Hammer King – Carry the Torch

Tuesday, 2nd April 2024

Photo: Anne Swallow

Hoisting the flag for heavy metal high, Hammer King continues to execute well-played anthems ready to appease followers that savor the classic elements of the style. König und Kaiser (rough English translation: worldly leaders) is the sixth studio release from the group – another ten-song platter focused on steel-laden riffs, supportive battering tempos, as well as the necessary soaring vocal melodies beyond rock-oriented choirs to keep the arrangements razor sharp on delivering those hooks each and every time. Those into artists like Hammerfall, Manowar, and Saxon should easily digest this record again – awaiting to hear many of these songs on stages club to festival size when the group hits the road.

We reached out to guitarist / vocalist Titan Fox V once again who enthusiastically brought us up to speed on the goals for this new record, special guest appearances with the vocalist from future tourmates Warkings, how a famous Monty Python scene appears in video / song tribute form, interesting fan interaction (or non-action) stories across Ecuador and Europe, the passion for heavy metal living on forever, and what the next year holds in store for the group.

Dead Rhetoric: König und Kaiser is the sixth studio album for Hammer King. How do you feel the songwriting and recording sessions went for this set of material – and where do you see this record sitting in the catalog of previous discography?

Titan Fox V: It’s unpopular when musicians say what albums they think are better than others, but I always do that. I think that we have six albums, all of which we stand behind and which we are proud of, but three of these albums are better than the others. That would be the first one, Kingdom of the Hammer King, the self-titled album from 2021 and the third one would be the new one. I would have left this all if I wasn’t sure the new one is one of our strongest albums. We always wanted to have very approachable material that you can play live, that you can play at festivals where most of the audience has never seen you before. Songs that are easy to get into, we have a ten-song album of which we could play all ten songs live. The slower songs, not on all the shows, but you can play all the songs live. Mission accomplished, that’s absolutely what we wanted to have.

We sort of maintained the slightly heavier and darker approach that we had on Kingdemonium from two years ago, but reverted chorus-wise more back to the 2021 album. Combine the heaviness with the light-hearted approach of big choruses, singalong parts in the songs. Kingdemonium was more of a studio album, something you have to listen to start to finish at home or in your car, not all of the songs were destined to be played live. So, this time, that’s different.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your songwriting, do you find there are particular times of the day where the ideas and lyrics strike you, or are you capturing ideas as they go along?

Titan Fox V: Really, this is one of the best questions I’ve ever had. I’ve never thought about that. Musicians and artists, today I think I recorded one or two parts. Sometimes when I am at home, between lunch and whatever you do, an idea may pop up and you just go for it. I collect my ideas, but when it comes to more organized songwriting in the demo process, to make a new album, usually I like the evening and the night times best. For König und Kaiser we had all the instrumental basic parts, and hardly any vocal melodies so I went to visit my favorite aunt who lives in Berlin. I was driving around in my car, all around Berlin everywhere, and let’s go there without a navigation system just to get to know this big city. I was playing a demo on the car stereo all the time; I had my laptop on the passenger’s seat there. Whenever I had an idea, I hit record and just recorded what came to my mind. I collected ideas for one and a half weeks in Berlin, and when I came home, I had most parts of the songs done.

Not focusing on it being work but focusing on it being fun. Seeing the city, going to places, hiking sometimes is fantastic. Going into the woods or the mountains, take a recording device with you because when you are moving in the fresh air, you always have ideas so it’s fantastic. Working in the creative process, you need to trust yourself and open up and getting the ideas without forcing them.

Dead Rhetoric: You worked once again in tandem with Powerwolf’s Charles Greywolf producing and recording this album. What do you enjoy most about his process, experience, and what he provides to make Hammer King special to you?

Titan Fox V: I really like best about it, other than he’s a friend and we’ve known each other for over ten years now, we share the love of music. He’s very much into The Ramones, who I love, we talk about music all the time in the studio. Sadly, we didn’t have that much time this time around because there was a deadline, but when we do have time, we talk one-third of the day and work two-thirds of the day. Last time, we did a rating of the Black Sabbath albums – talking about the songs, talking about the different eras, vocalists. The music talks about it I enjoy or getting sushi on the lunch break.

