Interview conducted February 14 2022
Interview published March 1 2022
"I knew already in the beginning what HammerFall
was gonna be"
Metal Covenant met up with HammerFall's
guitarist and main songwriter Oscar Dronjak
to talk about the band's new album Hammer Of Dawn. (Out February 25th)
Tobbe: I'm gonna start this one with asking
pretty much the same question that I asked you before the release of the
Dominion album in 2019. So, to what extent does the new album Hammer Of
Dawn follow HammerFall's already well-known heavy metal sound?
Oscar: I think that it follows it very well.
To me there are more similarities between Dominion and Hammer Of Dawn
than between Built To Last and Dominion. That's what I feel. These two
are more linked together, and that has a lot to do with that some of
the songs on Hammer Of Dawn was written already in the songwriting period
And I never really stopped writing songs, but
rather kept going during the Dominion tour. So they are linked together
to some extent in a certain way.
Tobbe: I guess some of the stress was lifted
off your shoulders too.
Oscar: Absolutely. It was. I was kind of panicking
before Built To Last. Before that one we usually had a 6-8 month break
where we just wrote songs and then recorded the new album, and then
it kind of started over again, you know. But I didn't have that luxury
that time, because there are different times now and bands are out playing
I got some performance anxiety, because nothing happened and there was
only a couple of weeks to go. It eventually turned out well, but I don't
want to find myself in that situation again. So I made sure that I just
Tobbe: Performance anxiety is one of the
worst feelings you can experience, really.
Oscar: Yes, it's such a pain in the ass. It happens
every time, but sometimes it's harder to get going again. Before these
Hammer of Dawn times, so to speak, I had a little dip that was hard
to get through. Some people think it's great to write songs during the
pandemic because they got nothing else to do, but it occurred to me
that I needed something to look forward to. We did the last gig, I think,
on February 27th or 28th , and we went home the next day, and
then a couple of weeks later everything kind of shut down. We were able
to do the tour nevertheless.
And then we had to cancel some gigs in Sweden
and, I think, in Denmark, and then the festivals and stuff, but I didn't
know that on that point, you know. So we did the tour, everything was
done, and it was awesome. Then everything started to happen and we realized
that we weren't going to be able to do the festivals in the summer.
But I tried to see things in a positive way, like "It's kind of
nice to be at home.".
And I got an uninterrupted summer at home in
Sweden with my family, you know. Like "This is awesome!".
I was really enjoying that summer. It was a great summer. It was really
nice. I didn't have to do anything and just hung around at home and
my son was 6 at the time. So that was great and I went with the flow.
So I wrote a lot of music during that time, like just kept writing from
the tour and on, like whenever I got in the right mood.
In August and September things were looking better,
but then the next wave came and everything shut down and my belief in
the future just went away a little bit in a way. So at that time it
was really hard to get inspired and the future looked dark. Nothing
happened in weeks, no matter how hard I tried, and the stuff that came
out was just real crap. Then suddenly an explosion of inspiration occurred,
that went away after a few days, but I was able to seize the moment
in that short time because fortunately I had written so much stuff prior
to this period.
think I just had two songs left to write and one of them was done to
50 percent. One of them was Venerate Me. It's not very common that I
write a song in a day, but specifically with that one everything just
came to me. And then I finished the parts of the ballad Not Today as
well. Then I was done with my stuff, you know. It was nice, and it was
fortunate that I did so much before that and didn't lay it aside, 'cause
who knows what would have happened then?
Tobbe: You know, I'm not even gonna ask
about King Diamond. Just tell me something.
Oscar: You know, we love King Diamond. And I
have done that since I was a teenager. Usually with King everyone often
has a very strong opinion about him. It's very few people who say, like
"Well, he's pretty okay.", but it's either you love him or
you don't care because you don't like the vocals or something like that,
you know. But the ones who like it really love it, and we belong to
that category. When I wrote that song, which is Venerate Me, and wrote
that part, I was kind of thinking "This is kind of like how King
would have done it.". Well, rather how Mercyful Fate would have
So, when we were recording the album I told Pontus
[Norgren, guitar] kind of like the same thing, like "It would have
been cool if King would have sung this part. But that's never gonna
happen of course. It's just stupid to even think about it.". And
then Pontus was just like "Well, I can ask him. I think he'll do
it if I ask him.". Pontus is a sound engineer as well, and he's
been working with King for years, so they know each other quite well.
