Hammer King – Savage NobilityThursday, 18th August 2022
German act Hammer King have quickly established themselves as a current reliable force in the classic, traditional/power metal realm. Releasing five albums now in seven years, obvious ideas flow easily through these musicians – Kingdemonium the latest effort hitting the streets only a year after their last self-titled outing. Intertwining a mix of Teutonic, American, and European influences across the older 80’s landscape, the band also use epic fantasy and war themes full of kings as lyrical themes to match the riffs, hooks, and majestic melodies.
We spoke with vocalist/guitarist Titan Fox about the quick turnaround between studio records, the extra pressure to meet deadlines, how the band came up with the king-oriented lyrical themes that is a part of their framework, favorite show / festival memories in his career, the differences between power/traditional metal today and it’s 80’s heydays, plus what’s in store for the band going as far as 2024.
Dead Rhetoric: Kingdemonium is the fifth Hammer King record – wasting no time following up last year’s self-titled release. Did you have a strong set of ideas and songs already on tap, considering the lack of live shows due to the pandemic, or was it more a case of let’s throw ourselves creatively into the music to strike while the iron is hot?
Titan Fox: I think it’s a bit of everything. We played like eight shows for the Hammer King album – six shows last year and three shows this year, so nine in total. We played very little, so we had some time. We knew that the festivals wouldn’t be coming back until 2022. We decided to strike the iron while it was hot. We knew that we could probably release a new album before the kickoff of the festival season. We started working, to be honest we worked very hard this time. It was a short amount of time, we really put ourselves into the songs. In the end, it seems with the spirit of the album, this is very good. The bands in the past, they did an album every year, there was no time to overthink everything or do dozens of demos. They went with the initial idea and put it to tape, or now PC, and bring it into the studio. And I must say that did work.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see this record sitting in the catalog of releases for Hammer King? Were there any surprises, obstacles, challenges, or difficulties that took place – and what are the most memorable songs to you that came about?
Fox: Usually, I hate when musicians say I can’t judge my new album, it’s so fresh. I’ve never been one of these guys. This time I have to say that the album is so fresh, I just listened to it last week when I went to the mountains and played it for the first time as a physical product, that was sacred. I really enjoyed it a lot. It’s darker than the other albums, a bit heavier than the other albums, at the same time it’s a bit more epic. To me, the direction we had on last year’s Hammer King album took that direction to the extreme so to speak. I enjoy this album. I can’t tell you if it’s my favorite, it’s really too early. I’ll know after we play the songs more live. How will it work in the live setting, will the people enjoy the songs? I’m really happy with the final product, the artwork and the golden logo that we have this time. It’s very good.
Obstacles for the album. The limited time, which led us to making a good album, but it was stressful. I remember when Napalm said we could release the album in August, if we wanted to release it, they needed to have the album in March. It was the end of October, that’s interesting. I talked with Charles, the guy from the studio, let’s make an album. We started on January 31st, and it had to be finished by the 28th. I took a piece of paper and I marked down all the days, and took away five for the drums, five for the guitars, two for the new guy on the bass, one for the choirs. And I ended up with a very short amount of time for me, and I thought that was okay. I had to sing close to two songs every day, which is possible, and do the guitars in the meantime. That was interesting, but honestly, I enjoyed it. If you are a musician and there is a lot of work, a lot going on with your band, it’s good. I would do this again, but I would want a little bit more time.
Dead Rhetoric: Your style of heavy/power metal has strong roots within domestic German influences but also takes into consideration the work of artists like Hammerfall and Manowar. What first attracted you to this style, and how do you try to make Hammer King stand out amid the thousands playing in this subgenre of the scene?
Fox: (laughs). You are really asking good questions. First of all, it’s always interesting when I say we are not influenced by Hammerfall at all. None of us own more than two Hammerfall albums, the first two basically. I think that Hammerfall grew up probably on the same bands that I did. That’s the similarity in terms of the style, and the names obviously.