When it comes to real work, Charles is a very concentrated man, a very down to earth person who will never allow you to make a mediocre take. Which means we don’t fix things in the studio, especially when it comes to the vocals. We make sure that whatever I sing is good enough to be on the album, and therefore he is the ear, he is the concentration of the process. At the same time, what I like and respect about him is he’s allowed me to grow into a co-production role. That’s fantastic, we can trade ideas back and forth and that’s very fruitful. We are very prepared when we go to the studio, there isn’t as much of a need to change much, we create the demos in a proper way. But there’s always little changes here and there, Charles brings ideas especially to the bass and drum sections, or when it comes to the vocals. We trust him blindly and that’s a good thing.

Dead Rhetoric: Hungarian artist Péter Sallai did the cover again for the new record. What do you enjoy most about his work with the group – and do you believe strong cover art is as important in today’s metal landscape as it may have been in previous decades like the 70s, 80s, and 90s?

Titan Fox V: I think it has returned to being as important as it was in the 70s and 80s. I remember the 90s where suddenly the covers had strange photos, black and white images, Times New Roman fonts, uh – it was horrible! When you look at what Maiden always did – Priest has always been a band with different artwork ideas over their career, but Maiden had that next chapter thing with Derek Riggs doing all the artwork. We like to do the same fashion; we are happy that we found Peter beginning with the fourth album. Nothing against Timo (Wuerz) who we worked with previously, Peter was exactly what we felt we would like to have. We are musicians, we don’t really have ideas for visual arts. We may say, the king is also an emperor – what do you think? He may say let’s combine the brutal side to the noble side in one character. Fantastic – let’s go for it! He is quick, he is reliable, he is very inspired and super friendly, a great guy. He did the latest Saxon album – he can’t be bad!

Dead Rhetoric: “The Devil Will I Do” is a tribute to Monty Python’s Holy Grail, especially the infamous ‘Swamp Castle’ scene. Can you tell us more about this track and your affinity for this brand of UK humor?

Titan Fox V: Absolutely. Gino (Wilde) the guitar player and I are tremendous Monty Python fans, the other two to a certain extent as well. We are mad about them – there is an in joke in the band whenever Gino doesn’t get something which sometimes happens as he has a lot going on his head, he will just stand there and not get it. We will then say, ‘not leaving the room’, which is something the King and the guards say in that Swamp Castle scene, it takes them ten minutes to understand what is very easy to understand. That has been an in joke for five years – and we wanted it on an album, but you can’t call a song “Not Leaving the Room”, that would be ridiculous. And then we had this title “The Devil Will I Do”, which is a German saying, ‘like hell, I won’t do that’. An Irish friend said it sounds cool, we decided it was finally time to acknowledge the Swamp Castle scene – we started writing the lyrics, and it’s a tribute to something revolutionary. When you think back to when the Pythons started to do that, it was the era of Woodstock so long ago. Woodstock is history and a legend, and the Pythons are still in the here and now, for whatever reason – four are still here, two are gone.

It was fun to do that, the lyrics seemed to write themselves. It was very easy to get it done. I said to Gino, you don’t really understand whether the knight is pleased or the father. We had the same narrator on the 2021 album for the intro of this song. We like sometimes doing a big effort even if it’s a very small detail, it may not matter as much to everyone else but it’s for our self-entertainment. Therefore, we chose to make a video for “The Devil Will I Do”, because we have a friend here who runs a castle and he was gracious – he gave us the keys and said, do whatever you want. Make sure to lock it up in the evening. We knew we had the right place to go, and an idea for what to do for the video. Let’s shoot a darker version of that Swamp Castle scene.

Dead Rhetoric: A European tour is on the horizon with Warkings – who also made guest appearances on the new record. What expectations do you have going into these performances – are you hopeful that this will extend the reach of the band?

