One of the leading lights of the European metal resurgence in the mid- to late 1990s, Sweden's Hammerfall helped to bring melodic power metal back to the forefront of a scene that was struggling to find its footing amidst the alt-rock/grunge boom.
Founded in Gothenburg in 1993 by ex-Ceremonial Oath guitarist Oscar Dronjak — the dissolution of that band would also help launch another influential group, In Flames — Hammerfall took some time getting off the ground. Many of its then-members were doing double duty with more established bands — drummer Jesper Strömblad and guitarist Glenn Ljungstrom were both in In Flames and vocalist Mikael Stanne was fronting melodic death metal giants Dark Tranquillity — and their set lists leaned hard on covers. However, by the time of the release of their acclaimed 1997 debut, Hammerfall was an almost completely different band.
After inking a deal with Dutch label Vic Records in 1996, the group decamped to the studio with Dronjak, Ljungström, session drummer Patrik Räfling, and new vocalist Joacim Cans, and began laying down tracks for what would become Glory to the Brave. Despite being released only in the Netherlands, the LP caught the ear of Nuclear Blast, who quickly secured the rights and re-released the album in June, 1997. Glory to the Brave would be the first of a string of successful albums, including Legacy of Kings (1998), Renegade (2000), and Crimson Thunder (2002), that would go gold regionally, with the band's popularity reaching a fevered pitch in power metal-hungry Germany, as well as beginning to penetrate the market overseas.
After the release of Crimson Thunder, the band underwent some personnel changes, as well as some personal traumas, with Dronjak sustaining major injuries from a motorcycle accident and Cans undergoing plastic surgery after being attacked with a broken beer glass at a club. A 2003 live outing, One Crimson Night, helped fill the void during the band's forced hiatus from the studio. Hammerfall returned triumphantly in 2005 with their aptly named fifth long-player, Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken, which featured songs that were inspired by author George R.R. Martin's popular A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. 2006's Threshold sought inspiration from the land of Westeros as well, and 2009's No Sacrifice, No Victory would be the first time out for new guitarist Pontus Norgren, who replaced outgoing axe-slinger Stefan Elmgren. 2011's Infected rose to top of the Swedish charts via the zombie infection-inspired single "One More Time," and 2014's (r)Evolution, their ninth full-length LP, would be the group's last outing with drummer Anders Johansson, who had been behind the kit since 2000. In early 2016, the band announced that they had signed with Napalm Records, which issued their much-anticipated tenth studio album Built to Last later that winter. ~ James Christopher Monger