How can you make a difference? There is a shitload of bands out there, more than there ever has been before. The genre is very narrow in a way. We have this king around, this certain topic you can understand. If you go to the festival and you watch thirty-forty bands, at the end of the festival you should be able to remember at least the name Hammer King. That’s the goal we have. The speeches in between the songs, they make a difference. We have certain stories from the kingdom, a certain order, there’s a certain air of royalty around this. The two things that heavy metal fans can identify with: being very noble and very savage at the same time. Noble savages, like Virgin Steele said. That’s probably the thing we have. We are a band that is very connected to the audience. We try to take people into the show and meet people after the show at the merchandise stands, shake hands, and take a load of photos. We do what we feel and play the songs that the king gives us. Music should be emotional; it has to be from your gut and heart. In the end, if you are lucky, the vocalist sounds distinguished so you can distinguish the band just from the vocalist – like David Bowie or Queen. They did so many different styles, but you always knew the voice. I’m not saying I’m Freddie Mercury at all, nobody is. In the end they say when they listen to Hammer King, they totally understand that is my voice. If that is the case, then we are able to stand out.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video shoot for “Pariah Is My Name” – where did you find the location to shoot the band playing outdoors, and do you still see value and importance in the medium during these social media platform times to promote the band properly compared to its value in the 80’s and 90’s when video channels ruled the landscape?
Fox: The good thing is we found a great director for these videos Mirko Witzki. He’s a fantastic guy, I don’t know what he does, but when he films us, we look even better. That’s just his eye. I sound better as a vocalist when Jacob Hansen mixes our albums. He usually doesn’t do many takes – maybe two, and that’s enough. We decided to do the main videos with him this time. Mirko sent us an email on Monday evening, on Thursday he would film us somewhere totally different. It was 500 kilometers from us – for Germans, that’s a long distance. He picked the location in eastern Germany. It’s very close to the RockHarz festival where we played a few weeks later. The rock formation looks like a castle with two towers. When we went there, we knew it would look killer for the video because we had the rock formation where you could film low but make things look like we were immensely higher. We had some drones filming, the first thing Mirko said is, ‘hey look – you are going to stand over there for two hours.’ It was very high.
Videos have totally changed their purpose compared to the 80’s. In the 80’s, you would not see too many videos, you had to be a part of that section of bands that would get that push. If you watch the Def Leppard videos, their first three videos were lower budget, but then they began filming short movies. Sort of like with Rammstein. A lot of money is invested in those videos. Nowadays, every band can make a video and can reach some part of the audience. You can put them up on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, wherever. We will reach people without having to pay a lot of money. In the end I think, what is the main purpose of the video? The video is like a milestone, when you see it, you can see something that tells you maybe they are better than last year, the way we look, just to show a new era has begun. The videos have changed drastically, but I still think it’s important.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you think back to when your passion and love for kings began – especially to serve as proper subject matter to explore throughout the lyrical content for Hammer King?
Fox: Usually, I tend to give very boring answers to questions like this because again, it’s a case of not really thinking when we started playing songs that would make us turn into Hammer King. Playing this very traditional form of heavy metal, we thought this was refreshing, open chords leaving lots of space for good melodies. We started playing these songs, after a while I sang something with king, for whatever reason. We had a second song with a king in it, it was spontaneous, and then I think the drummer asked what king would it be? We said the Hammer King – we went to the internet to see if there was another band named Hammer King. For whatever reason, no one chose this name, which is incredible. At that moment, it was there for us – we had four songs, five songs after two weeks. We decided to start everything from scratch, do everything differently. We are Hammer King. Everything went like a train by itself.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of your greatest memories as a musician – standout moments either on record or stage within Ross the Boss, Lord Vigo, Hammer King or anything else you’ve done career-wise?
