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Heavy metal seems to be making a comeback in this new millennium with the successful tour of Iron Maiden, Halford and Queensryche as solid evidence. In addition, there have been numerous recent tours with such household metal names as Raven, U.D.O., Saxon, Manowar, and Riot. It is clear that heavy metal is once again on the upswing all over the world. And while Hammerfall may not have been around as long as the previously mentioned acts, in just a few short years they have found themselves on the frontlines of the great metal wars. The Metal Update had a chat with guitarist Oscar Dronjak about their new album 'Renegade' as well as the current state of heavy metal.

METAL UPDATE: First and foremost, for those who don't know, could you give us a brief history of Hammerfall?

OSCAR DRONJAK: I started the band in 1993 with the intention of playing heavy metal and having fun. I had another band which was my main band. Only I asked some friends who played heavy metal and liked heavy metal also if they wanted to play this with me because we all had other bands that were the main priority. Hammerfall was just for fun. Getting together and playing something we love to do. As the years went on we got a new vocalist, Joacim, the one we have now. With the addition of him and the musical collaboration between him and me, we really felt that this was worth going for. To see what happens if we try to get an album deal and all that. So we got a deal with a small Dutch label called Vic Records. Nuclear Blast licensed the album. 'Glory to the Brave' was released, sold a lot of albums. 'Legacy of Kings' was recorded and released, sold a lot of albums. We did a world tour called the Templar World Crusade, came back off of that and started writing for the new album 'Renegade' which is why I am talking to you right now.

MU: Do you think the inclusion of In Flames members on the first album helped to spark publicity when Hammerfall started?

OD: At the very beginning I think it did. It helped people who knew In Flames and Jesper and all that to check out Hammerfall. But I think it went so fast in the beginning that we transcended it and advanced very quickly so that Hammerfall was an institution of its own. The fact that Jesper and Glenn were members of Hammerfall on 'Glory to the Brave' had a lot to do with the initial start but I think we've come a long way since then.

MU: Is there a principle songwriter in the band?

OD: No, there are two actually. I write most of the music and some of the vocal melodies. Joacim writes most of the vocal melodies and most of the lyrics. But Joacim and me are the ones responsible for 90% of the songwriting. Stephan, the guitar player has done parts on one song on the new album.

MU: As far as the lyrics, they've pretty much stayed on the same level from the start.

OD: The thing with the lyrics is that each album has pretty much the same kind of concepts. But then everything is done in a little bit different way on all of the songs for the albums. For 'Renegade', on some of the songs. . . on "Templars of Steel" for example, we are singing about the Heavy Metal Revolution, about the fans who rally behind something they believe in. There are a couple of songs like that. Then we have "Living In Victory" which is a little bit different from what we have done before because that song is about two people growing up, being best friends. One of them gets some amount of success and turns his back on his friend but the moral of the story is that, whoever you meet on your way up are the same people you'll meet on your way down. So "Living in Victory" is someone looking back on life. Then we have a couple of other songs that are. . . Do you know the cover? The sleeve on our album? The warrior on those covers?

MU: Yeah.

OD: A couple of songs like "Destined for Glory" and "The Renegade" and "The Way of the Warrior" are. . . The lyrics of those songs are about how this warrior became the person that he is, what leads him to do the things he does and stuff like that. They deal with his background basically. They are not linked to one another at all except for the fact that they deal with the same guy.


MU: Who exactly is the recurring character on all of the Hammerfall covers?

OD: He is a link between us and the fans basically. Sometimes I feel that he is the embodiment of the five Hammerfall members into one and also he's a very good trademark for the band. I believe that if you have one of the first two albums and you see this guy anywhere you know that he is the Hammerfall warrior. Even though you don't see the logo or anything, you'll know this is Hammerfall and that is one of the reasons we wanted to have a guy like that.

MU: It seems to me that people either love or hate Hammerfall. Would you agree?

OD: I guess, yeah.

MU: Maybe more so in the US anyway, that's just what I've found.

OD: Yeah that might be the case over there. I don't know. . . For people in the US, the traditional heavy metal has not been very "cool" for a lot of years. More so than anywhere else, I would think in the US people look to MTV or the big magazines to see what is considered "cool" instead of going out and finding their own identity. Maybe that has a lot to do with it. Some people can't stand the vocals, for example. The clear melodic vocals. They want to have the screaming aggressive stuff, and that's fine. You don't have to like a certain thing, just as long as you are aware of the fact that there actually are people that do.

MU: And it also kind of seems like the some of the older power metal fans aren't always into Hammerfall. It doesn't seem like they are open to the newer bands coming out.

Hammerfall with producer Michael Wagener

OD: Well I don't know about that. This is probably mostly in America because in Europe there are a lot of great bands. They get a lot of press and deservedly so, I must say, because a band like Edguy is really, really good and deserves to get recognition.

