Hammerfall – The Dawn BeckonsSunday, 27th February 2022
When everyone moved on from heavy metal in the early to middle part of the 1990’s, an outfit from Sweden set their sights on keeping the flame burning for the traditional, classic style known as Hammerfall. The debut record Glory to the Brave started a new wave of younger fans growing into twin guitar riffs, sterling solos, captivating choruses and a triumphant spirit that returned to the genre – spreading all across the European continent, then the globe. Now arriving at their twelfth studio record with Hammer of Dawn, the band continue gaining traction in North America over the past few years – with better touring opportunities responding favorably to the band’s sound.
We reached out to guitarist Oscar Dronjak who was happy to fill us in on the latest record, including his creative nurturing available to him 24/7, working with seasoned producers for a stronger final product, the ability to make headway in North America this deep into the band’s long career, plus fun talk about Oscar’s love of professional wrestling.
Dead Rhetoric: Hammer of Dawn is the latest Hammerfall record and twelfth studio record of your lengthy discography. Did the extended downtime off the road because of the global pandemic give the band that extra energy and reserve to concentrate deeper on the songwriting, performances, and smaller details this go around? Where do you see this record sitting in the catalog of Hammerfall work?
Oscar Dronjak: Both yes and no to be honest. We had a pretty good momentum when the pandemic hit. We just came off a big, successful European tour, so we didn’t have to cancel those shows. We did that tour, and two to three weeks later, the whole world shut down. At least we got to do that, so the momentum was high, and has been building over the last couple of years. I think that momentum took us at least six months into the pandemic. The summer of 2020 was really nice – I treated it like a vacation, kind of a little bit. We had some stuff canceled, and it sucks, but what are you going to do? We rolled with it, basically. This was the first summer I got to spend with my family, uninterrupted, here in Sweden. I enjoyed the hell out of that, but then as the summer wore down, going into the fall, everything shut down again. In October, the future, we didn’t know what the future was going to be like. It started to turn dark. Thankfully by October, I only had a couple of songs to finish, most of the stuff was already written by then. I finished the ballad, “Not Today”, and I wrote “Venerate Me” from start to finish during that time.
For me it was hard to find the energy there. As the future looked bleaker and bleaker, we were very unsure when the next live show was going to be. It was difficult to find that energy boost that you get from the live shows, which I have relied on for the last couple of years for writing songs. It was spikes, there could be weeks where nothing could be happening. Then you can start to question everything, what am I doing, can I write songs anymore? Because we didn’t have that much left to do, only a couple of songs, I got through it easier. It’s similar to writer’s block – when it just comes back out, you are back to normal again. I have written some songs since then as well. The feeling and itch (are) back the past couple of weeks.
I think Dominion and Hammer of Dawn, they have a lot more in common than the album before that Built to Last does with Dominion. These go in the same vein. A lot of energy in the performances. That is one other thing that the pandemic brought out, it sucks, there were some things that could afford us to have a very stressless recording, which was great. That meant for us that we could focus on the performance that much more. We recorded the drums in March of last year, and April-May on guitars and bass. We didn’t finish everything until the end of September, that was with the mix, we spent a lot of time on this. You can go into the studio and focus hard on playing, and really be energetic, take the weekend off if we wanted to. Pontus lives in Stockholm, which is a little way from here, he came down and recorded, then would go home for the weekend so when he came back he was refreshed. Everybody would not think about the recording for two days, on Monday morning you were ready to kick ass again on the music.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video you shot for the title track – as it certainly has a mini-movie feel with the narrative sequences cutting back and forth against the band performances? Who came up with the concepts and were there any memorable sequences you can talk about for the shoot?
Dronjak: Yeah. You are talking about “Hammer of Dawn”. This was recorded in an amusement park here in Gothenburg where I live. This is a place where I grew up on, I went there every summer, I had a season ticket there every year from 1985. It’s just a part of Gothenburg. We were very lucky to use this, as this was recorded the week of Halloween. And they had a lot of Halloween stuff going on, this is one of those attractions where you have spooky environments, people scaring you. They were nice to let us borrow this environment, it was kind of like being on a movie set in a lot of ways. Because of the fact they built this, it was a ghost attraction. We got to use it for nothing, that was really cool. The caveat was because the park was open for business, we had to record when it was not open. Which was Saturday from eleven at night until six in the morning, and then some part of Sunday from nine pm until midnight.
I’m not twenty-five anymore, I could do this standing on my head when I was younger. I drank coffee, ate stuff, and kept my body going during the night, but the next couple of days was rough. I slept a lot over the next couple of days. We weren’t just sitting there, we had to perform and working hard during those hours. The result was great. The girl you see in the video is the daughter of the video director Patric. She was superb, she did everything exactly the way she should have. Her storyline interfaces with us performing in this haunted attic. It was a cool video. It feels cinematic, as you said. There is no CGI anywhere, it’s all real.
Dead Rhetoric: “Venerate Me” features a special guest appearance from renowned musician King Diamond. Tell us how this collaboration took place, and special memories you have about the work of King Diamond over the years and how he has influenced and shaped your outlook on the metal genre?