Titan Fox V: I must say I’d be very disappointed if it wouldn’t do so. We believe that it will. We hope to be on tour with a band that is very much the same sort of metal as we are. Powerwolf would be ideal, but they are too big at the moment for us to be on their tour. Warkings were the other band we always wanted to tour with, and we were hoping they would take us out. People said why don’t we do one song together with both King vocalists, and we had this thing that ended up being “König und Kaiser”. Musically it is well made for (vocalist) The Tribute, we asked The Tribune and he agreed. It worked out that way. We combined what complimented each other best – the bonus versions have one where you only hear him, one where you hear only me.

The video will be out soon. There will be between 300-600 people every night, most places are packed or almost sold out. It’s the best chance for us so far to play in front of a selected audience that is into our brand of music to present ourselves in a powerful 45-minute set to hopefully win over as many fans and followers as possible.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to all of your experiences playing around the world, what have been some of your most memorable fan interaction stories that have happened – or did you ever feel starstruck over the years meeting some of your favorite musicians?

Titan Fox V: There are two very different stories. The first one is about that. I was given this plastic band when we played in Ecuador in 2007. After the show somebody came all across the place, put this on my arm, fixed the band around my wrist and the only thing he spoke in English was ‘Keep!’. Yes, keep! I said, yes, I will keep – and he went away. I don’t remember his name and face; I’ve never taken it off and it’s been here for over 16 years. As a symbol, I hope it will be there until the day I die. If it starts to fall off, I will find a way to fix it again. He has given me something that I will always remember and that is a beautiful thing.

On the other hand, meeting people that you are a fan of can be very different. I remember I met Nigel Glocker, the drummer of Saxon in Belgium. He is a wonderful man; he is one of my favorite drummers. He was very much into chili peppers; he grew them in his backyard. I was with Ross the Boss at the time, and he is also into spicy food. He brought some chili seeds for Ross from Texas. Ross gave him something, we took a picture, and it was back on Myspace back in the day, labelled ‘The Chili Patrol’. That picture was taken by Juan Garcia of Agent Steel. I had the honor to play on a festival where Judas Priest was the headlining act in 2009, the Nostradamus tour. Meeting them was the opposite – the door opened, five people crossed the room, five doors closed. Three hours later, five doors opened, they moved across the room, and the big door closed. That was meeting Judas Priest. It was different. I think they are friendly, but it was absolutely not meeting Judas Priest at all.

Dead Rhetoric: In our last interview you mention that you often enjoy listening to progressive rock, pop, and outside genres of music to help keep your musical approach fresh. How do you believe those left-field influences improve or shape your songwriting technique for the band?

Titan Fox V: When you listen to music outside the box, it doesn’t necessarily have an influence, but you can’t make out what it is. It gives you something that you can turn into metal that comes from somewhere else. There is a melody within the guitar solo for “König und Kaiser”, until this day I don’t know where it comes from. I have heard this in a different way from some artists, more or less like we have it. Is it Genesis, is it Wishbone Ash, is it a synthesizer from a completely different genre? It’s certainly not a metal part, but you can turn this into metal. It’s how we use the choirs in the songs – there’s much more Uriah Heep and The Beach Boys in that approach to those sections instead of Blind Guardian, so it’s not a metal choir. It’s rock choirs. They sound fantastic.

Dead Rhetoric: When looking at your personal musical career journey, can you think of a specific failure that occurred that maybe set you up for a later, future success? And how do you end up handling setbacks when they occur in your life?

Titan Fox V: A sort of a failure was that we did not do the third Ross the Boss album. I thought, and I have not met Ross personally ever since because when we are playing the same festival, he would play on a Friday and I would play on a Saturday, he left just 40 minutes before I came to the hotel. We have been in contact, but haven’t met physically in a while, and I hope that we do so soon, we have so many old stories to just share again. What I would have liked to do differently is, I think the first Ross the Boss album was fantastic, the second was not as good as the first. I would have done a third one right after that. Don’t wait, use the next energy. That was a wasted opportunity. But for whatever reason, it turned into something beautiful as I wanted to make traditional metal, so we started being Hammer King, therefore it was a very good thing.

