyr).
Glory to the Brave captures, in one hour, everything that was great and promising about heavy metal. The crisp, sharp, grindingly fast guitar lines serve to double the percussion of the active and tight drums. Joacim Cans' high-range, perfect-pitch vocals are a welcome refuge from today's climate of growling and shreiking...here's a guy who can actually sing! There's a magical sound on this album, one we haven't heard in years...and goddamn, but it feels good to hear it.
Hammerfall shares some songwriting tasks with Jesper of In Flames, the talented and artistic outfit whose last album The Jester Race was a masterpiece of heavy metal songwriting. Glory to the Brave however, sounds nothing like In Flames...rather, they are a perfect amalgam of a decade's worth of inspiration; equal parts Maiden, Priest and Helloween.
Enough of my rambling about nostalgia; let's talk about the album before us. For I would be doing Hammerfall a disservice if I portrayed Brave as dated in any way; while the performance may be reminiscent of past works, the songwriting is mature and solid, and is in no way a rehashing of something already written.
"The Dragon Lies Bleeding", the opening track, is a perfect snapshot of the band: a driving and compelling rhythm, pounded out with clockwork aggression and tied together with absolutely perfect singing. The previous sentence would be an adequate description of all of the fast songs on this album: there is a uniformity of quality here, on songs such as "Unchained", "The Metal Age" and the cover of Warlord's "Child of the Damned."
Hammerfall succeeds, as well, in that trickiest of areas: the heavy metal "ballad". The two songs that would fall in this category, "I Believe" and the title track, are absolutely perfect. Both are very pretty songs, made even more moving by the introduction of heavy guitars into the chorus. The title track reminds me, at times, of the greatest metal ballad ever, Fates Warning's masterpiece "Guardian."
I have to comment on the lyrics, as well. There is a benevolence here, a hopefulness, that seems to have been missing in metal recently. Metal, at one time, was the music of dreamers, of misfits trying to find the place in this world where they could excel; lately, in many cases, it seems to have become the music of the pissed-off, the unimaginative and banal who are content to wallow in their anger at a world that, really, is a pretty wonderful place. Hammerfall is a voice from our collective past, as shocking as the voice of an old lover and as refreshing as the voice of an old friend.
How much more can I say? For those of us who grew up on this kind of music, there is no finer discovery than this album. With one listen, it will become a part of your heart.