When million-selling Hammerfall released their debut album Glory To The Brave in 1997 heavy metal was returning from the wilderness of the early ’90s; Ozzy was popular again, rock festivals were spreading all over Europe and nu-metal was on the periphery of the music scene. Now a new millennium has dawned and Hammerfall’s lead vocalist Joacim Cans is ready for his first solo onslaught. It is a brutal, though not entirely memorable effort that is described in its press release as something “darker, heavier and more mature.” It is certainly dark and, if played to the correct volume, heavy – but mature is something Beyond The Gates is not.
Recorded in Sweden, America and Germany between November 2003 and last February, Beyond The Gates amalgamates some of metal’s most dedicated musicians. Mark Zonder of Fates Warning pounds on his drums but allows the rest of the band to stay within his reach. Primal Fear‘s Mat Sinner’s bass ripples throughout the album; unfortunately it is not as loud as he should be credited with. Stefan Elmgren of Hammerfall and Rob Halford‘s “Metal” Mike Chlasciak grind their guitars and put forward some intense riffs that are exciting but can be easily forgotten in a day or two.
The feel of the album – and it isn’t a harsh criticism to make – sounds similar to Halford’s last record, the much-underrated Crucible. Its sombre mood, gothic interest and absorption in old school metal sound like Venom meets Judas Priest. It’s an intriguing concoction that, for the most part, works well.
As with most heavy metal bands, a majority of the negative criticism lurks toward the lyrics, which in this album are frankly ludicrous. It is difficult to take songs called Soul Collector and Garden Of Evil seriously. A lot of people would be dissuaded from listening to the album after reading the cover sleeve. It’s all clichéd stuff about death and hell and darkness and light that’s been done before by hundreds of bands, but fortunately most of them a lot worse than this.
But let’s face it, no-one listens to heavy metal for any intellectual reasons. Rock and metal are about having fun and – if you have the balls – taking it to the absolute limits. They’re about excess in abundance.
Another main point of criticism would be to say that it was a mistake to finish an album that relies heavily on hard riffs and screeching vocals with a crap balled called Forever Ends. The momentum is lost – a faster song would have been far more appropriate to help make the album more memorable than it is.
Pursuing a solo album when you’re the frontman of a classic European metal band is a difficult task and Cans should be credited for that. The lyrics need to be “matured”, the riffs need some more fine-tuning but the passion is there – and that makes all the more difference. Putting minor hindrances into a dark corner for the moment, it’s a good album and more importantly a notable debut.