“[I]t’s gonna be a really fun tour. . . If you like modern heavy metal music I think you can’t get much better than these two bands together.”
Oscar Dronjak, founder and guitarist of the legendary Hammerfall, was kind enough to invite me into his mind to discuss his feelings on Dominion, Canada, and, of course, beer.
Kane: So you guys have been playing heavy metal for more than 25 years. That’s quite the milestone! How have you seen the metal scene change in that time?
Oscar Dronjak: I think it goes in cycles. Ten years ago was different than twenty years ago, and it wasn’t the same as it is now, and it’s not the same as it was in the US or Canada twenty years ago, either. So it’s changed a lot. I think it’s gotten a lot better in a lot of ways. I mean, when we started in the mid-nineties this type of music we were playing, people weren’t really interested in that as much as, you know, grunge and the heavier stuff, the aggressive stuff.
So we didn’t really think that there was going to be a market for this and we were surprised when there actually turned out to be one, and then after that obviously, the interest grew a lot in the early 2000s. So, you know, it waves I guess. Ebb and flow. But it’s changed greatly on every level. And we haven’t even discussed the record industry that’s also changed tremendously since we started [laughs] so, everything has changed a lot.
For sure. It seems like more people have gone toward more melodic metal in more recent years, too, like it was in the 80s.
O: Yeah. I think that, for HammerFall, Canada has always been good, actually. Even, you know, like the first time we played in Canada I believe was 2005, there was such a big contrast between Canada and the US. Canada was much more like Europe, like we were used to. But nowadays it seems like the US has caught up a little bit in the last, say, five years or so. It seems like the interest level for melodic metal music in the US has almost come to Canadian levels. But Canada has always been stellar for us. There’s no question about that.
Well, that’s good to hear that my homeland is serving you guys well!
O: [laughs] Well, that’s why we keep coming back on every tour. We do, I think, six shows every tour in Canada, and there’s a reason for that, is what I’m saying. [laughs] It’s not just coincidence!
Are there any more recent bands in the past few years that you’ve been keeping your eye on?
O: Ah, not really. I mean, certain names pop up here and there but I don’t go out actively searching music the way I did twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. I don’t listen to music the same way I did either. You know, you get older, you have your sort of favourites you like listening to. You get complacent I guess is what I’m saying. But there are several new bands. We just announced a tour with Battle Beast in Europe in February next year, Finnish band with a female vocalist. Totally not like I’m used to but it’s a really good band, actually. I was very surprised to realize that I like it. So I guess what I’m saying is all of this is because of myself, you know. It’s on me; I need to give more stuff a chance and I have to admit that maybe I haven’t been as open-minded as I probably should have in the last couple years. [laughs]
So, moving on to Dominion, it’s clearly a very HammerFall album, but how do you think it stands apart from your previous releases?
O: I think it follows in the same path as we were going with both (r)Evolution and Built to Last. It’s pretty much an extension of that. What I do think we managed this time is that we captured a lot of energy on the album: a lot of the live energy that you have when you’re performing on stage. We tried to get that in the album recording as much as we could. And we have tried that a lot in the past couple of years, or probably for as long as I can remember, but I don’t think we’ve managed to capture it as much as we did this time. And if you’re talking about, like, the music and stuff, I believe this album might be the strongest one that we’ve ever released. At least up there with it, because it’s got a lot of variety and I like that in an album.
For example, The Number of the Beast is not my favourite Iron Maiden album. I mean, obviously some fantastic classics, but you also have a couple of songs that aren’t really up to par like ‘Gangland’ for example.
Yeah, like a lot of filler.
O: Yeah, exactly. I would prefer, let’s say, Somewhere in Time. That’s a flawless album from start to finish, in my opinion. Obviously, this is just opinion, but that’s what I’m comparing Dominion to because I think it’s a good comparison. You don’t have any downtime on the album, you know, it’s all really good in its own rite. Not just in the context of the album, but they can stand alone and I think that’s something that we’re really proud of that we’ve managed to achieve this time.
Yeah, I mean, listening to it myself I did sense a lot more energy and passion than the last few albums, and I think it’s actually my favourite HammerFall album so far, to be honest!
O: Oh, wow! Thank you. I love to hear that. Of course, any artist likes to hear that, but it’s really great because we tried to approach the songwriting in a different way. You know all those little details you have in every album? Those are the ones that make a good song great or a great one legendary. So we tried really, really hard to focus on all these details to try to do things a little bit differently to keep things fresh while still having the same base HammerFall sound. You know, if you were to listen to any one song on the album, you would instantly know it’s a HammerFall song because it has the HammerFall quality to it.