Fox: In a way, the best moment is always the current one, or the next one. That’s what really keeps you alive. When you come from the rehearsal room, and do another song that’s as good as what we’ve done before or even better. I’ll never forget playing the Masters of Rock festival with Ross the Boss. 25,000 people in front of the stage. That was fantastic. One of the greatest moments for Hammer King happened a couple of weeks ago when we played RockHarz. We had this gigantic backdrop ordered with the Kingdemonium artwork. I messed up the order, and we only had two days left to give it to the festival. We had a German parcel delivery company who assured us it will be there at 12 o’clock. It wasn’t there at 3 o’clock, and of course our show starts at 3:15. Twenty minutes later I heard a giant bang, and the guy said they delivered it. We had minutes left to get it up on stage, and it was like Christmas for a small child. We filmed the entire process of lifting the backdrop up. Once it happened, the people cheered, we were smiling. It was an uplifting moment. The Summer Breeze festival in two weeks will be fantastic too, over 40,000 people will be there. It’s an opportunity we can reach more people.
Playing with Ross the Boss in South America, another amazing memory. Playing in Finland, Bloodstock in England. People ask me if I go crazy when I see myself in the music papers or playing a big show. There is a lot of adrenaline, but when you reach something as a musician, you don’t go crazy. We are so thankful we can do this. The best moments are in the future, whatever will come will keep us going.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of the heavy/power metal scene in your home country of Germany – do you have any concerns regarding the support, longevity, or any trends/observations of note that need to be addressed?
Fox: I think it probably will never be where it was in the early 80’s. The golden times, it will never be like that. If you look at the old videos, those bands were very young – the guys in Iron Maiden were twenty-something. There were lots of women too – and the good thing its not only women, where the women are, the men are, and there was money to be made. That was the 80’s. We are pretty close to the 80’s again – closer than the 90’s and 2000’s. If you look at large festivals, Bloodstock, Hellfest, Wacken. We’ve never had these gigantic festivals in the 80’s. The reunited Helloween lineup, they never drew as many people as they do now. Things have changed – there’s less touring and more festivals. In the end it works.
I have a friend who used to have a synthwave rock band, I played a couple of shows with him to support him. There was no audience, no scene, and this band was fantastic. If I compare that to heavy metal, we must be living in paradise. There is an interest, there is a scene, when you do something new, people are supportive. The metal community is really strong, and I don’t think there is any other scene that is that strong. We are blessed.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some interests, hobbies, or passions that you have away from music that you like to participate in to clear your head and allow you to gain more perspective when you can spend the time and energy to do so?
Fox: Very few, actually. A positive problem for musicians is you start this as a hobby, and if you are lucky, it gets bigger, but then you lose your hobby. It becomes work, which I totally enjoy. Last week I was in Bavaria and Austria, in the mountains and valleys. I enjoy nature, I enjoy hiking. If I am not too lazy, I enjoy riding my bike. In summer it’s too hot. Otherwise, I still listen to music – but it’s become less metal as I play metal so much. I listen to Genesis, Wishbone Ash, Rush. The focus has shifted to rock and some pop. I enjoy the Beach Boys, because vocal-wise they are fantastic. The tastes spread to the outside, but it keeps my musical approach fresh in a way. If you listen to too much metal 24/7, I will not gain anything from it. I like movies, sometimes I like series.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Hammer King or any other musical activities for yourself over the next twelve to eighteen months? Any other bucket list items you’d like to check off that haven’t occurred or achieved as of yet?
Fox: We will try not to release a new album next year (laughs). The first goal, we will play many shows in 2022 or 2023 when not everyone is on the road. We are in talks with some booking agencies at the moment, we will play some shows. We have a wish to play live a lot – small club shows, and big stages. Everything is good for something. You can sell a lot of merchandise even in the small clubs. You can’t say a small club show with 40-60 people is less worthwhile than a large festival. We want to go everywhere we can, other countries, travel and bring the music to the people. We need to gain money back to keep going. And have a new album out in 2024, maybe something in 2023, I don’t know, a small EP.