Dronjak: This is a dream come true for a teenager Oscar and a teenage Joacim, more than anybody. We all listened to King as teenagers. King Diamond has one of those voices that if you don’t like his voice, it’s hard to get into the music – but if you do like the voice, you don’t just like it, you love it. We are all very passionate about that. That is one of those really classic 80’s and 90’s artists that I have loved since I was a teenager that we grew up with. Our guitarist Pontus is the sound engineer for King Diamond when it comes to his live shows. He knows King, and we met him a couple of times. I never thought this would happen, he’s Danish and we are Swedish so we have that Scandinavian thing going. It was interesting to talk to him and get to know about him a little bit.
It is a cameo, not a collaboration or featuring kind of thing. I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. This is ten or fifteen seconds of King Diamond doing the King Diamond stuff. That’s what he does best. That’s what we wanted. We wanted him to do his thing on a Hammerfall record. And he did. I still can’t believe it. If you didn’t know King Diamond was going to appear on this song, but you know his voice, there is no way in hell you won’t recognize it. When he goes up at the end, you know it. It’s a really cool thing for us to have him on here.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s it like working with seasoned professionals such as Jacob Hansen and Fredrik Nordström on the recording/production front – are there key signature aspects/moments that they are able to push out of you and capture that make the extra difference in a high-quality final effort?
Dronjak: I’ve known Fredrik since the 1980’s. I started recording my first thing with him back in 1992. We have had a long relationship. His job on the Hammerfall albums nowadays is he records the drums, he helps us set the sounds for the guitars, and produces the drums together with us. When it comes to guitars and bass, he’s not really involved in the actual recording. The way I write songs, I’m done with the songs when I go into the studio. I know exactly how I want it to be played and performed, so we don’t need any input with the producer saying things. There are no half-finished songs. He comes back for the mix, and that’s big. That’s his forte. He does that better than almost anyone else. That’s why you hear in the sound of this album, and albums he has mixed, you have all the room for everything.
The vocals, we usually go to the United States to work with James Michael, we’ve done that for more than ten years. Due to the pandemic, we couldn’t do that as we weren’t allowed to enter the country and James lives in Los Angeles. We had to find someone equally as good. We did this during the summer of last year, Jacob Hansen lives in Denmark, has a great studio, and we were allowed to enter the country. As far as Jacob goes, we didn’t know him but we knew about him and what he has done. He’s a world class producer, no question about it. Once you record the vocals, it’s a little bit different than playing the guitar. A vocalist performs with their entire body. It’s different from sitting with a guitar in your hands. For them, it was a matter of first getting to know each other, and then Jacob had to find what Joacim wanted to have from him. Some vocalists want to have direction, some vocalists don’t need that. Once that was established, they had a really good working relationship, it took half a day to establish. They’ve both done this for many years.
You are always nervous, there is a sense of this unknown, how it’s going to be. With Jacob, I hoped it would be great, and once the recording was done, Joacim is singing better than ever. It was a really good idea for us to go to Denmark for this.
Dead Rhetoric: In a previous interview Joacim did with us for the last studio album Dominion, he mentioned your mantra ABC – always be creating, when it comes to your productivity as a songwriter. How would you say your abilities have evolved from the start of Hammerfall to now – is the process easy or difficult to capture day in and day out?
Dronjak: ABC comes from the guy who draws are album covers, Samwise Didier. He’s American also. I think he heard it from a movie, but the first time I heard it was from him. Always be creative. He’s done a lot of that, and I took that to heart. I think it was a year before Dominion, when I saw he put it out in a tweet. I thought about doing this from now on. This is part of me trying to write songs on the road. Previous to Built to Last, I always thought if I am going to be creative and write good songs, I need to be at home in that environment. I didn’t want any outside distractions. For most albums, we have a six to eight month break to write albums off the road. For Built to Last, we had one to two months. I was really stressed out before that recording, and I promised myself that was never going to happen again. To race against the clock.
I have a guitar that fits in a suitcase, I can bring that, a laptop, and a little interface. I can record wherever I am, if I have the inspiration I can pick it up and start recording. That helps me so much. I can write songs when I am not home, when I am on vacation. More than anything, I can write on the road. Being on the road leaves you with a lot of downtime where nothing is happening. I figure why not try to fill that time with something creative, instead of playing video games all day. I started this in 2018, I brought stuff on the road to write music with. “Brotherhood”, the first song on this album, is written on the US / North American tour we did with Flotsam and Jetsam, the summer of 2018. I began that song in Cleveland. When I sit down and record an idea, I save it, then I name the file. I sometimes name the stuff after the city I am in. Of course, being fans of Spinal Tap, the name was “Hello Cleveland”. For the longest time, until a month or two before we started recording it in the studio. It was a working title. That’s part of writing on the road, a lot of creative energy. You have that adrenaline thing going on stage. I always have written the best songs when I am happy and having fun. I tried to capture that basically.
“Hammer of Dawn” was also written on the road, on the tour in Germany during 2020. That’s something I miss actually, to be on the road and writing songs. That is the essence of ABC. I don’t have to wait four days to get home and then the inspiration is going to be gone. This is great.