So he called King that evening, came back the next day, and "He
will do it.".
But, as you also know, people say yes to a lot
of stuff and then nothing comes out of it. This was in the early summer
and deadline was in late September, so it took a while before something
happened. But we got the files, and got King satisfied with his stuff.
You know, the way his voice is heard must be representative for him.
It must fit in. It must sound in a certain way.
And I understand that. It's his trademark, you
know. Of course it must be right. No one of us had mixed him before
so it was a little bit like "What does he really want?" and
so we tried it out, like, "A little bit up here. A little bit down
there.". On our part it was like "Everything is okay for us.
It doesn't matter.". It was just such small details, but he could
hear that, so he was so meticulous with effects and stuff. We just tried
to make him happy.
us, the difference in the end result was very small, but he heard all
the nuances, and was very thorough about it. So when he was happy, we
were happy of course. This was a childhood dream come true. But it's
not like this is a duet or so, and Joacim [Cans, vocals] said "It's
just a cameo.". He comes in and does his stuff, you know.
Tobbe: Already when I listened to the first
song, Brotherhood, I got the feeling of listening to something new, yet
something old. And then that feeling kind of stuck with me throughout
the entire record.
Oscar: I kind of got that feeling too. It's a
great mix of what makes HammerFall to HammerFall, yet the songs feel
a bit fresh, you know. I think it's partly because I wrote, for example,
Brotherhood on tour. We did a North American tour with Flotsam &
Jetsam as special guests in the summer of 2018.
I know this because I called the song Hello Cleveland!
for quite some time in the beginning. I started with the song in Cleveland
and finished it on the tour. And the energy you have during a tour,
I was able to catch that. I wasn't sure that I would be able to do that,
but as it turned out it went great with writing songs while on tour.
A lot of adrenaline that you have in your body all the time comes out
on stage, but there's a lot of time spend on tour that you have to fill
with something, and then I filled it with something productive instead,
and it worked out really great.
Hammer Of Dawn is also written on tour, but in
Germany, on the European tour in 2020. And there are a lot of fast songs
on this album, in comparison to the last couple of records anyway. And
that's because fast songs come out when you get exhilarated, and that's
easy to get on tour because there are so much energy there. I didn't
reflect on this matter before we had come far in the songwriting phase,
like making a list and "Let's check out what we've done. - Fast
song, fast song, another fast song.". There were almost only fast
songs in that list for a while. And I think that that is a factor to
in what way you perceive the album.
Tobbe: No matter how you twist and turn
it still sounds like HammerFall.
Oscar: Yes, that's true. And that's the way it
should be. It's not because I don't wanna make anyone disappointed,
but this is what I want HammerFall to sound like. You know, I think
HammerFall is great. Don't misunderstand me now, okay? I love my band,
you know. Because I write music that I personally would wanna listen
When I have written quite a few songs I usually
try to, as far as I possibly can, disconnect the songwriting brain and
listen to them as a fan. Maybe drink a few beers and just put them on
and not analyze it, but you know, just listen to them and think about
what you're doing and try to listen to them as if I hadn't written them.
That gives me a great amount of joy. At that point I feel if it's good
or not. With this album I've had so many sessions where I've listened
to the songs in this way, because I think they're so damn great.
haven't gotten tired of them, and that's very unusual, because I always
get tired of them in the end of the recordings. I've heard them billions
of times at that point. And it's not just because I've recorded them,
but I've also written them prior to the recordings and listened to them
quite a lot. But I had a great feel during this entire period, so this
album is special to me.
Tobbe: I understand that you prefer writing
a great song before development and writing something completely new,
Oscar: Absolutely. To a hundred percent. I'm
pretty conservative in that way. I like what I like, and that's just
the way it is. And it's also because HammerFall was founded in a period
where very few bands, and especially new bands, played this type of,
you know, melodic heavy metal. I knew already in the beginning what
HammerFall was gonna be.
