HAMMERFALL – Live! The Crimson Templars’ Stateside Crusade

May 22, 2023, 2 weeks ago

By Mark Gromen

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Just the third of eight headlining US dates, while touring North America with Helloween. Not that the Philly area faithful would know (shoehorned into the tiny, reportedly 650 capacity, subterranean cavern that is Underground Arts), but the Swedes offered essentially the same set witnessed at the Knockout Festival (Karlsruhe, Germany), last December (minus "Hector's Hymn" and "Dominion"). For the 20th Anniversary reissued/updated Crimson Thunder, the Hammers strung together a medley of tracks, preferring, instead, to showcase a trio off last year's Hammer Of Dawn, as well as a career retrospective. In fact, apart from Legacy Of Kings, the newbie is the only other platter to add more than one song to the set. OK, it's been 25+ years since, just call me old, but a solitary "Metal Age" from the debut (and NOT their signature tune?) seems shortsighted. Need to infuse a few more up tempo anthems into the mid-tempo repertoire. 

The night begins under a Day-Glo blue haze, as the boys take the stage to "Brotherhood", silhouetted in a mist. Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren trade leads throughout. When not singing, or getting the crowd to do the same, Joacim Cans headbangs, center stage, or visits David Wallin, on the drum riser. "Any Means Necessary" sees the fans add their voices to the titular chorus. In fact, there's lots of sing-along moments tonight: "Bloodbound", back-to-back with speedy "Renegade" and "Let The Hammer Fall" chief among them. Joacim, like a choir director, instructs "his pupils", encouraging more participation and at greater volume. Meanwhile, wiry guitar whiz Dronjak strikes many rock star poses, as he undoubtedly perfected, in his bedroom mirror, as a youngster. The guy loves what he does and just exudes childlike enthusiasm!

Blue lit to start, "Renegade" sees the guitarists briefly switch sides: lots of headbanging and synchronized stage moves. Then Pontus takes the lead break. "Last Man Standing" sees Norgren again step forward, gently strumming his guitar, for those telltale notes. Fittingly, "Hammer Of Dawn" sees Dronjak unveil a guitar shaped like Thor's hammer, while on the opposite side of the stage, Pontus and bassist Fredrik Larsson interact. The aforementioned medley marries together "Riders Of The Storm" and the commemorative album's title cut, Dronjak pumping the crowd and thrusting his fist, for emphasis.

Still not sold on "(We Make) Sweden Rock", but can't dispute the robust audience participation. Speaking of which, the reaction to/involvement with "Hammer High" was stunning (especially the a cappella ending). Certainly a Philly fan favorite. "Hearts On Fire" finale begins with a barrage of white strobes, as Cans basically abdicates lead vocal chores to the crowd, who take the reins and sing throughout, ably backed by Pontus & Oscar. 

Fun evening for all involved, band, fans and jaded old critic

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VORTEX - "First Blood"

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