Swedish metal Kings HammerFall were still something of an oddity when this album was released for the first time in 1998. Y’see, hard as it might be to imagine now, power metal – especially European power metal – didn’t really exist in anything like the rude health it enjoys now back then. The metal press, in the UK and the US especially, were obsessed with grunge’s gormless offspring Nu Metal, meaning anyone clad in leather strides and studded wristbands rather than baggy pants and wallet chain were looked at with derision if not outright contempt.
The band had already released a creditable debut, Glory to the Brave – I still wear my ‘A Metal Heart is Hard to Tear Apart’ shirt with pride– a year previously, but that album merely hinted at the glory that awaited HammerFall. Legacy of Kings is where the band really took flight, and so here, twenty years later, it’s a pleasure to go through the album again thanks to a nice little anniversary package from the band and label Nuclear Blast.
Even at two decades remove the album still stirs that metal heart. The first half of the album is pure power metal gold, with songs like At the End of the Rainbow, Let the Hammer Fall and Heeding the Call all still getting the goosebumps moving. At the time these tracks seemed endearingly naïve, the work of fools who couldn’t see that their quest was doomed before it had really begun. Now they stand as testaments to self belief, guts, and dedication to the metal cause. And they sound just as good as ever.
The second half of the album doesn’t pack quite so much punch, although the Helloweenesque Back to Back has lost nothing in bite over the years, with guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Stefan Elmgren in particular giving grand accounts of themselves.
If you’re a HammerFall fan, of course, you’ll know all this, and the relevance of the reissue only makes itself clear upon the realisation that the two covers the band recorded at the time but which didn’t feature on the original release – Rainbow’s Man on the Silver Mountain and Helloween’s I Want Out – are both included here. But there’s more – sign up for the deluxe edition and you’ll also get a selection of live versions of some of the songs from this year and last. And if you phone in the next – sorry, got a bit carried away there – what I was going to say is that, perhaps best of all, is the album-concluding selection of half a dozen demos taken from the time of the album’s recording.
These are gloriously raw-, unfinished and stripped back, but the spirit of the individual tracks shines through, and it is great as a fan to be able to hear tracks in their formative stages in close quarters with the finished articles. It’s probably something that’ll only really appeal to completists, but these versions are great to hear.
A truly classic album given a nice reanimation – what’s not to like?
Nuclear Blast will release Legacy of Kings on December 7th.