We also tried to give each song as much time as they needed. We had a lot of time this time. Last album was really stressful and the songwriting process was not fun at all, and we tried to avoid that at all costs this time. And we ended up having more-or-less all the songs ready several months before the album recording was about to start, so we could really put that time that we needed into it. And I think that’s a really important piece of the puzzle why the album sounds the way it does.
So the whole thing was more of a natural process, then.
O: Yes. Very much so. And also, you know, the songs in HammerFall are written mostly by Joacim and myself, and both of us tried to approach the songwriting in a different way this time. We both were writing songs on the road this time. Normally, for me, the touring part has always been creative-free, so to speak. You know, I don’t do anything creatively because because, if I do anything creatively, it just sounds like the songs I’m playing every night, which is HammerFall songs. I want to have a distance from the live setting when I start writing songs for the new album. But I decided to try to write songs on the road this time and it was extremely rewarding. I had no idea. I didn’t know I could and I didn’t know it was going to be this fun to write songs.
You know, when you come off stage, for example, you’ve got this adrenaline going from being on stage and several times I managed to capture that and write some really good songs with it and it’s a first for me, for sure. And also something I never thought I was capable of, even. And that’s why this songwriting process was really fun and I think you can hear that, with the passion and everything. You can sense that, I hope. You know, for me, it’s really difficult to talk about this album in these terms. I don’t know if I’m going to feel like this when I actually get some distance from the album. [laughs] But these are all things that were different with this album that I felt from day one, basically, when we started the songwriting process. Both Joacim and I had a lot of interaction. Usually I write parts at home and then I send it out to him when it’s done and he puts on his stuff and then we’re finished, but this time we had a bit more back-and-forth during the songwriting process and I think that helped a lot, too.
Do you have any favourite tracks on the album?
O: Sure, but also difficult to answer right now. We only played two of them live, the ones that have been released so far, and both of them have been enormously fun to play live. I have to say, some of my favourites to play live right now. We just premiered ‘One Against the World’ on Saturday for the first time live. The single came out a few weeks ago. And, so, those are among the favourites right now but, you know, it’s very difficult to say. I’m hoping that we can play ‘Testify’ live because I think that will go really well. It’s got that good, cool strength in it, but we’ll see. You know, ask me this again in a year and we’ll definitely have an answer for you!
So where did the concept for your first single, ‘(We Make) Sweden Rock’ come from?
O: It came from Joacim’s brain [laughs] as a lot of the stuff we do. He’s really good at brainstorming and he wanted to find an angle, you know, something we have never done before, or something nobody has ever done before. I don’t know exactly where it came from other than when we were talking about if we were going to play at Sweden Rock next year. I think that might have started it. You know, the Sweden Rock Festival that we have in the South of Sweden. But the idea, both lyrically and the video, came from the pitch he gave me, so to speak.
And I had a song that I was struggling with a bit. I couldn’t really get past the prechorus. Sometimes when you’re writing stuff it doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t feel right and nothing good comes out of it. I was basically stuck on this song, and then he talked to me about this idea and I mulled it over for a little bit and I thought, “Wow! This is actually a really good idea,” so I went out and continued writing the song and from that point on it was sorta like when you pull the plug out of the drain, all of a sudden whoosh, all of the inspiration came back to me because I thought it was such a cool thing to do, so I finished that song pretty quickly, and then, of course, the lyrics took a little bit longer. He had these ideas to incorporate the song titles or album titles or just phrases from songs of these artists that he sort of wove together in a story of some kind, the story being “Swedish rock music and metal music rules”, basically. [laughs]
And what about the album name? Who came up with Dominion?
O: Normally the process is I come up with the song titles, and this is also a title for one of the songs. “Dominion” is kind of a cool word, so when the song title was presented to Joacim he was like, “This might be the album title,” and we sort of agreed quite early on that it was a good fit for the album cover that we had in mind. And so when he started writing the song he also had the album cover, or well, the idea for it, in mind, but he still wrote it coming from that direction.
And the word itself is, well, I’m a pro wrestling fan, and there’s this company in Japan called New Japan Pro Wrestling, and they have, I believe it’s in June every year, the New Japan Pro Wrestling Dominion, or whatever. And I thought that was a cool word. I didn’t know what it meant, actually, so when I saw that I looked up and was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna use this one day for a song title,”. This was a couple years ago, or a while ago, anyway. And now it just fit the song and it just came to me when I was trying to find a name. So, that’s where it came from.
See, I like that. You chose a word because it sounded cool, rather than, you know, a five minute story about how the meaning is symbolic, or whatever!
O: Yeah, and also when I found the meaning of the word it cemented everything.
So, Dominion is your second release with Napalm Records after being with Nuclear Blast for nine albums. Is it safe to say that your current partnership is an ideal fit for you guys?
