Hammerfall interview: They are back with full force

Power metal legends Hammerfall are coming from their much needed sabbatical. The band, known for their relentless touring cycles, was in much need to get away from the tour-studio-tour schedule for a while. Now the Swedes are back with the release of their upcoming album ‘(r)Evolution’ just days away. I spoke with band mastermind Oscar Dronjak about the break, the new album and Hammerfall’s plans for the future.

 Marc: Congratulations. Hammerfall is now around for 20 years. Did you even think that you would go for that long? I mean in the early days Hammerfall was just a side project.

Oscar: Yeah, I guess you can call it that. The thing is that the state of heavy metal in those days wasn’t great. I just formed this band because I wanted to play this kind of music. That’s what I absolutely long for more than anything else. At that time there were really no more hopes for that project other than that. I certainly didn’t hope for 20 years. I didn’t think that much ahead at that time, maybe 6 months but not 20 years. So there was never any idea that we would go that far.

Marc: When did you actually know that you had something special with Hammerfall?

Oscar: When Joacim came to the band he was just supposed to do one gig. We just needed a singer for one gig because our normal singer Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity was not available at that time. So we called Joacim and asked him to do a show with us.  That was one of the first times when I realised that this had some potential because it sounded so much better with him on vocals. On the other hand I still didn’t expect anything. I think that took me years. Even after the first album it took me a while to expect anything from Hammerfall. Another important moment was when the first album ‘Glory Of The Brave’ was recorded. That was another revelation. You never know that you can actually do something until you do it. We never recorded a heavy metal album, not even a demo. So when we were done with ‘Glory Of The Brave’ we sat down and listened to it and everybody involved was quite amazed how good and professional it sounded. I don’t know if we expected that. I mean we obviously did our best but it was still a really nice feeling to realise it had some merits. We actually knew what we were doing. That again took me years to get comfortable with, the thought that we are actually a force to be reckoned with. We have always been a force to be reckoned with for ourselves but not for anybody else.

Marc:  ‘Glory Of The Blades’ has certainly been an important album for you. It is treasured by your fan base.

Oscar: You know how it is.  For those who discovered Hammerfall with Glory Of The Brave, that’s gonna be their favourite album. That’s the way it works. I discovered Judas Priest with ‘Screaming For Vengeance’ so that is my favourite album. That how it usually works. So if someone has discovered Hammerfall with ‘Chapter 5’ maybe that’s gonna be their favourite album. That is very, very powerful when and where you were at the time when you discovered a band.

Marc: Now we are here in 2014 and you are coming off a sabbatical.  You are about to release your new album (r)Evolution. What are the particular strengths of the new album?

Oscar: As a band you always think your new album is the best one. We had a real break for about two years – a break where we really did nothing with Hammerfall, no shows, nothing. That was instrumental in making the album sound the way it does. We needed the break to refresh the batteries. That’s exactly what we did. I think we did get the hunger back to do this again after 15 years of recording albums and going on tours and being in the hamster wheel for a while. There was no end in sight. I think we needed to do something that was not connected to Hammerfall for a while. Now we are game for doing this for another 15 years or so. I think that has helped a lot. I also wrote a biography about Hammerfall. I mean it’s about my life but 80% of my life is about Hammerfall. So it more or less is about the band. It was a work that took me 6 or 7 months. During that time I re-lived my past. I re-lived it in quite some detail. That helped me to have a certain mind frame because right after this work finished I started writing songs for the album. So that is another reason why the album sounds the way it does. I was already in that kind of mood. I was really anxious to start working.  That’s also where the title came from. This is obviously a revolution for heavy metal – this is what we are fighting for since day one – but it is also an evolution of the Hammerfall sound, which at this point the album is a good mix of basically all the stuff we have done. It takes bits and pieces from all the other albums. That creates the Hammerfall sound. I think we do change a little bit but overall it’s still heavy metal we are talking about. It’s not gonna be a different music style. It’s still what we have always done.  I think that the break we had was very good for the creativity. It feels much fresher than any album we have done the last few years.

Marc: Listening to the album you can clearly hear that hunger. So although the album is called (r)Evolution you still focus on your core strengths and your trademark sound?

Oscar: Yeah, I guess that’s a good summary of what I just said.  Also when we write music we never sit down and think we’re gonna write an album that sounds like this because that’s what people want. That doesn’t work for me.  I did it with one song and that is the worst song ever. But that was just an experiment. Normally when we write music I sit down with the guitar and have a few riffs and see what comes out of it. There is never any intent to go into a musical direction. We do the albums that we ourselves wanna buy. So far people have agreed with us. That’s a pretty good way of doing it. So this is how we do things.

