Hammerfall in San Francisco!

Hammerfall & Delain
May 8, 2017
Social Hall, San Francisco, CA

By Dan Wall

Set List: Hector’s Hymn, Riders of the Storm, Blood Bound, Any Means Necessary, Renegade, Dethrone and Defy, Last Man Standing, Let the Hammer Fall, Built to Last, Medley to the Brave, The Dragon Lies Bleeding, Hammer High, Busido, Hearts on Fire. 75 minutes.

Swedish metal god Hammerfall returned to the Bay Area for the first time in over seven years Monday night, bringing its European-style of power metal to an affection crowd at the Social Hall in San Francisco.

The quintet, which play the states infrequently, have still built a solid following here for one reason-Hammerfall plays heavy metal, pure and simple, and doesn’t try to do things that it can’t. No love ballads, over-produced slush or 18-minute mini-epics for these guys. If you like this type of metal-the all-absorbed, rape and pillage, take no prisoners, metal warriors to glory for all kind of stuff that Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Accept and so many others do so well, then there is no reason you wouldn’t like Hammerfall as well.

Unfortunately, for bands like this and many other groups that can’t fill up hockey arenas or baseball stadiums, the tours that they do in America can often fall into the type of category that this one is-a smaller tour that ends up in a small venue (like this one) on a mismatched bill (much like this one). More on that part later.

Hammerfall is now a 20-year veteran in a business that produces fewer and fewer new acts each year that look, sound and feel like true metal. Many consider this to be the end of the metal era, and when bands like Hammerfall, Primal Fear and Avenged Sevenfold (assuming Maiden, Priest and Metallica go before them) end, there won’t be much left to keep the metal flame burning. We still have a few more decades before that happens, so while we have it, let’s enjoy these guys while we can.

The band’s lead vocalist is a true metal star who learned from the vocal legends of the genre. Joacim Cans sings in a voice created on the heavenly heavy metal assembly line (i.e. in the range of some prehistoric fire-breathing dragon-type creature, done so well in the past by guys like Dickinson, Halford and Gillan). Cans works the stage like a trooper, sings everything effectively and has perfected the heavy metal technique of humming a melody over a guitar line to create a sing-along to each big song. Amazingly, despite a crowd in the 500-600 range, you would have thought there were ten times that many every time Cans pulled out a chorus or a melody and had the faithful added their voices.

The two guitarists, Pontus Norgren and Oscar Dronjak, bang heads in tandem over thick riffs, while one (Norgren) solos like a maniac and the other (Drojnak) plays all the melodies and joins in on tandem lead. Bassist Fredrik Larsson plays solid thump and adds to the vocal chorus, while new drummer Johan Kolberg is an absolute machine that makes double-kick drumming seem to be very easy, which it is not.

The set list was near perfect, with a sampling of new, old and everything in between. New single “Hammer High” had the whole house rocking, while “Hector’s Hymn “ and “Bushido” are newer classics that were received well. As always, the old favorites such as “Riders of the Storm,” “Let the Hammer Fall,”

“Blood Bound,” “Renegade,” “The Dragon Lies Bleeding” and Hearts on Fire” used the big riffs and huge choruses that Hammerfall is so well known for to drive the whole performance over the top.

You might be wondering about the opening bands on the bill. Remember above, where I mentioned a mismatched bill; this was one if there ever was one. Hammerfall opened the show while Dutch symphonic metal band Delain headlined. Now this might be okay in other parts of the world, but not in San Francisco, where half the crowd left the building before Delain came on.

Does this mean Delain sucks? No, far from that. But for my money, the group just didn’t fit with this bill and with this crowd. Lead vocalist Charlotte Wessels is a stunningly beautiful woman who sings like a bird. I would have liked to have taken her to my Senior prom, especially if she would have wore what she did on Monday night. But the voice isn’t suitable for pure heavy metal, in my opinion. I’m surprised someone hasn’t tried to turn her looks and voice towards pop, but at least her heart seems to be in metal.

The rest of the band, including the fiery, diminutive guitarist Merel Bechtold, all play their parts well. The songs seem to be well structured, but miss out in two areas that to me are a must-real power and real melodies. I just don’t hear the hooks here like I do with other bands that play this type of music.

This type of music, you ask? Just look up “symphonic metal with female singers,” and one site lists more than 40 bands starting with the letter A that do this type of stuff. I’ve heard Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica, Leaves Eyes and After Forever, and particularly like Lacuna Coil, a band fronted by the spectacular Cristina Scabbia. I agree there is a place for this kind of music and it should be played live, such as on a recent tour here that featured Within Tempataion and Delain. But this match-up, no matter how many ways I try to spin, didn’t work.

So, I certainly hope that Delain comes back on another tour more suited to the band’s music and vision. And I wish that Hammerfall comes back to headline or play with a band more suitable to its style and vision, like Accept, Armored Saint, Vicious Rumors or Saxon. Now those would be some killer bills!