Power metal isn't always known for its sparkling originality between its often-tried formula, endlessly repetitive melodies, and limited subject material. But as with all genres, whether or not you tolerate those flaws depends on the level of charm, enthusiasm and vitality with which the compositions are brought. That level can make the difference between "uninspired" and "recognizable", between "stale" and "sweet". A lot of acts have been doing the same stuff for ages and albums on end, but still their "new" material is welcomed with cheers and applause. Never change a winning team, they say, but when that team is just lazily throwing the ball around, it may be time to revise some things.
Enter Bloodbound. After a couple of Iron Maiden-flavoured outings and one particularly fresh and modernized excursion in "Tabula Rasa", the Swedes have settled down in familiar territory. The approach this time around is again different, and the second the booming chorus to opening track "Moria" hits you in the face like the hammer of a cave troll, you know what time it is: time to pledge allegiance to the metal brotherhood, don sword and shield and wage war on just about anything. All the while singing fierce warrior's hymns like "Together We Fight" and "Brothers Of War". It's safe to say that "Unholy Cross" plays out like the best album Hammerfall never made.
A downside to this strategy is that some songs in the middle of the album tend to blend together. Luckily the album ends on a strong note with the title track, a refreshing gust of wind in a sound that risks getting a little dusty. Another problem is the sporadically questionable lyrics. I fail to see the connection between headbanging and the Dwarf-dwelling of Khazad-Dûm. Also, I'm pretty sure that "Drop The Bomb" glorifies the nukings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Which is kinda sick, when you think about it.
Tracking back to my introductory statement, on which side of the dividing line does "Unholy Cross" land? The music is derivative and of the sort that is very often heard, and the album never manages to be fully exciting or fist-pumpingly brilliant. What you do get is a solid product based on a trusted recipe that will please those who like their power metal with a slice of cheddar. "Unholy Cross" doesn't storm the barricades of the genre like its predecessor did, but rather settles comfortably within its confines. Just like with the sophomore record "Book Of The Dead", Bloodbound proves that you don't need Urban Breed to make a decent album.
Arno Callens' Rating: 3.5 out of 5