Interview conducted November 05 2016
Interview published November 20 2016
"None of these songs sound
like a Glory To The Brave song
Swedish heavy metallers HammerFall
put out their new record Built To Last on November 4th and to draw some
extra attention to it they seized the opportunity to throw a pair of signing
sessions in their home country. The first one took place in Gothenburg
on the album's release date and the second one in Stockholm the following
Before founding member and guitarist
Oscar Dronjak and bassist Fredrik
Larsson took the train back to Gothenburg after
visiting the capital for a few hours, Metal Covenant met up with them
near the train station to talk about the new creation of course, yet looking
back a little bit at their past as well.
"HammerFall has kind of
always been a little bit about standing up straight and standing up for
what you believe in and keeping the hammer high."
Tobbe: A kind of tricky question to begin
with. If HammerFall at this point has lost some fans, what can this new
record do to bring back those fans? I'm talking about the older fans now
and not the fans in their 20's, but the ones in maybe their 40's who were
there in the beginning.
Fredrik: I think that this record has a little
bit more range, really. Maybe overall a little bit faster than the last
record (r)Evolution , but broader, so
I think that the older
fans have quite a lot to find on this record. (Oscar:)
This is not my theory or my idea and, you know, maybe I don't even agree
to it sometimes, but a lot of people that I have talked with are like
"Oh! You have returned to the Glory To The Brave  and the
Legacy Of Kings  sound.".
And that's not an intentional choice. It just
turned out that way, because that was where we were, but I think it's
a lot of new HammerFall in there as well. But what is identifiable from
that time is the energy, I think, and we haven't really had that so
often. We have tried, but it's hard to catch it on tape, you know.
I think that's a big difference and if someone thinks that we should
sound like we did back then, this is, I guess, as close as we can get,
so to speak. Because you can't write the same type of songs as you did
20 years ago. It's completely impossible.
Tobbe: And you don't play your instruments
in the same way either.
Fredrik: Everyone has changed. You have become
older and wiser, in every way. (Oscar:) In
every way, yes. And you become more skilled on your instruments all
the time too. If you have done something, you always want to do something
slightly different. You can't do the exact same thing all the time.
We're not AC/DC, you know.
Tobbe: Just like you say, I think that quite
a bit sounds like the older stuff, but I also hear the new stuff there
as well and I think it's a good blend. But I think that the fans generally
will first of all hear the old stuff and might they therefore think "Oh,
HammerFall has run out of ideas and they have started to bring back the
old attributes instead."?
Fredrik: It probably doesn't matter what you
do. Those who think that something is wrong are those who are the loudest.
And you can't, you know, please them all. (Oscar:)
No, you can't make everyone happy. You just can't. And furthermore I
don't think that that is correct either. None of these songs sound like
a Glory To The Brave song, but, you know, the soul is there, in the
same way, and I think that's good.
It's, like I said, not so easy to catch that
always, you know, the energy
like we say just of old
habit. But it's not so easy to catch it in the recordings, but we actually
worked hard this time to get that feeling. Surely everyone understands
that we're not recording all together, but we want it to feel like a
solid band that plays together and who thinks it's fun to play too.
You know, the hunger and the drive must be there
and therefore you have to use certain tricks to attain that and it's
not always so easy. We have often tried it, but I think that we managed
to do it really well this time.
Tobbe: What I think that you've done on
the record is that the riffs are in the front of the mix and are really
distinct and was this made knowingly to emphasize them a little bit extra?
Oscar: Well, the mix is made by Fredman (Fredrik
Nordström) and he must be the one to answer for it. [Laughs] Well,
you know, he makes his mix and this time I actually wasn't even in the
studio when he was mixing because we were recording the vocals in Los
Angeles. We were supposed to record the vocals in June, but James Michael
could only do it in July and this meant that Fredman had to start mixing
before Joacim [Cans] had even recorded his vocals to all the songs or
we wouldn't have finished the record in time.
So we were in Los Angeles during the mixing and
we had to listen to it from there. It was really strange and not so
great either and it's so much easier and everything proceeds much faster
if you're sitting there beside him and you're able to explain right
away what you want. But what you just said is all Fredman, you know,
but he knows what I like with massive guitar riffs and stuff, and he
likes that too. However, he hasn't always understand the weight of that
and he always points that out and laughs about it.