Marc: When does the band really get together? Is there a team approach? Or do you do your own thing and then put the pieces together?

Oscar: For Hammerfall it’s been the same from day one. Part of it is because Joacim and I were in the band from the beginning. We are the only ones who have been with Hammerfall from the beginning. So we are the main songwriters. That’s just how it works. We had the vision of what we wanted to accomplish musically and as a band.  Basically how we do things is I write the songs, the music. I do a demo with a drum machine and bass and maybe some vocals. Then when I’m done and satisfied I sent the demo off to Joacim who puts some of the lyrics or all of the lyrics on. Then we introduce it to the rest of the band. That’s how we work. That has worked really well for us over the years. We feel comfortable with this. I don’t like writing stuff or being creative with other people. I need some time to tweak the stuff and feel if it is a good riff or melody. I need to be alone and I need to be fully focused on that for a while before I can decide. I don’t like to do things for the moment. That can be great. That’s why I like bands with a bunch of half-finished songs and they finish them on the spot. That’s when magic can be created for sure. But it can also be a really blunt album if you do it this way. It depends on the moment. I don’t like to leave it to a chance.

Marc: This time again you worked with Frederik Nordstrom who you worked with on your first two albums.  How did this collaboration happen again and how was it after all those years?

Oscar: I have known Frederick since the 80ies. I recorded with him before I started Hammerfall. So it wasn’t that big a stretch to go back to him. I have to point out that the reason to work with him on the first two albums and not on the third was never that we didn’t like what he did.  He has done a great job. He is a really, really good producer. The reason we went with somebody else for Renegade was that we wanted to keep things fresh and not do exactly the same we had done before. That was to surprise ourselves. That’s how you grow as a band.  If you just do the same songs in the same studio with the same producer and the some cover artist it would become monotonous after a while for the band and for the fans. So that’s why we decided to try something new with renegade. We always had in the back of our minds when the time is right we wanna do another album with Frederick. And now the time is right. He plays music with Dream Evil as well so the good thing with him is he has been on both sides – as a producer and as a musician. So it is easy for him to understand what we do. It is easy for him to understand what we want also. That’s another important thing. So working with him was super, super easy. I also want to point out that Frederick was the producer because he did the drums and the mixing and he was also important in setting the sound for the guitars and everything. He didn’t record the guitars. We did that ourselves. Pontus and I have done that. We did this before so we knew how to do it really well. Frederick produced some parts but he was more like a consultant when it came to the guitars and the bass. In the end what really mattered was he knew when it was time for the mix he had exactly what he needed. You can’t overestimate the value and importance of the mix. The mix is how and where you shape the album. I mean you can’t change everything but you can definitely push it into a different direction. Frederick was the main reason why the album sounds the way it does production wise. There is no question about it. The fact that he was so easy to work with made it easier for. Actually it was a really easy recording for us.

Marc: The album will be released end of August. Then it is obviously back on the road for you. Can you run me through your touring schedule?

Oscar: We decided really early – we are talking about a year ago – that we don’t do the tour right away but we start next year. This is partly because there are so many other bands out on the road now in Europe. Accept, In Flames and a lot of other bands.  Plus we have done many tours in January and February before that were really successful. So it felt like the right choice for us. So we actually don’t do any tours right away. We are going to do our European tour early next year which is lucky for me because – I didn’t know this when we decided this obviously – but my girlfriend is pregnant. We are going to have a bay in a couple of weeks.

Marc: Congratulations.

Oscar: Thank you. It would have been a conflict; it would have hard to handle that situation. So I’m happy that we decided this early and how things turned out. We actually go to Russia and South America before Christmas. After the Europe tour we are going to do the summer festivals. And we hope to come to Australia for the first time. I think that would be fun. I have never been there myself.  I am really looking forward to it.  Hopefully somebody can set it up for us. I heard many, many good stories from other bands. Plus I mean at this point going to Australia is an adventure in itself. Just the fact that you go to a country halfway around the world. It’s pretty far from Sweden and it is pretty different.  I am interested in experiencing that just for the sake of experiencing it. There was the talk of doing it this year but that fell through. So there are already some plans. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will work.

Oscar was clearly hyped and excited about the development of Hammerfall and the renewed energy after their break. The band seems to ready for the next touring cycle. With a strong album and the focus on the tasks ahead Hammerfall are unstoppable.