Hammerfall, the relatively modern heroes of traditional Heavy Metal are back with their ninth full-length effort, (r)Evolution. Over the years, the band hasn't really changed their sound much, and for the most part the "if it ain't broke, don't it" approach has been well embraced. In 2011, they did try taking things into a darker tone with a little extra Hard Rock emphasis on Infected, a recording met with mixed reception across the board. But does (r)Evolution scrap some of what that directional shift achieved for more of the same, or does this one further expand on those elements?

While not on par with earlier albums like Glory to the Brave or Legacy of Kings, this one does stick to the subtle grandness of this group's more recent efforts quite well, even if it does start on a gloomier note. "Hector's Hymn" has a bit of a sombre introduction, though the steady mid-tempo drums and chugging guitar riffs set up the typical Hammerfall sound we've come to expect. This especially in the highly melodic chorus that amplifies the amount of enthusiasm on display from the instruments, expanding on that somewhat basic guitar performance. Surprisingly, this isn't the only grim performance on the release. In fact, there are others that put this one to shame.

"(r)Evolution" follows with a truly depressing introduction, the kind that establishes the passing of an elder or a loved one, something played on prior to the main verses throughout that give off the sense of a new figure or leader acting as both terms alluded to in the song's well suited title. When it comes to the chorus, we're given a far more glorious battle anthem with gang chants that scream Manowar with a later mixture of eighties Heavy Metal and gritty Glam Rock in the guitar solo. "Ex Inferis" keeps that war-bound theme alive, trudging along with burdening hooks and riffs again on par with that referenced group of Metal legends that will have your head bobbing along obediently, but then there's the cold, slower paced "Winter is Coming", dropping the militaristic touch for a fantastical world that seems lyrically inspired by the Game of Thrones books or television series. It isn't one of the band's better ballad-like pieces, but it still packs enough passion in the vocals in some spots to make it work.

This album isn't all sadness and glory, though. For example, "Live Life Loud" is just an all around fun song. The upbeat performance sounds fairly short despite its three-and-a-half minute length, but there's no denying what additional complexities in the guitars immediately grabs you, while the addictive empowering chorus gets you throwing your fists in the air as you shout along and bang your head to the rhythm. Much of this can be said for "Origins" as well, though it isn't quite as fast. There are some clean notes utilized in the bridge that gives it more of a higher class ballroom sensation amid the still inspiring music and lyrics. And finally there's "Wildfire", another quick track that bares its fangs to a more abrasive Helloween level. The higher pitched chanting of the song name lends an air of chaos to the chorus, though the main verses lay off that for the sake of heaviness. The guitar solos, however, are some of the best the recording has to offer, keeping those very brief bouts of energy alive before diving head first back into that darker mood with another that is very emotionally charged.

(r)Evolution is yet another solid album by Hammerfall that bridges the group's more recent efforts with the darker tones of Infected together quite well. In fact there are plenty of times where this album crosses over into Beyond the Gates by Cans territory, though without becoming the ultimate evil to this act's established ultimate good. War themes, depressing performances, and a fair amount of upbeat and empowering songs are par for the course, but this ends up one of the tightest albums musically since Renegade, though it can sometimes feel a bit like whiplash with how sudden things can change between songs, and even within. Fans and newcomers alike definitely won't be let down by (r)Evolution, finding it a safe bet full of catchy performances, and a number of memorable tracks you'll be ready to come back to time and time again.

Review originally composed for Apoch's Metal Review.