When we recorded the Glory To The Brave album
and the song Stone Cold has a riff in the middle and he's like "We
can cut that out. It's unnecessary and it doesn't have to be there because
no one sings or plays solo on top of it." and apparently, I don't
remember it, but he talks about it every year after that, I said to
him "Fredrik! You don't understand the weight of a cool heavy metal
riff.". So now he has obviously learned it. [Laughs] But in all
honesty, Fredman did a fantastic job on this record. Without a doubt,
it's thanks to him that it sounds so clear and massive and that it sounds
so great, you know.
Even James Michael, who has made a lot of records
himself, when we sat there and got the first rough mix and "Is
this what you're looking for?", James was stunned and since he
produces records himself he hears things differently, but he was really
impressed of just those first mixes and that it sounded so terrific.
So, Fredman, the best, simple as that.
Tobbe: So what did you have in mind when
you wrote the songs for the new record? You know, regarding how you would
build the record with different kinds of songs. I guess it wasn't like
"Now we're gonna make 10 speed metal songs", because that's
not what it's all about.
Fredrik: It would be very boring to listen to.
You would get a little bit tired, you know. (Oscar:)
Yes. Think about making 10 songs like that. Where would you find inspiration?
But it's interesting that you mentioned this, because it took a few
years, or rather a few records, for me to realize that you don't write,
like you said, 10 songs.
write a whole record and it's the entirety that matters, you know, and
that means that you can't, exactly as you say, have 10 songs of the
same kind, but you have to vary it a little bit. And I think that's
very fun to do, but it's also difficult, because you might have an awesome
song that's kind of similar to another, with the same tempo, maybe trios,
or in A, or whatever, and therefore you already have a song that plays
that role on the record and it isn't always so easy to find the right
balance, you know.
But, like Fredrik just said, I think that we
found a very good range on this record and the songs complete each other
in a good way. We even recorded 11 songs and You Win Or You Die was
supposed to be on the record actually, but there was kind of no room
for it. The 10 songs we now have became the perfect record and that
song is a bit different than the other ones and it's older too.
It feels like we have had it for a long time,
but I think I wrote it for (r)Evolution just 2 years ago. But it feels
older than that, but I'm almost certain that it isn't actually. [Laughs]
And since it wasn't written during this period it sticks out a little
bit and I think it's good that it's in the boxed set only.
Tobbe: The ballad, Twilight Princess, is
obviously the song that differs the most from the rest of the album and
when you make these kind of ballads, and you've made them before, you
really make them soft and light, so my question would be: Why don't you
make them to power ballads kind of like Remember Yesterday from Legacy
Oscar: Well, I like it, you know. But it fits
good for this particular song too. It was supposed to be soft, like
you say, and gentle and it's Fredrik's sister [Tina Fernström]
who plays the flute in the beginning, you know. But what I like is the
contrast between that and the end where things get going, really.
But certainly we could make a power ballad and
that will probably happen again. It's been a few years since the last
one and Never Ever [from Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken ]
I would say was the last one. But anyway, it's not like we're trying
to make the lightest song that we possibly can, but it was just very
fitting for this one.
Tobbe: Regarding the lyrics. It's a little
bit "Us against the world" oriented and what do you have in
mind when you write the lyrics?
Fredrik: HammerFall has kind of always been a
little bit about standing up straight and standing up for what you believe
in and keeping the hammer high. It's a bit of heavy metal for us. (Oscar:)
Yes exactly. That's the spirit of heavy metal to me and on every record
we have songs about that. Hector, our warrior, is used as an instrument
to bring forth the message that's about him standing on the battlefield.
But it doesn't mean that you should stand on
the battlefield and kill someone, but believe in yourself and stand
up for what you believe in. I think it's hugely important. Like the
song Hammer High; it's really a song like that, you know. It becomes
kind of like an anthem a little bit.
