Hammerfall – Renew in SteelSunday, 18th August 2019
When you’ve been together as a band for decades, it’s often tough to consistently produce quality output on a high caliber basis record after record, tour after tour. Hammerfall received massive success early in mainland Europe for their first two releases in the late 1990’s – Glory to the Brave and Legacy of Kings. North America wasn’t as quick to hop onboard that train despite tour packages with acts like Death, Dio, and Edguy – causing the band to abandon touring this market during a good part of the 2010’s.
However they’ve been on the upswing through their last set of tours in North America for their last release Built to Last – fueling momentum for their eleventh studio record Dominion. The vitality of their brand of 80’s-influenced traditional heavy metal still rings true, containing catchy melodies and guitar riffs that infuse singalong qualities with audiences worldwide. Considering the upswing in interest of this style due to veterans like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest packing arenas plus younger talent like Striker, Night Demon, Visigoth and Enforcer – it’s only natural that Hammerfall could finally achieve success stateside.
We reached out to vocalist Joacim Cans who was happy to bring us up to date on Hammerfall. He went into extensive detail on their new outlook on the band, the process behind the songwriting for Dominion, favorite covers they’ve done through the years and the response they received from said bands, and honest discussion about social media and the state of heavy metal in general.
Dead Rhetoric: Dominion as the latest Hammerfall album contains a vitality and continued commitment to the traditional, heavy/power metal platform that has been there from the roots of the band in the 1990’s. What do you believe you achieved this time that makes this material stand out a bit more, especially considering the group’s longevity?
Joacim Cans: Wow, that’s a pretty tough question to answer because I believe it has a lot of layers. I think Hammerfall we are at a good place in life and at a very good place when it comes to the band. If we go back to the Infected album that came out in 2011, we were at a dark place personally and when it comes to the band. We decided to take a break – and when we came back from that break, we always realized that heavy metal is our music, Hammerfall is our life and this is what we really want to do. We need to make it fun, and it has to be fun to play music.
We recorded and released (r)Evolution, which changed a lot of things. It was more fun being on tour, and for the first 15 years I didn’t experience anything else on tour. I went to Rio de Janeiro, I went to India, Japan, but I haven’t seen anything. I’ve been to places that people can only dream of, but I didn’t experience anything but the stage, the hotel, and the airports. So now I decided to be a little more adventurous on that tour – I told the guys that every day we had to do something before the show. We have to visit places- if there is a chocolate factory around the corner, let’s go there. I took them to wine tasting outside a wine factory in Santiago, Chile – we did things like that.
When it came to Built to Last, for the first time in seven years we decided to go back to North America. We gave up on North America after the tour before Infected, the No Sacrifice, No Victory album. That didn’t work at all, so we kind of gave up on the whole territory. Then we found people that still believe in us. We said yes, and we wanted to give it one last try – if it doesn’t work, we will go on. You can’t really make it everywhere – but that tour we did in 2017 together with Delain, that was a gamechanger. Not only did we get so close as a unit and a band, but also on a personal level as we stayed on the bus for five weeks, we did things together. The honest truth is that was one of the greatest tours I’ve ever been on in my entire career. We didn’t play arenas, we didn’t play Madison Square Garden – we played fairly small venues. It was still so fantastic, and this momentum that started there we kept up on the whole tour. We came back to the US in 2018 and took along Flotsam and Jetsam, and I never became friends with any support band in my whole career but I was so eager to get to know these guys and now I have friends for life.
Since we decided to go back to do a second run in the US, we didn’t have time to wait to start writing new songs for the Dominion album. We always work at home – Oscar at his place, me at my place and send files. At the end we would have an album, we would present it the guys, and record the album. Now- we had to be creative on tour, so Oscar set up a portable mobile studio in the back of the bus, and I was working on material on the front of the bus. Sometimes he just ran off stage when the show was over, grabbed a beer, and knew he needed to play the guitar. He got so much energy on stage, so this energy in combination with the momentum the band still had, we were able to direct this into the songwriting process and take this along into the studio.
(That’s) the main reason the (album) is so vital, so energetic. You can hear that every note is there on the album for a reason. We also had so much time to write the album because we were on tour, we were fortunate enough like putting a bottle of wine to rest for a little bit, to let the material mature. We could listen to the material, change things up, put it back for a little while. We kept on doing that – and by the time we entered the studio, everything was perfect for the songwriting.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe your latest drummer David Walin is feeling more comfortable in his role, especially given the long run you had with Anders Johansson in the band?
Cans: I think if you compare the drumming on Built to Last and Dominion, it’s two different drummers almost. On Built to Last, he played what we expected him to play. Now, he really played what he wanted to play for these songs. He proves that he is a fantastic heavy metal drummer. I compare him to the drummer we had on the first two Hammerfall albums. He had the same energy, but Patrik Räfling was not… a finished product. He was at the early stage of his career, like a young drummer that could be the best drummer in the world. David now has the potential to be one of the best metal drummers out there – he’s so damned talented.
When we started to write songs for the new album, we had a motto. Good is not good enough, it has to be great. And that was the mantra we had with us from day one up until the final mix. It has to be great- this is the eleventh album, some of us are turning 50 years old, we are not getting any younger, that’s for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: How critical are you as songwriters to keep things catchy and melodic while also remaining fresh and interesting?
