Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken

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As helpfully pointed out in the title, Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken sees Swedish metal institution Hammerfall hoisting aloft the torch of power metal (unbent, unbowed, etc.) for the fifth full-studio album of their career. But "power" metal may no longer the best tag with which to describe the band, whose material here ("Blood Bound," "Fury of the Wild," "Born to Rule," etc.) is really better described as classic, vintage, or better yet, timeless heavy metal, if you will. Extract any telltale signs of studio technology or audio fidelity and the band's sound really could have originated in the '80s or '90s, as easily as the '00s. And even more telling is the relative absence of speed metal drumming, used here only for small portions -- not the entirety -- of structurally varied songs like "Secrets" and "Take the Black." This may sound like a silly little detail, but it really does liberate Hammerfall from unfair comparison to a slew of boring, cliché-bound contemporaries. Sure, "Never, Ever" is a cliché in itself for representing the textbook heavy metal ballad; but then what percentage of heavy metal bands have resisted this temptation since the establishment of the infamous "Stairway to Heaven" rule (whereupon all metal bands are required to include at least one slow song per album)? And seriously, although it really doesn't introduce anything new to the group's formula, Chapter V features simply stellar examples of pure metal anthemy, rife with positive influences: "Born to Rule" and "The Templar Flame" are both gang chorus-enhanced war-cries (think Accept), and grandiose 12-minute closer "Knights of the 21st Century," counters its gigantic potential cheese factor with a guest croaking performance from Venom legend Cronos -- excellent! Needless to say, stewards of heavy metal seriousness will always balk at Hammerfall's insistence on writing fantasy adventure lyrics; but so long as fans hunger for heavy metal escapism at its finest (and there's a Manowar out there acting far sillier), Hammerfall will continue to thrive, unbent, unbowed, etc.

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