Tobbe: And I think that this is lyrics that
the fans can really identify with you and it's maybe the lyrics they want
Oscar: Yes, I believe so. I remember when Manowar's
Louder Than Hell came out in '96 and they hadn't released an album in
4 years and I was immensely excited. Really, really stoked. And Joacim
got his hands on a cassette. You know, before it was released. An advance
copy. I don't know how, but he worked in a record store, so maybe he
got it from there? Anyhow, we bought some beer, went home in the evening
and listened to it. And there's a song called The Gods Made Heavy Metal
and listening to it just once was enough to get me hooked.
know, I was a fan of Manowar there and I hope that our fans get the
same feeling with, for example, Hammer High, that I got back then. It
was so damn good. You know, lyrics-wise, and it spoke to you and it
was exactly what it should be like. And that was, like I said, in '96,
and who the hell came out with such good records in '96? Nobody, you
Tobbe: You mentioned James Michael, and
we mentioned the lyrics, so that leads us to Joacim too. Michael is still
coaching him for the vocals and Joacim has been a little bit criticized
before for the capacity of his voice, but now he has come back strong
recently, and how do you look at the fact that he is able to deliver again?
Fredrik: You know, the thing is that he has delivered
better and better on every album recently. (Oscar:)
Yes, it's really sick. All singers usually become worse and worse the
older they get. (Fredrik:) Yes, they tend
to lose some high notes and stamina and strength. They sing in a lower
key and they're taking it a little bit safe. But on this record, Joacim
really sings higher and with even more effort put into it. (Oscar:)
I've been asked this question before, but he has taken good care of
his voice always, since day 1. His routine is always the same and he
sings for an hour before the gig. And he's careful with his voice.
He's not like me, you know, shouting and singing
along to songs, you know, but he restrains himself. And he doesn't get
really drunk and goes to sleep at 5 a.m. every morning. This has of
course helped him a lot and he's very keen on how to maintain what he
has. And he has also sung a lot in the last years too, which he didn't
do before. When we didn't play, he never really sang anything. But now
he's been doing Rock Of Ages for a year in total and it was like from
Thursday to Sunday every week and of course he then becomes better.
It goes without saying, if you practice and uses your voice you get
When we recorded (r)Evolution, he was right in
the middle of that. Maybe he even just took some time off from it, or
if he quit earlier when we were recording. I don't remember, but it
was somewhere towards the end of that thing. And I know that I was thinking
"Damn, he sings good! He really benefits from this.". But
when we did Built To Last, he hadn't sung in a long time, so in the
back of my head I was thinking "I wonder how this will turn out.".
Because the last time, he was already warm and it went very smooth.
But what's sick is that it went even smoother this time. He sang each
song for maybe just 1 and a half hours, where he gave it all.
And what's great is that he and James collaborate
so well. He trusts James and when James says something or suggests something
Joacim is not like "Why should I do that? Explain why, and maybe
I'll do it.", but he's like "OK. If that's the way you want
". And he trusts James even more since James is a singer
as well, which of course matters a lot, so they get a good connection.
And James is very good at getting the best and what's needed out of
Joacim too and push him, you know.
I've seen Joacim sing with quite a lot of people
over the years and the collaboration between him and James is really
so good. It's so fun to see. And James thinks it's fun too, of course.
We recorded (r)Evolution and Built To last in exactly same way and it
has worked out really well. It's easy, it's relaxed and it's calm. Everyone
knows their role and knows what to do. We have simply found a way that
works. It's a little expensive to go to Los Angeles to work with him,
but it's worth it, you know.
Tobbe: Built To Last is drummer David's
[Wallin] first record with the band, and try to answer this without being
cliché, I know it's hard, but what was it like?
Fredrik: It was a little bit tense, even if we
have played a lot together live by now. But this was the first time
in the studio and you don't really know how he has done things before
and what he is able to do in the studio. But it went really well and
he has worked in a similar way before. So there were actually no problems
at all. And now it becomes cliché, but as he entered the band
a lot of new energy was found. And for me personally it was really easy
to play with David. Drums and bass, you know. We hit it off right from
Tobbe: So what's his status in the band
right now? Is he a member of the band or is he still just a live and session
Oscar: To me he is a bandmember, but he's not
kind of with the band in the same way. People like to put something
to it, you know "This is the way it should be. This is the way
it should not be.". But he's just with the band, but not in the
same way as everyone else, you know.