O: I mean, we left Nuclear Blast for a reason, but the reason was never like, “Oh, this sucks, let’s get outa here,” you know. We stayed with them for seventeen years, after all, like you said, nine albums. But we needed something fresh and Napalm was able to give us some fresh ideas, some fresh angles to come from when it comes to the release, and that’s why we switched record labels.
Right. So, moving on to your tour with Sabaton this Fall, what kind of shows can your North American fans expect?
O: Oh, that’s gonna be fun! I really can’t wait for that. That’s gonna be great. We toured with them once before ten years ago, actually, and the roles in Europe were reversed at that time, so they were our Special Guests, but they have such a strong fanbase over there in North America, which is really good for us to be a part of this tour. And I’m really looking forward to it. I’m not sure what to expect. You can expect a kickass show, of course you can expect that, no matter who the other band is that we’re playing with, but I think for me, or for us as bandmembers, it’s gonna be a really fun tour. It’s also pretty cool because they have a new album out, it came out a couple of days ago, and their stage show is always pretty impressive, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that, as well. It’s gonna be a great package. If you like modern heavy metal music I think you can’t get much better than these two bands together. I hope not, anyway. [laughs]
I mean, I definitely agree with that. I got my tickets as soon as I could!
O: Oh, cool! I heard several of the shows are already sold out and several other shows are almost sold out so it’s going really well, the ticket sales.
Is there anything you particularly like or dislike about touring in North America compared to Europe?
O: There’s one thing I particularly like, and if you were to ask anybody in the band, they would definitely mention this as part of it, because the tour buses are bigger and more luxurious than in Europe, because you have bigger roads and less regulations for the sizes, so that means that it’s always comfortable on the bus. We don’t have hotel rooms in the US anymore, it’s just a waste of money. We treat the bus as our home, you know, clean it and everything, make sure everything is good. You take care of your stuff, basically. Your dishes and stuff. And the couches are so much more comfortable and so much more well spaced out. It’s a total difference. Everything is just a little bit bigger and it makes a big difference. You were probably looking for an answer about the audience or something but that’s what comes to mind first. Being on the road in the US is a pleasure in that respect. It’s never uncomfortable. And, you know, when you’re travelling around in your home for four or five weeks, these things matter.
Yeah, for sure. The tour buses are obviously important, but what about the drinks? Do you prefer Scandinavian beer or American beer?
O: Ah, ok! That’s another thing I prefer. [laughs] My favourite beer is Bud Light, if you can believe that. And you can’t get it in Sweden. You can get Coors Light, but not Bud Lite. So whenever I go to North America I always make sure that there’s always Bud Light if I need it, just to make sure I can have it as much as I want to. I mean, I like it for several reasons: it’s easy to drink, it doesn’t taste that much but it still tastes good. And it’s also only four percent, which means, you know, when you’re drinking beer and having fun and everything is great, maybe you drink a little bit faster than you should, but if the beer is not so strong, then it doesn’t matter in the end! [laughs] So much, if you know what I mean. So, that’s part of it. It’s perfect for a summer day, or for any day, really. So I definitely prefer Bud Light over any other beer. If you ask our drummer that, though, he hates that type of beer. He wants, you know, the weird shit: stouts, and the ones that have strange mixes of everything. Licorice beer, or whatever. I don’t know.
That sounds a bit more like my taste!
O: Yeah, you know, he’s really into it. And I can see that. If you like tasting stuff, you know, stuff that tastes a lot, it’s fine. But I know what I like and I know what I don’t like more than anything else. I don’t like, for example, hard liquor. I don’t like whiskey or anything; I hate the taste of that, too. For me it needs to be sweet and easy, basically. And the beers he drinks are certainly not that! But again, I understand that we all have different tastes and I see where he’s coming from, where it’s fun also. It makes it a sort of process!
Absolutely! So, we’re just about out of time here, but I do have one more question for you. I know that HammerFall is home for you, but do you have any desire to eventually pursue other projects?
O: No. Well, never say never, right? But anything creatively I want to do I can do with HammerFall. Everything I want to do. I don’t have any desire to do anything other than this because I love this so much, you know. This is my first love, heavy metal, I guess you could say that. And I have a lot of say over what kind of songs we do and stuff, which means I can do basically what I want. I’m not saying that like, “fuck everybody else,” you know, but I have a lot of freedom. That’s what I’m trying to say. And, if I get the desire to do something else, maybe one day I’ll get into that, but right now, and this has been the same for almost my whole life, this is all I wanted to do. Heavy metal is all I wanted to do.
I think that’s the best answer we could hope for, especially from somebody who’s been in the scene for so long!
O: [laughs] Well, thank you.
Thank you very much for taking some time out of your day to chat with me a little bit!
O: Yeah, no problem at all! Thank you for the nice conversation.
Make sure to pick up Dominion when it comes out on 16 August! For information about special editions, tours, and everything else, visit the >>HammerFall Website<<!
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