Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why HammerFall Is The Greatest Band In The World: Photos and review of their show at Concord Music Hall in Chicago, April 28, 2017 by Danny Nichols



On November 27, 2002, I had tickets to see Dio perform at Pop's in Sauget, Illinois.  The opening band was a leather clad power metal outfit from Sweden called HammerFall, which was heretofore unknown to me, or most of America at the time. 



Vocalist Joacim Cans
I had already staked out a spot in the front row in anticipation of Dio when HammerFall hit the stage with such a ferocity, energy and quality of musicianship, they became my favorite band by their third song.
I have been greatly impressed by an unknown band on several occasions since, but never to this level.  I remember singer Joacim Cans, noting my enthusiasm, and saluting the diehard fans up front.  Joacim was right, I was a diehard, but what he did not know was I had only been one for 15 minutes.
If someone asked me to play for them the definitive HammerFall song, I could randomly pick any tune from their entire catalogue and be confident it would represent the band at their best.  This is because, in my opinion, they have yet to release a single track which wasn’t excellent. 


Guitarist Oscar Dronjak
They are now ten studio albums into their career and my enthusiasm for their music has not waned.  The closest their tour came to my hometown was Chicago, Illinois, but there was no doubt I was making the trek to see it.
HammerFall is definitive epic European power metal featuring bombastic, thundering, supreme melodic musicianship with powerful verses and anthemic choruses. The lyrical theme is heavy on historical fantasy elements, with an emphasis on the Crusades.  
HammerFall’s songs are above all allegorical.  On the surface many of their songs are about Christian knights journeying to the Holy Land and the epic battles fought along the way, with the occasional intervention from dragons.  The real meaning however, is about the quest for the preservation and propagation of heavy metal. 
Certain words which appear frequently throughout HammerFall’s music have a secondary meaning. The "Crusades" are a tour.  The "Templars" are metal fans.  "Steel" and "Swords" are  the composite spirit of heavy metal music.  "Infidels" are those who deny us the metal.  The "Holy Land or promised land" is a metal concert, and the "Dragons" are all of life’s obstacles.  The "Hammer" is the physical manifestation of metal: the music, the chords, the riffs, the drums and the guitars.

HammerFall play Concord Music Hall in Chicago
Most of their songs resonate with these themes, the defenders of metal uniting against its enemies.  Every song serves as mighty anthem for the genre, shrouded in a knight's quest to slay the dragon. HammerFall always delivers an avalanche of fist pumping riffs, searing solos, and drums accenting every line like a thunderclap. 
Vocalist Joacim Cans asked me before the show whether this was my first time seeing them.  Despite my fandom and their longevity, American appearances are quite rare, and it was a fair question.  I enjoyed being able to relate to him the story of my first Hammerfall concert.  I was surprised he remembered the show and the venue fifteen years later, but asked me to remind him of the name of the venue.  During their set he referenced several of their previous Midwest appearances to include having played at "Pop's in Sauget in 2002".  In this small and insignificant way, I had now contributed to a HammerFall live show.  The twelve hours of driving to and from Chicago, which included sitting in brain melting Chicago traffic and me bouncing my wife's car off a light post was now worth it. 



Bassist Fredrick Larsson and drummer Johan Kullberg
HammerFall , through the art of galloping riffs which alternate between glorious sustain,  heart pounding palm mutes and fist pumping powerchords, have managed to take the best elements of heavy metal and infuse them into every song on every album.  Trying to decide which is the best Hammerfall album is impossible, because in order for one to be better others must be lessor and there is no lessor to be found.  They continue to deliver album after album of "heavy metal according to Hammerfall" as Cans described it at the end of the set.  



Guitarist Pontus Norgren
Cans also referenced this tour as coinciding with the twentieth

anniversary of their debut album Glory to the Brave.  Many had asked the band whether they intended, as is a recent trend in metal setlists, to play the album in its entirety.  To this he emphatically reminded us they were out on support of their latest album ,the every bit as good Built to Last, and planned to cover their entire discography.  The point was clear.  This is not a legacy band who has traded solely upon their early success, but rather they continue to contribute to heavy metal and have no plans of slowing down.


The set list was an almost perfectly symmetrical representation of their discography, with selections from nine of their albums having been chosen.   (Prior to the show I requested the band play my new favorite song "New Breed" , which might be the single most perfect song ever recorded, but Oscar sadly told me it was not to be.)  

Although not played in its entirety a particular highlight was a medley of tunes from Glory to the Brave, which transitioned into the epic fan favorite "The Dragon Lies Bleeding".  The crowd was in fine voice as they sang all the vocal melodies in all the right places.  It was the sort of crowd interaction one expects at a European show, and I was relieved to find Chicago as capable.  Although, I started the show up front, for the sake of these photographs, I experienced most of it from about the midway point of the venue.  In order to see the band one's eyes had to navigate through a sea of metal horned fists rhythmically matching every kick of the bass drum.  There was little doubt I was not the only Templar in the crowd that night.
Norgren, Kullberg and Dronjak summon the rock
Perhaps, as a HammerFall superfan, I cannot review their show with any sort of objectivity, but it seemed to me their sound was perfect.  There is much credit due to the venue and the sound folks .  It was such a perfect mix and volume, it was almost indistinguishable from the quality of the album versions I had blasted while traversing the state of Illinois.  It seems to me a lot of metal shows are plagued by either not enough low end, or too much, and the vocals have a tendency to be buried.  Not on this night.  The band was firing on all cylinders and it sounded flawless.  
Joacim Cans
This music demands choreographed guitar wielding moves, and HammerFall did not disappoint in this matter.  Their stage presence and orchestration was as tight as their sound.  New drummer Johan Kullberg  did not miss a beat, and fit in seamlessly with his fellow veteran Crusaders. 
Oscar Dronjak
The band seems to enjoy performing now as much as they did when I first saw them 15 years ago, and I sensed their appreciation of their fans was sincere.  It took fifteen years to see this mighty band for a second time.  Now that I knew every song, and they were playing a headlining set, the experience was even better. It confirmed an axiom I had long suspected.   America invented rock, England improved it and Sweden perfected it.  Hammer high, until I die!

The mighty HammerFall

Johan Kullberg
Kullberg, Larsson and Dronjak
Pontus Norgren
Johan Kullberg
Fredrik Larsson
Joacim Cans
Joacim Cans
Oscar Dronjak
Joacim Cans


Oscar Dronjak

*Please check back to this site next week for a review of co-headliners Delain's set as well.

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