Tobbe: Anders [Johansson, former drummer]
quit in 2014 and do you think now that you've created a really solid unit
Fredrik: It feels like HammerFall has never
sounded better. (Oscar:) No, we haven't.
(Fredrik:) It's also cliché, but
it's actually true. (Oscar:) It's beyond
comparison. Like Fredrik said, the energy came with David, but he introduced
stability too, which makes it a lot easier to play with him. (Fredrik:)
And everybody feels safe too. (Oscar:)
It even goes all the way to Joacim, even if he sings on top of everything,
so to speak, but even he feels the stability in this whole thing. I
come from the 80's.
was born in the 70's, but I grew up in the 80's and my music is Accept
and such bands, you know. And they played the drums live like it was
on the record. He was getting booed at unless he did so, you know. Like
"It has to be that way!". And I like that way of thinking,
but Anders didn't and he was more free, like the 70's and improvising,
And now when David is playing, it's a lot more
mechanic, but I think it fits the music much better, and it makes it
much easier to play along to. (Fredrik:)
And then it's a little bit also the inner clock. David and I have a
better connection. Anders is a fantastic drummer. There's no doubt about
it. But he has been in the U.S.A. a lot and played and he is more loose
and has a different timing.
Tobbe: You've changed record company. You've
been on Nuclear Blast for a very long time, so is there really a difference
to be on Napalm Records or does life just go on?
Oscar: Pretty much the same. It's new personnel,
but those guys are doing the same thing, really. (Fredrik:)
But of course there's more enthusiasm from their side right now. The
first record, they want to prove something, we want to prove something,
and it seems like we're aiming for the same goal. I can't say that it
wasn't so before either, but it was
a little bit more the daily
job, you know. (Oscar:) We didn't leave
Nuclear Blast because they were worthless or so, or because we were
unhappy, but rather because we wanted a company that didn't have 700
other bands and that do exactly what they have always done.
But we wanted someone who dares to try new things,
because we feel that we aren't declining and we're on our way up all
the time. You still want to fly, you know, and I see HammerFall as a
band that's not done with releasing new records, so to speak, but we
all the time want to break new ground and it feels like Napalm was willing
to commit to this, while Nuclear Blast was more like "It works."
and they had no will to change or renew themselves.
Tobbe: And Nuclear Blast has bigger bands
too, while Napalm only has a few a little bit bigger bands, and now you're
one of those.
Oscar: Exactly. That was another thing. I kind
of see Napalm now as I saw Nuclear Blast when we signed with them. A
small company that is hungry and on the way up. So it's really great
to be with them. But we've got a good relationship still with Nuclear
Blast too and they've got our back catalogue and they plan a couple
of re-releases next year. So we must have a good contact with them,
you know. And this is guys that we know. I mean, we're friends with
them, and especially one guy, Markus Wosgien, we've known him for years
and years and you don't want to lose that friendship, you know.
Tobbe: I just got to ask this. Next year
is the 20-year anniversary of the first record [Glory To The Brave] and
you have surely thought it about, so do you have any plans to celebrate
that? I'm sure there's more people than I who want to know.
Fredrik: Well, we release Built To Last right
now and we're going out to promote it. It's a European tour, South America,
and North America. So we have talked about it a little bit, but there's
not going to be anything now. (Oscar:)
There's two things. First we have Built To Last and we have to promote
it and we must play from that one, and this is a new tour. We don't
want to live on past achievements and I don't think that we're the type
of band who needs to do that yet and we have a lot to offer still.
I'm not saying that we can't do anything with
it sometime of course, but with Built To Last out, Glory To The Brave
has to stand back a little bit next year. But what the hell, in 5 years
there's a 25-year anniversary, you know, and in 10 years there's a 30-year
anniversary and maybe we can do something then instead. [Laughs] If
anything, maybe we'll do something for Legacy Of Kings, because nothing
happens for us that year [20-year anniversary in 2018.].
