LIVE REVIEW : HAMMERFALL + ARMORED DAWN
HAMMERFALL + ARMORED DAWN Kino Šiška | Ljubljana, Slovenia
October 31, 2018
It was the scariest night of the year: Halloween. Except that this was taking place in Slovenia where, with the exception of two lesbian witches, the patrons of Ljubljana dress normally. It was also Reformation Day — a national holiday in Slovenia — but the only holiday everyone in the audience cared to observe was HammerFall’s long awaited arrival back to Ljubljana’s most popular metal venue, Kino Šiška. The Swedish power metal band had been absent for so long that even Joacim Cans, HammerFall’s vocalist, didn't remember exactly how long it had been since they had last played in Slovenia. But what mattered was that HammerFall was back, bringing with them a fairly unknown Brazilian power metal band, Armored Dawn. My friend and I arrived at the venue about 30 minutes before the show was scheduled to begin and the front row was already mostly occupied by eager fans. Still, we found an opening to the left side of the stage and awaited Armored Dawn. The floor soon filled with people and a very decent sized crowd amassed for the opening act. Their set started with "Bloodstone" off of their latest album, Barbarians in Black, which was released this year. As someone who focuses mainly on the vocals, I was definitely not impressed. Eduardo Parras, the band’s vocalist, was not very audible at all and he seemed quite lacking in his stage presence as he was often just standing in the background when he wasn’t singing, as if he was just waiting his turn. This was not helped by the camera on his microphone, which he seemed to focus on a bit too much. The show continued with two other largely-unmemorable songs, and then onto the fourth song, "Men of Odin". By then, Parras had gotten rid of his camera and had instead brought out a massive sword which he wielded during the song; A classic ode to battle and, if the crowd's reaction to Parras' sword reveal was any indication, it seemed like the weapon was one many of us would happily carry into war. The song also featured backing vocals from the bassist Fernando Giovannetti and guitarist Tiago de Moura, and I have to say: Giovanetti's vocals should be given far more attention as he has that grit in his voice that verges on a growl, which adds another dimension to the band’s otherwise rather basic power metal sound. After a short pause, Parras opened up about their former tour manager tragically losing his life to a motorcycle crash only six months before. The next song, "Sail Away", was dedicated to him. The track is a very sweet ballad and my personal favourite from their set. The sad anecdote and its associated song marked a turning point in Armored Dawn's performance. Emotions ran high, and the crowd felt every bit of what the Brazilian was pouring into their track. The very catchy chorus is easy to follow and I found myself singing along like many others in the crowd. To get the audience in the mood for HammerFall, Armored Dawn played a song with all the makings of a power metal anthem - "Gods of Metal". Of course, the title is slightly ambitious, but maybe they're writing songs for the future where they are a massive band, which, I suppose, is something gods would do. As the song ended, the word was given to Timo Kaarkoski, a Finnish guitarist who apparently got tired of snow and wanted some hot Brazilian sun, so he moved there and joined the band. He evoked quite a few laughs as he called our country SlovAnia, something we're very sensitive about. Their set then finished with two more quite solid power metal songs, "Barbarians in Black" and "Beware of the Dragon." Parras acknowledged the dragon being the protector of the city of Ljubljana, a nice gesture for the often-forgotten Slovenian crowd. With that, Armored Dawn was finished for the night and the wait for the main event began. Now, it's important to note that, while I wouldn't even consider myself a HammerFall fan at present, they were the first metal band I ever listened to when I was about 13 and that makes them quite special to me. From the moment the Swedish metal giants stepped on stage, there was no doubt that the praises that have been coming their way for over 20 years are well-earned. The show started with "Hector's Hymn" and the floor came alive, singing passionately along to the catchy verses and headbanging with the fast riffs. Cans' voice has not aged at all and he sounded absolutely impeccable from the first note of the night to the last. In a similar fashion, Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren, both seasoned veterans of the metal scene, have insane energy and made sure to entertain as much as possible with coordinated headbanging, while also providing backing vocals and playing their guitars flawlessly. Dronjak’s guitar is fittingly shaped like a hammer, just in case the drunken crowd gets confused and forgets that the band playing before it is Hammerfall. The bassist, Fredrik Larsson, seemed very happy and excited to be playing, and his performance was great as well. The older songs evoked more emotion, as a lot of people from the crowd were reminded of their youth when they first heard them and so they sang along to "Renegade", "Any Means Necessary" and the like. The songs from the latest album proved to be quite popular as well, signifying that while HammerFall may not be doing anything revolutionary or changing their sound, they are still very much followed and enjoyed by many people. Cans then told us a story of his youth and inspiration for the song "B.Y.H." It was 1981 and he was 11, buying his first vinyl record — Saxon's Denim and Leather. He made sure to tease the crowd, mostly made up of people under 30, about not knowing what a vinyl is before the song was played and we all did as instructed: banged our heads. What followed was "Legacy of Kings" from the album with the same name, along with “Heeding the Call” and “Let the Hammer Fall," the two other biggest hits off the 1998 album which propelled Hammerfall into the metal world and arguably paved the way for power metal in the 2000s. After that, the band went off stage and the floor started shaking with the standard, thunderous chanting of "WE WANT MORE!" The Swedish quintet returned shortly with three more songs for the eager crowd and finished the night off with the classic "Hearts on Fire," for which the band wouldn't even need a vocalist as the crowd sang the entire song from start to finish. Thus concluded the Slovenian power metal event of the year as the picks, drumsticks, and setlists were handed out and I was lucky enough to get one of the latter myself.
Is HammerFall a revolutionary band or a musically-complex band? No, probably not. But that's not the idea of HammerFall. They have cheesy lyrics, catchy riffs and memorable choruses with the exact intention of doing what they did that night - thoroughly entertaining the crowd. And they could not do that any better. After this show, my love for them has definitely been rekindled. And with Hammerfall entering the studio in the new year, they are sure to bring a plethora of new songs about hammers with them next time they visit Slovenia… whenever that may be.