MU: What bands do you find people comparing you to most?

OD: I would say Accept and Helloween probably. Iron Maiden for some reason I don't understand but that might have to do with the fact that Iron Maiden is the most heavy metal for them maybe.

MU: I would definitely agree with Helloween and actually the other day when I was listening to the new album, listening to "Legend Reborn", it kind of reminded me of 'Thundersteel' era Riot.

OD: (Laughs) That's cool. I like the 'Thundersteel' album to a certain extent. I think it's really good.

MU: I think it's great.

OD: I know Joacim and Stephan, the vocalist and guitar player really like that album. They are crazy about that. Joacim loves Riot.

MU: Yeah, it was pretty much Riot and Hammerfall that got me on the so called "power metal" kick.

OD: Oh, cool.

MU: What covers has Hammerfall recorded and released?

OD: I would say about 9 or something. The first one that we did was "Child of the Damned" (Warlord), an American band. The second one was "Raven Lord" by Stormwitch, German band. Then we've done a couple of tribute albums. One for Dio, one for Accept, one for Twisted Sister. We've covered "Back to Back" (Pretty Maids) for 'Legacy of Kings' and also we did "Eternal Dark" a Picture cover for the "Heeding the Call" single. I think that is all. There's quite a lot actually.


MU: Are there any covers that you would like to do that you haven't done yet?

OD: Thousands of course. But I think we are going to try to keep a low profile with that for a little while. First of all, I don't think we need covers to fill out the records or anything. We have done a lot of great songs as covers. When you have a band or a song that you really, really like, playing their song is a really good experience and good feeling. What we tried to do with Stormwitch and Warlord is bring out all of the old stuff that maybe people who are into Iron Maiden and stuff like that maybe haven't heard so much of. But right now I feel that we have done this. You can't do the same thing over and over again every year. It gets kind of boring after a while even though it's still fun. There are still millions of songs we would like to play but right now we are taking it easy. We'll see what happens in the future though. I don't know.

MU: I know a lot of Hammerfall's influence comes from the vintage heavy metal stuff so are there any newer bands that you listen to?

OD: Well, I mentioned Edguy, who I think are really good. A band that is new to me. . . I discovered Stratovarious a couple of years ago. I know they've been around since '89 but they are to me one of the greatest bands right now. They're just really, really good I think. Nocturnal Rites, the new Nocturnal Rites album is really good ('Afterlife'). Very cool band. They found a very personal style, I think, with this album which was lacking a little bit on the previous albums.

MU: Name some of the bands you have toured with.

OD: We toured with Raven, Gamma Ray, Primal Fear, Labyrinth, Edguy, and Pegazus. I think that pretty much sums it up. We did a couple of shows with U.D.O., but that was just like 4 shows or something.

MU: And you've toured with Death as well.

OD: Of course, of course.

MU: You forgot the US tour!

OD: Yep.

MU: If you could pick a favorite out of those tours, which would it be?

OD: I would probably have to say Death then because of the great atmosphere on the tour bus and unexpected reception we got from fans. Most people I thought would be standing with their arms crossed and maybe not even receptive to what we were doing. Instead, when we showed up to play there was at least a handful, sometimes a lot more who were there for Hammerfall. They knew we were playing and they came to see us. That was totally unexpected. If you take that into account and also the fact that being on the tour bus with Death were five of the greatest weeks that I will always remember. . . We have so many fond memories from that, like Christy for example, he's a really crazy and funny guy. Let's just say we had a lot of fun.

MU: How did that tour come about? Did Death request for you to be on the tour or was it just a label thing?

OD: As far as I know, Chuck wanted to have us on. I guess it might have a lot to do with the fact that we were on the same label. But the first thing I heard was, "Chuck wants you to tour with them in the States. Do you want to go?"

MU: Yeah, because he was also getting into the Control Denied thing at that point so of course he was probably much more into your style.

OD: Well, he's always been into like Kiss and Judas Priest, his favorite bands.

MU: Could you tell me about your record label that you run?

OD: Yes. It's called HF Records. We released one album so far. It's a brand new label - not even a year old. This is just a side thing when we do have time off from Hammerfall. Let's say that Hammerfall runs for another five years or ten years. We're trying to build up the label at the same time so that we have something to fall back on. The idealistic goals with the label is to find and push new and good heavy metal bands. That is probably the ideal world. I don't know if it's actually going to happen but that's what we're going to try to do. To try to find a band that we really believe in, that we think is well worth releasing and well worth for people to buy. Until we do that I don't think we will be releasing too many records. We're not going to be spending too much time with the label.

MU: OK. So who is the one release that you have?

