Sound — 6
Though HammerFall sincerely holds the clichéd medieval fantasy aesthetic of power metal - even having a paladin as the band's official mascot - the music they make is able to rise above the cheesy niche. With strong influences of Iron Maiden in the vocals and riffs, as well as exceptional guitar talent, HammerFall's debut album in 1997, "Glory to the Brave," would make a big splash in the European metal scene, and their following albums, "Legacy of Kings," "Renegade," and "Crimson Thunder," would properly establish HammerFall as a brand name power metal band. However, HammerFall's later albums haven't lived up to the same acclaim as the early albums that earned the band their high status, and along with suffering the natural case of "same old, same old," HammerFall would try mixing things up in their last album, "Infected," which got generally lukewarm reception from fans and critics. With HammerFall getting the message from those that were dissatisfied with the change in things, they decided to come back to the classic HammerFall style and aesthetic with their ninth album, "(r)Evolution."
From the album art and title alluding to the idea that the album will be just like the good ol' days, to the choice of bringing back Fredrik Nordstrom, the producer of the band's first and second albums, to produce this album, it's easy to see that HammerFall really want "(r)Evolution" to invoke the glory of the band's prime years just as much as they want to make up for the considerable foible of the previous album. Unfortunately, the album splits between songs that successfully invoke that former glory, and songs that display a past-their-prime quality of HammerFall. On the plus side, songs like "Hector's Hymn," "Bushido," "We Won't Back Down" and "Tainted Metal" have the band putting their money where their mouths are in terms of returning to the classic HammerFall days, the guitar/harpsichord synched main riff in "Origins" makes the song a standout on the album, and the energetic and multi-dimensional "Wildfire" makes for a hot closer. On the negative side, the other half of songs on the album have little fight or poignancy to them; something that even the later-era album like "No Sacrifice, No Victory" was still able to provide. The lack of riff remarkability that plagued "Infected" carries over in snoozers like "Live Life Loud," "Winter Is Coming" and "Evil Incarnate," and though HammerFall's guitar solos have always been admirable (as well as being the one saving grace in "Infected"), the aforementioned songs, along with "(r)Evolution" and "Ex Infernis," have paltry solos that can't save them from being disposable on the album.
Lyrics — 4
Whereas the previous album "Infected" had HammerFall trying out new subject matter like zombie-related topics, they go back to the tried-and-true medieval fantasy subject matter in "(r)Evolution." Ultimately, this lyrical return to form comes at a damning fault, because it mostly ends up being a display of HammerFall bringing very little originality to the table. At best, the band makes callbacks and tributes to classic HammerFall material: from the subtle "all for one, but none for all" line in "Ex Infernis" being a cynical play on the more triumphant "all for one, our burning hearts will live forever/one for all, together standing strong" line in the classic "Hammerfall" track on the band's first album, to more obvious homages, like the beginning track, "Hector's Hymn," being a song dedicated to the band's paladin mascot, and more specifically, the line "a legend unbent, unbowed, unbroken" being a callback to the band's heavily-inspired-by-George-R.R.-Martin fifth album, "Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken." HammerFall has drawn inspiration from the "A Song of Ice and Fire" book series numerous times, but unfortunately, they end up jumping the shark with that inspiration in the bluntly-named "Winter Is Coming," and with the line "take the black, you win or you die," HammerFall seems to just be haphazardly jamming references with little rhyme or reason. And with the stereotypical "battle songs" of "Live Life Loud," "We Won't Back Down" and "Origins" containing lyrics that are strikingly similar to HammerFall's earlier "battle songs" (if not the majority of power metal battle songs in general), "(r)Evolution" shows HammerFall's lyrical well about to run entirely dry.
Overall Impression — 5
HammerFall may have had all the aspirations to make "(r)Evolution" an album that would be regarded as an instant classic, but the ending result is spotty, and the album suffers a "glass half-full, glass half-empty" case: the handful of songs that channel the energy and quality of HammerFall's heyday are just as enchanting as the handful of songs that come off as unredeemable filler are disenchanting. Though "(r)Evolution" wields some songs that are better than anything that was found on "Infected," ultimately, the album's inability to be wholly interesting from front to back makes it another underwhelming release, and as much as the band wants to summon a second wind that will carry them to another apex like the one they were at over a decade ago, "(r)Evolution" doesn't beckon HammerFall's renaissance.