If not for the S and M album by Metallica, this would easily be the best-sounding live album I’ve ever heard. Even better, it is, in essence, a greatest hits package from one of the most important bands of their generation — heck, of any generation. It seems strange now, but when Hammerfall first appeared, power metal was an ember barely burning. They, as much as anyone, were responsible for re-lighting the flame — indeed, many of the bands that have come and gone in traditional power metal since then are purely and simply imitations of these masters. Sounding something like Judas Priest if they had the attitude and lyrics of Manowar, Hammerfall never quite rises to the level of those great bands, but they are only a notch or two below them, whereas most bands are about five notches below them.
There are those who say that Hammerfall is excessively cheesy. Those people are right. However, it’s the good kind of cheese, not the bad kind (that is, they are self-aware in their cheesiness, which is the only way that real metal can work. The bad kind of cheesy bands, the prog type, for example, that actually seem to take rock music one hundred percent seriously — those are the moldy kind of rancid cheese you want to avoid).
Hammerfall is everything metal bands ought to be, but too rarely are: themes of self-empowerment communicated through universal and fantastic imagery, melodic vocals sitting atop crunching riff-based guitar work, and a relentless dedication to their own style. This band is too often taken for granted, too often under-rated, too often overlooked for the latest fad when the best-of lists are handed out. Treat yourself to some real, raw heavy metal and pick this one up.