Cans: You just have to trust yourself that you are doing the right thing. Hammerfall has always been a very melodic and guitar riff driven band. I’m still very surprised that this album sounds so fresh and unique. Of course there will always be a resemblance from a couple of older songs. It is a struggle, but if you are creative at all times, Oscar has a little mantra now- it’s called ABC. Always be creating. If you do that, I think you will find these little melody lines that come up or guitar riffs that you wonder why no one else put out before. Every time you release a new album, it’s going to get harder to not repeat yourselves. One day, you are going to sit there and say, ‘Shit- I can’t come up with anything new’. And maybe then it’s time to quit.
Dead Rhetoric: And do you feel like your voice has changed over the years from the beginning days of Hammerfall to now?
Cans: I think if I compare my vocals today with my vocals on the first two albums, you can’t really tell it’s the same singer. I think that I really developed my voice – on Dominion I would say my voice is stronger than ever. Most singers are losing their height and their power the older they get. I seem to be the other way around for some reason, I’m the opposite. I’m going to knock on wood here. It took some time – I’m peaking as a singer at the age of 49.
Dead Rhetoric: You went back to Sam Didier to design the cover for this album – who last worked with the band back in 2009 for No Sacrifice, No Victory. What do you enjoy about his work compared to Andreas Marschall who has also done numerous covers for the band?
Cans: I think that Sam is more adventurous, more modern to when it comes to creating stuff. He is working at Blizzard Entertainment, being creative 24/7. The thing with Andreas, especially on Built to Last, he didn’t really put any effort into making (the cover) unique. We felt like it was just another Hammerfall cover he came up with. I also prefer Sam, his way of making it look more modern, up to date, more 2019. With Andreas, in the beginning we tried to keep things more traditional, more like it was back in the 80’s. But now, especially with this album, we need to take Hector the warrior into 2019, make him more modern. We decided with this album we wanted to make him more demonic, we made a change a little bit. Since he has had helmets on, you can’t see the expression in his face – that means it’s tough to do anything with him because he’s just posing, and you can’t see the expression. I think now with the new artwork it’s kind of a statement, this is the second coming for both Hammerfall as a band, and Hector as our character.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea come about to do three special album release shows in the US within Los Angeles, San Diego, and Brooklyn, NY – did you pick these places based on previous good will and support from Hammerfall supporters, or other reasons?
Cans: First of all, it’s always nice to spend time in Los Angeles. We have a strong connection with the city, due to the fact that I recorded two albums in LA and I spent time going to music school there in 1994. I go there with my family at least once a year, it’s always a place we will go to and we have a very strong fanbase there in the Los Angeles area. We decided to do these shows due to the fact that we are doing six shows in Columbia- and since we are in Columbia, why not do three release shows in the US? These will be nice cool club shows on the way back from Columbia. LA, San Diego, and Brooklyn – Brooklyn will be a brand new place to us, and it will be cool to give people a little preview on what is coming up later when we tour with Sabaton and when/if we come back on a headlining tour in 2020.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe your last tour run stateside with Flotsam & Jetsam established new inroads for the band – as we know that it has been a tough territory to fully crack even in the early years of touring compared to your headline and higher festival billing status you’ve established domestically in Europe and in the Far East?
Cans: Yeah, when we first did the Delain tour, we got a lot of their fans interested in Hammerfall. That was a good pairing, and the following tour with Flotsam & Jetsam was very successful. It doesn’t really matter if we have 300-400 people, we had 500-600 on some of those dates- but that was still a big success. I didn’t really predict that – let’s try to break even and it turned out to be a very good tour. The next logical step would be to try and support as a special guest with a bigger band – and that is what will be happening now with Sabaton. There are some shows already sold out, so I think this is going to be a crazy, massive tour. The fanbase we have established now, along with the fans that we can borrow from Sabaton and convert onto Hammerfall, the next tour in 2020 will be really cool I think. You need to work the US and Canada to make it, it’s not like it’s going to happen itself.
Dead Rhetoric: I think many European bands understand they have to put 5-7 years of solid effort into this territory to make it big – because of the size of the territory, and the struggle to win over fans. You’ve done diverse tours – toured with Death and Dio. It’s not like you haven’t tried hard to break through in this market…
Cans: Right. I also think within the band we didn’t have some people who wanted to waste time in the US. We had to make a decision at one point to leave the US market alone. I think we waited too long between every tour we did. We did that Dio tour in 2002, and we came back in 2005 to do a co-headline tour with Edguy. Then we waited too long, we lost the momentum and more or less lost everything we had. Then we came back and did this terrible tour in 2010 I think. Luckily, we haven’t really given up.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ll be doing a fall tour with Sabaton across North America during October and November. What can the fans expect for a setlist – do you try your best to switch songs in and out tour to tour considering the large back catalog of material at your disposal?
Cans: Well, I think when we find the perfect setlist… if we see that there are a lot of people at the same shows, a couple of shows back to back, maybe we will change out a couple of songs. When you find the perfect setlist, you should try to stick to that because for us with Sabaton, this is a perfect time and place for marketing. We need to put together some sort of best of setlist. Of course, if we play 60 minutes, we will be able to play 12 songs- we need to put in at least two new songs off the new album because it’s the one we are promoting. We need to force feed the people with some true Hammerfall heavy metal.
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