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Hammerfall

Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (Nuclear Blast)

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Power metal exists in a weird timeless space all its own. The technology gets a little better, but the sound never changes -- the crashing drums and chugging riffs are pretty much what they were back in 1982, when Judas Priest released the prototypical album of this ilk, Screaming for Vengeance.

Hammerfall's latest disc hews closely to the Priestly paradigm. Their riffs are muscular, the solos are lightning-quick, and the songs bear occasional classical flourishes (a little harpsichord and some choral voices on opening cut "Secrets," for example). Their singer can't hit all the high notes Rob Halford can, but he compensates with a very impressive low growl. Overall, it's a dynamic album that never sustains one mood for too long -- songs go from soft to loud without seeming contrived, and the solos are impressive and tastefully placed, never seeming gratuitous or wanky.

The album's high point is the final track, "21st Century Knights," an 11-minute epic that's equal parts Priest, Queensryche, and Laibach. It begins with the sound of a storm approaching and turns into an operatic, martial stomp that's never boring, even if the lyrics (as throughout the album) are the usual vaguely militaristic power-metal gibberish.

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