If I ever work with Ross again, I don’t think we will because he has American musicians now, and we were a band of musicians from Germany. If it happens again, the thing I would do is please let me be the musical director. You bring all your ideas, all the guitar parts have to be from you, not anybody else. We need everything as much Ross the Boss as possible, but please let me construct the songs, and I do not want any discussions inside the band. The only person who should be able to discuss (issues) is Ross, not four people pulling at the sides of the table. That was something I would not like to do again. The experience I have now, Ross and I could make an album together that would be fantastic, and I wouldn’t have to sing as I think there are people that can sing in that style closer to Eric Adams than I ever did. I couldn’t do that when I was 28-29 back in the day.

Experience is a great thing. Whatever mistake you made, you always learn from it. In hindsight, you can’t say that you make mistakes – you just figure out how to do it better.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you define the word success in your world – and has that definition changed from when you started your musical career to what your views are today?

Titan Fox V: I think it has gotten more precise, probably. Success means that the whole thing is growing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as big as Judas Priest next year, because this is something that most bands will never reach. As long as things are breathing, living, and growing, that is success to me. If it doesn’t grow, it’s getting smaller, and that’s always a problem. As long as musically we can progress, as long as we can build up the band, that is something that I always enjoy. That might have changed – one of the most important aspects of being a musician nowadays for me is that I feel more confident in all the parts I have my fingers in. Be it the business side, the videos, now we have these small comic strips to promote the next video, which is something we have not done before. To bring together more and more elements from the visual side, from the audio side, the business side, which is something that I really enjoy a lot. It gives you the whole package – and if you have a good package, that is being successful more than looking just for the numbers. The numbers are important – but to have everything coming together, that’s something very important, I think.

Dead Rhetoric: Given the long history of heavy metal, does it surprise you when a band like Judas Priest that has been together for over 50 years puts out a strong studio album this year through Invincible Shield?

Titan Fox V: The album is amazing, absolutely. I will go in the summer to a show in Germany – the package of Judas Priest, Saxon, and Uriah Heep. Oh, my goodness. The places are so big they are selling out, far more people are coming than in the years before. Most bands are over 30 now before you hear them anyways, back in the day you would have teenagers and people in their 20s. Even Biff was 27 on the first Saxon album. To see somebody like Biff, being this huge man he is, the authority that he has, and the strength he has still after a triple bypass operation, sporting long white hair and singing still at the top of his game at 73, nobody would have thought that. It is proof that metal is something far more than it had been given credit to when it was new. It’s a movement, far more – the greatest thing about metal, you have a certain spirit that connects the people. I can talk to people from the United States, from Finland, France, wherever. People that are 20 years old, 45, 60, whatever age – it’s always timeless and ageless. We share a common passion, something that really defines us as people, and therefore that is something no other music has – jazz and blues may be the closest. It’s not only music, it’s a way of life. We are tolerant about eating habits, racial questions, people are handicapped, it doesn’t matter. This will never end, there hopefully will be newer bands able to carry the torch once all the old bands will have stopped. I’m still there when Biff is at the top of his game, but will he be in ten years? I don’t know. We all thought 60 would be the time to end, but you can do it into your 70’s. Nobody has done it at 80 plus. We will see.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Hammer King over the next twelve months or so?

Titan Fox V: We will have a tour, 14 shows in five countries. At least 3-5 festivals are coming up in the summer. We have single shows booked until October, something like that. Now that we have signed with Extra Tours and finally have a booking agency, for the first time in our lives, we hope that they will give us more work in the autumn. I would be happy if they could provide us with a tour in say October or something. I hope the next twelve months will be very busy. More interviews than the last time, everything is growing, let’s play as much as possible. Let’s grow into this performing thing – it’s easy to play one or two shows, but fourteen, that’s a different number. Getting deeper into the touring, playing, performing thing – we want to be active musicians and probably not make another album until 2025, let’s see what happens.

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