But this is just thoughts, ideas, or just loose
talk, really. In some way we'll probably have to do something with Glory
To The Brave, at least in the spirit of it, even though we're not going
on a long tour, you know.
Tobbe: Is there any festival that has proposed
that you should play the whole album next summer?
Oscar: Yes there is, but it didn't come off.
(Fredrik:) And we've done it at Wacken
too. In 2014 on their 25-year anniversary. (Oscar:)
Yes, we did, but then we did it for their sake, so to speak. Because
to us that is classic ground. The first gig we did outside Sweden was
at Wacken and it was huge. There's so many things around that, so we
wanted to make a special thing for them when they turned 25 and we invited
Jeppe [Jesper Strömblad, guitar], Stefan [Elmgren, guitar] and
Patrik Räfling [drums].
was fun, and it's hard to top that too. And people have asked us if
we want to do it on festivals, but I'm not interested in doing it next
year, because we have a brand new record out and I'm so happy with it
and I believe in it so hard, so of course we want to promote that one
instead, and that's what it's all about.
Tobbe: You just came here from a signing
session here in Stockholm and you did one in Gothenburg yesterday, so
now when record sales have decreased, how important is it to be seen even
more and not only in social media? I mean, like everywhere; in magazines
and out on the street.
Fredrik: You know, you have to take care of
the few record stores that are left. And it is important to be seen
and above all I want to connect the same feeling that I had myself when
I entered a record store and looked at the covers and was looking for
new stuff. It is a special feeling and you can't get that feeling on
iTunes. Sure, you can get a preview, but in the store you were picking
up a record from the shelf and you got to listen to it in the store,
you know. And "Damn, can I afford them both?" and "Oh,
I must have this one too!". You really want that feeling to stay
Tobbe: Yes, I remember it so well. It was
an amazing feeling and I kind of visited every record store in Stockholm.
I still buy a lot of records today, but almost always from a website.
Oscar: I actually bought some records and stuff
yesterday. A little bit to support of course, but still I wanted the
stuff. And the funny thing is that Bengan's record store in Gothenburg
has a pretty large LP section and used ones too and I didn't know that.
Joacim was like "Oh, this one! And that one!" and those were
records he already own, so I thought "OK, I'll buy them.".
I recognized the bands, but I haven't got the
records myself and I haven't heard so much off the bands, really. One
was the band Icon and Joacim has been talking a lot about that record
and he's like "It's really good.". So I walked out with some
used ones, 2 Kiss DVDs. You know, just some stuff. But the funny thing
is that I was thinking "I'm gonna buy some stuff", because,
like Fredrik said, you want to keep the record stores.
You know, when the day comes, and there's no
record stores left, what the hell are you going to do then? Well, we're
probably dead then, hopefully
Tobbe: Your first records were out just
before file sharing really increased, so you have pretty much been aware
of its existence all the time, but what went through your mind, and especially
for you Oscar who was in the band at that point, when file sharing really
exploded? Were there almost tears and like "There goes our income"?
Oscar: Well, it was sad, you know. It was. And
nobody knew how it was going to end or where it would be going. It seems
like file sharing has decreased a lot. People still buy stuff or listen
which is not the same thing as buying a record. Neither
for you, nor for us, so to speak. (Fredrik:)
But not like file sharing either. (Oscar:)
No, exactly. It's clearly a better alternative. It felt like it's been
going down, down, down, down, but then we found a level where we are
We have 3 gold records for full-lengths and the
first one was 40000, the second one was 30000 and the fourth one 20000
and that says a lot. I mean, it used to be 100000 before. So of course
there's been worries, but we can't do anything about it and in fact
heavy metal fans are really traditionbound and faithful and they want
a physical product. And you and I are the same too. We were just talking
about it, you know. So they often buy some records, so we have managed
relatively well through the years for that reason.
Tobbe: Your website says that the tour starts
in January, so what will you do until then? 2 months is a long time for
Oscar: We will be at home with our families
and we will really celebrate Christmas for once. I hate to be away in
December, because it's the best month, with its great atmosphere. The
last time, I think we got home around the 15th/16th of December and
it was so totally worthless and you almost don't get the time to prepare
and get in the right mood for Christmas, really. This is what I will
be up to anyway.