OD: It's called Mrs. Hippie. Before Joacim the singer joined Hammerfall he had another band called Mrs. Hippie. The recording is dated in '96 but they remixed it and added some bass and guitar to freshen it up a little bit. From the label's standpoint, it was a cheap record to release. We didn't have to invest a lot of money. We didn't stand to lose a lot of money if things didn't go well. Because with a first album you never know what's going to happen. You have to deal with all these little things. Take care of everything. When you release an album it's not as easy as it might seem. And also from Joacim's point of view, he saw this as an opportunity to sort of dust off the old stuff which he really thought was worth releasing. Just to get it out there. They haven't been a band for four years. They are never going to be a band again. This is just a one-off thing really. Just for fun. It's a good tryout period for the label.

MU: So what is the deal with Nuclear Blast? Are they only a licensee of your material?

OD: Nope. They licensed the first album. I think they released one version of 'Glory to the Brave' as a licensed form. Then they cut a deal with the first label so they bought the whole product. So the second reprinting of 'Glory to the Brave' and on, Hammerfall is a Nuclear Blast band. We were signed to Nuclear Blast in Germany and they license their bands over to Nuclear Blast America so in a way we are licensed to Nuclear Blast America also.

MU: What were you hoping to accomplish with the new producer, Wagener?

OD: We were hoping to get a fresh sound. Something that didn't sound like 'Glory to the Brave' or 'Legacy of Kings'. Something that could help elevate the band to the next level. I think we had the songs or had the ideas and all that for the cover and the image and stuff. We had everything but the production. We needed to step up the production a little bit in terms of quality and freshness really. We didn't want to record the same album over and over again. That's not only boring for us but it's boring for the fans. So we decided to try to work with somebody, a true professional. He's been involved in the business for 20 years. He's been involved with albums that sold more than 46 million copies so he's like a big name in the business. We felt we could use his ideas and experience to take the production and the sound of the band to the next level.

MU: Are you happy with how it turned out?

OD: I am extremely happy and I don't think it could have gone any better actually. Right when we got to the studio - from the first handshake basically - we knew this was going to be great because he was such a nice, down to earth guy and very easy to work with. So it was more like a friend than a producer that you had to fight with all the time.

MU: That always makes it much more comfortable recording. So what were some of the highlights from the recording session?

OD: The highlights? Well of course you always remember when you finish, when you can say, "now it's actually finished." By that time we all knew that we had done something that we could be proud of and something that we like and are satisfied with. Another highlight was when Chris from Nuclear Blast came to see us at the studio. We had been working for like 5 weeks I think, just working in the studio, and I knew deep down inside that we were doing something good. I didn't really get proof of that from the outside until I saw his reaction when he listened to the stuff. It was such a big relief because you are always worrying about what other people think even though you are satisfied yourself. You want to know what other people might think.

Oscar and Joacim with Chris from Nuclear Blast

MU: Do you have a favorite song off of the new album?

OD: Nope. The thing with this is we worked so damn hard on every song and every part of every song. It's like having ten babies. A father of ten children being asked to choose which child he loves the most. It's kind of impossible.

MU: What do you hope to accomplish with this new album?

OD: We hope to spread the music of heavy metal to the world. Of course we hope to accomplish good things, good sales and all that because that will secure the next album for us. If the album does well, we will be able to put the same amount of time and money into the next album. But on a broader perspective, I think what we're trying to do is make heavy metal accepted. To not make people wince when they see it. I'm not talking about the ordinary metal fan. I'm talking about mainstream media, TV stations - especially in Sweden it's going really well ['Renegade' debuted at #1 on the Swedish charts]. I want them to check it out. At least open their eyes a little bit and don't be afraid of something you don't know anything about. That's basically the broader perspective.

MU: It's a good goal. Hopefully you will be successful.

OD: We're on our way. The crusade for heavy metal has been underway for a couple of years. Right now it's going really well actually. Thank you very much for believing in us.

MU: No problem. Lastly, do you know what your tour plans are?

OD: We're trying to put something together actually. We're doing a European tour in January and February. In March, April or May something will happen in America. We're working it out. It's all a matter of the bookers, the promoters and everybody can come together and create something that works for all parts. Cause we don't just want to come out and play in the cafes. We want be able to present a Hammerfall show as complete as possible. I know we can't do all the things we do in Europe in America, but at least be able to play on stage where there's room enough for a backdrop or room enough to move around and stuff like that. It's about 95% sure that an American tour will happen. I'm keeping my fingers crossed because I sense there is a movement. People want to hear heavy metal again. Not just Hammerfall, but other melodic music. I get a feeling that a lot of people are very tired of all the Korn stuff. I'm not saying we are going to take everything by storm, but it's gonna be worth going over because there are so many people waiting for us there. That's a great feeling to have. I hope the tour becomes as successful as it was the last time.







Interview: Scott McCooe [ ]
Metal Update Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
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