I had written one song actually, but I knew that
HammerFall is gonna be a heavy metal band, within certain parameters,
without any growls, or trying new things out. Like "This is HammerFall",
so we have never really had an identity crisis over the years. It's
been quite clear from the start. Joacim and I share this vision, like
"This is the heavy metal band that we're in." and then we've
made songs from that standpoint. In our point of view this is the optimal
heavy metal, you know.
I'm not saying that we're better than anyone
else, but to us it is, you know. Joacim doesn't really listen to our
songs though, because he doesn't like listening to himself singing.
And I understand that. I guess it's different when you're playing guitar,
because I don't hear that it's I in that sense.
Tobbe: It's been a lot of talk recently
about it and I know that Judas Priest is one of your favorite bands and
as a guitarist in a band with two guitarists, what's your opinion on them
suddenly announcing that they were only gonna have one guitarist live
instead of the usual two guitarists? Now they've reversed that decision,
Oscar: Actually I first heard about it as I
talked to someone after Andy Sneap was taken back into the fold, but
I understood, and felt like "This is insane.". Out of all
existing bands, Judas Priest is probably one where it's absolutely most
important to have two guitars. Where the guitars play differently all
the time, yet they sound exactly the same, but it's still different.
It's extremely cool.
especially '70s Priest were fantastic in that department. So it's incomprehensible.
Really dumb, of course. I of course don't know what happened or what
they were thinking, but they must have two guitars.
Tobbe: So what would HammerFall be like
if you removed one guitarist?
Oscar: Well, you have to remove me then, because
I wouldn't be able to carry a band as a sole guitarist. I can't do that.
Pontus could do that, and he has done that with The Poodles for example.
But I could never do that. I don't have that, and especially the solo
stuff, and I'm not that skilled guitarist, you know, who could take
his space and balance things. It wouldn't have worked with only me.
Tobbe: Glory To The Brave was out 25 years
ago. Is it possible to celebrate that record once again?
Oscar: No, it isn't, as we did that 5 years ago.
And above all since Crimson Thunder was released 20 years ago. If anything,
focus will be on that one instead, you know. We haven't really talked
about what we're gonna do. You know, when we were touring in '17, '18,
and '20 we played a medley from the album that was currently celebrating
its 20 year anniversary, and specifically this we have talked about
doing with Crimson Thunder, so that will probably happen this year,
But that's how far it goes, you know. We won't
do the whole record again and stuff like that. We have a new album now
that we strongly believe in and are happy about so naturally we wanna
promote that one instead and the other stuff is more like a fun thing
to do and a piece of the pie, so to speak.
Tobbe: You recently turned 50 and is that
just incomprehensible or is it just a part of life?
Oscar: It's both actually. The deeper and the
more I think of it, it's completely incomprehensible. You know, I've
been doing HammerFall for more than half my life now. I was 24 when
we recorded the first album, you know. At the same time I don't feel
like 50 at all. But I have noticed that I think more about maybe doing
a health examination and just make sure that everything is okay.
have never cared about that before, like "I'm young. I will live
forever.", but now I maybe think more about my own mortality in
that way. But I'm absolutely gonna do that during this spring, like
prostate exam and blood count and stuff like that. Just to get a verification
that everything is okay, you know.
Tobbe: You know, if you're gonna do this
professionally until you're 70 or 75 then you have just passed the middle
mark of your career with HammerFall. Is it even possible to even think
in these terms at this point?
Oscar: You know, I can't even imagine myself
being 70. I'm not even 50 in my mind, you know. Well, maybe like 40
or something, but I still feel relatively young and alert. So I can't
even imagine 70. My mother is turning 82 this year and it's completely
unimaginable seeing myself so old.
Tobbe: My final question: You know, I'm
not actually tired of the song Hearts On Fire, but to me it's tiresome
that it's always the final song when you guys play live.
Oscar: That's just the way it is. It has to
be the final song. You know, Living After Midnight is always the final
song and there's a reason for that. And the same with Balls To The Wall.
Well, you know, it doesn't have to be the final song. Actually I think
it's very boring to rehearse that song. You know, there's nothing worse
with HammerFall than to rehearse that damn song. But playing it live
Although we've played it a billion times and
people have heard it a billion times, it always goes down so great.
People also know that this is the end of the show and they can give
it all. And so can we. So it will probably always be the final song.
We tried to play it as the opener once; didn't work out at all. It was
a stupid idea, but, you know, lesson learned.