HAMMERFALL - Renegades Of The Metal Age: Built To Last

May 25, 2018, a year ago

Mark Gromen

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It's been 18 months since Built To Last was released and this marks the second North American tour for said album (but first stop in Philly in eight years!), thus the setlist was more widespread, offering just a trio from the latest, and five others from the last 15 years. The rest were lifted from the Golden Age, the initial four platters. That said, it wasn't an all-oldies night. While this year marks the 20th anniversary for Legacy Of Kings, the Swedes merely served up one track per each album, ultimately ending the proper set with an all too short run of late Nineties material.  

Opening with the bouncy "Hector's Hymn", the American club stage can barely contain frenetic, karate kicking guitarist Oscar Dronjak. The lanky MMA/professional wrestling loving blond is a bundle of energy, used to running around large European venues and the Trocadero is fairly constricted, by comparison. Talk about unbowed and unbroken! If he were a super hero, surely must be part Plastic Man. In addition to changing shirts and guitars throughout the night, Dronjak contorts himself into many guitar god poses and frequently finds his way to the opposite side of the stage. "Riders Of The Storm" allows frontman Joacim Cans to conduct the choir at his disposal, the fans, who repeatedly chime in on the chorus. The trio of stringed musicians are together, across the front of the stage. While returning bassist Fredrik Larsson is usually content to stay in the background, headbanging and playing off Dronjak, the other guitarist, Pontus Norgren (do all Swedes own a cream colored Strat?) gets to shine on some leads and solos.

Speedy "Renegade" gives way to "Dethrone And Defy", four plumes of smoke simultaneously shoot skyward, as Norgren gets the first of his spotlights, at stage's edge. Purple/pink lit "Blood Bound" is followed by red/yellow tinted "Any Means Necessary", augmented with more smoke and the guitar tandem trading twin leads, center stage. Between songs, Cans, who has developed into a world class frontman, confident in his interactions with the crowd (even a little cocky, as the best vocal focal points are), chatters away. Prior to an aggressive "Bang Your Head" (aka "BYH"), he tells a tale about purchasing his first vinyl record (Saxon's Strong Arm Of The Law) and asks those down front, "Do you even know what a record store is? They are extremely hard to find these days." Oscar changed into a white, sleeveless tee for the pink hued, stage fog draped "Crimson Thunder", as Cans headbangs. Upon its completion, everything goes black and all leave the stage, for the piped in intro to "Threshold".

Cans claims the band postponed the production of the next record, so they could crisscross this continent again. With regard to the most recent release, Built To Last, the singer inquired, "Do you know the album? Anyone hate it? Doesn't matter, here's the title track." Cue the green lit number, Dronjak beginning on stage right (opposite his normal placement). He and Larsson synchronized sway and headbang. The Dronjak-Norgren team also add backing vocals, as they do, periodically, throughout the evening. Name checking the 20th anniversary of Legacy Of Kings, Cans playfully chides Norgren with regards to his Yngwie Malmsteen influences (must be that omnipresent cream color Strat). Oscar dons yet another shirt, for the Legacy medley, also switching back to the Thor/Hector hammer-shaped guitar on which he began the night, trading licks with Pontus. Blue stained, smoke enveloped "Heeding The Call" sees the guys offer slo-mo synchronized stage moves, with Dronjak bending over backwards, as he plays. The crowd adds collective voice to the "whoa whoa" segment.

The vocalist takes the temperature of the crowd, with an informal poll. A large portion of attendees seeing the band, for the first time, although Cans is quick to point out, "Some of you will raise your hand for everything." Cue proper set closer "Let The Hammer Fall", all members engaging in synced stage moves to the left. Honestly, shouldn't there be one vintage number in the encore? Anything off the debut, even the ballad, "I Believe"? Am I just being an old school snob? Heck, even one of their cover tunes ("Back To Back", "Child Of The Damned", "Ravenlord", etc.: all fist-pumping anthems) would be more appropriate than "Bushido". Returning to the stage, "Hammer High" is an adrenaline rush. Ditto audience sung "Hearts On Fire" (by this time Dronjak dispensing with any shirt, whatsoever), which sees Pontus churning out the final leads of the night. Minor complaint about an otherwise unbridled celebration of traditional heavy metal.

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