(Fredrik:) We will be away for quite some time
next year, so we will try to get the opportunity to socialize a little
bit with friends and family. (Oscar:) 3
of us live in Stockholm and 2 of us in Gothenburg, so we don't rehearse
all the time. We don't rehearse 3 times a week, like we did when we
were young. So that has changed and we didn't even rehearse once before
this recording. We made the demos, sent them to each other and then
we recorded the songs after that, so to speak.
There was no need for playing together, you know,
and we've done it like this before, with (r)Evolution too, for instance.
So the actual rehearsing isn't so important anymore. We've been doing
this for so long and you can be at home by yourself and look through
the songs and play and when you get together you rehearse intensively
for 2-3 days on maybe 2 or 3 times. So that's the plan and we will maybe
rehearse 2 times before Christmas and 1 time in January or something
Tobbe: So how many new songs will be in
Fredrik: We will rehearse a fairly good part
of the album to be able to get a good set together. It's always a little
bit tough to know what the set will be like before you have played through
it. Maybe it feels good in the planning stage, but then "We have
to move that song to a different place" or "We need something
faster there.". (Oscar:) With No Sacrifice,
No Victory  and I think with Infected  we played 6 or 7
songs off the new album and it was really fun, but maybe it's a little
bit too many.
the last time with (r)Evolution we played 3, and just occasionally 4,
and I think that's too few. I think at least 4 is fair, you know, at
least if you're playing a full set. So maybe 4 then. I think that's
reasonable. But we will see. It's among the things that's up for discussion
now. We have a list of songs that we have to cut down a little bit.
Tobbe: So the older songs, will it be kind
of the same as usual? For me personally you could play pretty much just
any song, but for the most part, maybe most fans recognize and want the
well-known songs, I guess?
Fredrik: Some songs just have to be there. And
certain songs are songs that you maybe want to be there. And then you
have quite a few songs that you want to be there to make it a bit different.
(Oscar:) It's not fun to play the same
songs all the time and only change a few. Like for example [Judas] Priest
is doing, or rather most of the big bands. They play the same old songs,
but the new songs have been replaced, you know.
It's the same old song and dance and then a few
new ones. I never want to end up in a situation like that, because that
would bore me to death. So what we have planned now is, really, we have
a core of 6-7 songs that we kind of just must play, and want to play
too of course, like Hearts On Fire and Bloodbound and so. And then we
have found some songs that I think should be in the set, but there's
no room for them, you know what I mean? And we have songs that we haven't
played for quite some time and some song that we have never played before
and some song that we only played for a couple of times.
The set isn't complete yet, so we can't say exactly
which songs are going to be there, but the songs that we have chosen
are some really fun things and I really look forward to play them actually.
Because it is boring to always wear out Hearts On Fire. It's the worst
thing there is, to rehearse that damn song. I hate to do that.
Tobbe: And what about concerts in your home
country of Sweden? When will they be in your touring itinerary?
Oscar: We will play here next fall, I guess.
We played at Scandinavium in Gothenburg on November 28th last year and
it would be a little bit too early to play there again now. So we try
to wait until fall 2017. But it depends on what happens next summer
too. You know, which festivals will we play and what we can do after
the summer. But the plan is to do something in the fall, because spring
is already fully booked.
Tobbe: The record is released in a good
time, if we look at the festivals specifically, and you have plenty of
time to tour a lot before next summer arrives.
Oscar: Yes, we can. But it's not always good,
because some festivals want us to play there before we have toured.
Some festivals are like that, you know. And some are like "This
must be the only show in this country. Then you will get paid this for
a show. If it's not, you will get this instead.". It's many things
to take into account. And even if most festivals are trying to book
bands now, it's still some time left to next summer, so everything isn't
funded just yet.
And if you have a festival booked in a particular
region and you will play there on the tour too, you don't announce the
festival before the tour, because that would affect us and "Well,
I can wait to see them until summer and then I will get to see a hundred
other bands at the same time as well.". No one will come down for
a show then and you have to play it smart, you know.
also: review of
the album Built To Last