Dead Rhetoric: What were your memories regarding the fall 2019 North American tour you did with Sabaton – do you believe that this cemented your hard work and status you’ve built over the past few years trying to make more of a solid foothold in a market that has been tough to crack compared to Europe, the Far East, and Latin America?
Dronjak: Absolutely. For the first fifteen years we did three tours in North America. Three tours in fifteen years is nothing. It was always difficult to crack (that market). To get a foothold in there. We were hoping for more, to be more respected and people be more receptive to heavy metal. We did a tour with Delain in 2017, and that was one more shot. That tour was beyond everybody’s expectations. We wanted to come back sooner, and we did a headline tour in 2018. We did the Sabaton tour in 2019, and we were going to come back in the fall of 2020 for a headline tour, of course that was canceled. We were on a roll, there were so many people that came up to us during the Sabaton tour, having never heard of us, and now they love us. That was the exact reason for us to do that tour. To expose our music to people who maybe haven’t heard of us as much. A Hammerfall show is a great heavy metal party. People seem to respond favorably to that, everyone likes to party. You should be having a good time. It seemed like people were very receptive of this during the Sabaton tour. With the signings we had outside of our merch booth, there was always long lines. For us that was a huge success that tour, spreading the name of Hammerfall.
We are definitely coming back soon again. I’m hoping that the Omicron will be the last big wave of the pandemic, and people will treat it more of a normalcy so to speak. Denmark just declassified COVID-19 from a society threatening disease to more of a yearly cold thing. Sweden decided today to lift all restrictions by next week, other countries are following that. We have so many people who are vaccinated, over 80% of people over the age of eighteen. Hopefully things will return to somewhat of a normal state soon.
Dead Rhetoric: During your downtime, I’d imagine you’ve been enjoying a lot more wrestling action worldwide as well as taking in podcasts galore. Where do you see the state of professional wrestling in 2022 – if you had the opportunity to change any aspects as an executive producer or CEO, what would you consider implementing?
Dronjak: I have watched more than I used to, because I have more time on my hands. I did watch the Royal Rumble last Sunday. My girlfriend who is absolutely not a wrestling fan, she knows I love it, and I torture her with it sometimes. She actually came in, she knows who Edge is because she watched the series Haven with him in it. I told her he was a wrestler, as he had a pretty big role in that series. He was also wrestling there. I forced her on Friday to watch the Raw from the previous Monday, and he was in that – he and Beth are feuding with the Miz and Maryse. She was sort of interested – so she asked me if Edge had fought yet in the Royal Rumble. I told her he was coming soon – and when his match came on, she sat down and watched it with me.
I am a traditionalist, I watch some stuff I hadn’t seen in many years. I love the Stone Cold Broken Skull Sessions podcast. Those are among the greatest things ever. They were talking about the Invasion angle from 2001. Those days, it was tough for me to find wrestling related stuff to watch. I could get the pay per views, but I couldn’t get Raw or Smackdown – I realized I hadn’t watched many of the full shows. I started watching them all on the network, and I did that when I workout. These are good stories. Outlandish in a lot of ways, they did the production stuff well. It’s so engrossing. Back then I didn’t care about Steve Blackman for example, watching it now I really do care about the Hardcore title.
If there is one thing I want to change. What I’ve heard wrestlers also say they would like to change as well. It’s the scripted interviews. Don’t do that anymore. You may have to do it in a tv writing sense, but it’s weird. It doesn’t make it authentic anymore. If you want to sell a fight, you should let people be angry in their own way. Another thing I hate is when those who are supposed to be heels, they come out, stand on the ring post, and say hello, do that for a couple of minutes. No one wants to see that. I get it Triple H did that back in the day, but what happens if everyone does the same thing now? Nobody cares anymore. I don’t want to be taken out of what I am doing. I want to feel and suspend my disbelief.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s left on your personal bucket list to accomplish, either as a musician or with Hammerfall, that you haven’t achieved so far?
Dronjak: I don’t look at things that way. King Diamond was definitely a bucket list item, something I didn’t think was going to happen. I want to be able to keep doing what I want to do. Doing what I love, and that’s what I want in the end.
Dead Rhetoric: How important has friendship and band chemistry been for Hammerfall to survive and thrive for so long in the global metal scene?
Dronjak: That’s a good question. We had a bunch of member changes, but the last one was in 2014, when David the drummer came in. Since then, it’s steadily been working to a much more cohesive unit. It’s much more a band, everyone is working in the same direction. We all have the same goals. We want everything to be the best. It’s really good, it has a lot to do with the momentum. This lineup we have now, I wouldn’t want to change it for anything.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Hammerfall over the next twelve months?
Dronjak: There was talks about putting out that book I wrote years ago again in English, but they died down during the pandemic. I don’t know where that is right now. The book came out nine years ago, so there’s a lot of new territory to cover. It would be a huge undertaking, to get the book translated could be possible. I’m going to see if the publisher wants to do that still. The other immediate plans are touring, touring. It looks more positive now than it did last week.