In 1993, Sweden’s second metropolis, Gothenburg, was quick changing into the hub of a significant new motion. Swedish loss of life steel had been a phenomenon for six years, however native pioneers At The Gates, In Flames and Darkish Tranquillity had been refining the weather into one thing way more melodic and complicated, making a ‘Gothenburg sound’ that was quickly to turn out to be legendary.
Guitarist Oscar Dronjak started the yr embedded on this scene, fronting Ceremonial Oath alongside In Flames multi-instrumentalist Jesper Strömblad. Oscar may have comfortably surfed this wave as his hometown grew to become internationally famend for high quality melodeath, however he was getting stressed (and wild); by April ’93, what he calls “musical and clothes variations” led to him being successfully fired from his personal band.
“I felt my world had blown up,” confesses Oscar, however he didn’t keep glum for
lengthy. He’d begun writing an ’80s-influenced headbanger, Metal Meets Metal, for Ceremonial Oath; by the point it was completed, it was the primary music for Hammerfall.
This new band solely existed in Oscar’s head, but it surely was to turn out to be the enduring automobile for his true musical ardour. “Hammerfall was born as a heavy steel band that wore the leather-based, studs and chains that Ceremonial Oath didn’t need me to put on!” Oscar laughs.
Recruiting musicians wasn’t an issue. “I don’t suppose I knew anyone who didn’t play in a band,” he remarks, “but it surely was tougher to seek out individuals who had been likeminded.”
With Jesper on drums and Darkish Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne singing, Hammerfall began enjoying exhibits, however when Mikael grew to become too busy together with his essential band to play Gothenburg’s 1996 Rockslaget music contest, Oscar was confronted with a monumental process: the place to seek out an old-school steel singer who may convincingly carry out lyrics about slaying dragons whereas hitting crystal-clear excessive notes?
Particularly at a time when alt rock and nu steel snarls dominated the mainstream, and the underground was all loss of life growls and black rasps. “There weren’t lots of people round who favored this sort of music, not to mention may sing it,” admits Oscar.
Cometh the hour, cometh the frontman. Enter Joacim Cans, who’d distinguished himself hitting epic excessive notes for native 80s throwbacks Highlander. “We invented our personal style referred to as ‘sword steel’,” Joacim grins. “We wore chainmail and match gown; we completely went for it. However I’d given up my complete musical profession by then, I used to be working in a report retailer. I by no means thought of getting again in a band.”
With time working out because the make-or-break present loomed, Joacim took the tram from Gothenburg to close by suburb Billdal for his first Hammerfall rehearsal, strolling straight right into a life-changing steel bonding expertise.
“I opened the door and heard somebody enjoying a guitar melody. I used to be like, ‘Hmm’! So I went downstairs and the primary individual I noticed was Oscar enjoying his guitar. I walked in, pointed at him and mentioned, ‘Dorian Grey, Stormwitch!’”
As quickly as Joacim accurately recognized this obscure instrumental from a then-defunct 80s German steel band, Oscar knew he’d discovered his man. “My jaw was on the ground!” the guitarist enthuses. “I didn’t have any buddies who even knew about Stormwitch, not to mention favored them!”
“All the opposite bands had been speaking about grunge and thrash and all that,” provides Joacim, “however we stored on about all these obscure bands like Stormwitch and Warlord and Image. I feel that was a great begin, it confirmed us the handbook for heavy steel that we use is identical!”
Hammerfall had discovered their lacking piece, the proper voice for his or her rousing, chivalric 80s-style heavy steel – though they didn’t win that Rockslaget. “Normally should you win, you by no means turn out to be profitable,” observes Joacim. “You need to at all times be runner-up!”
Victory was fairly unlikely; within the painfully fashion-conscious mid 90s, grunge threads and saggy sportswear dominated the ground, and should you noticed a Judas Priest shirt in a rock membership it was most likely ‘ironic’.
On this setting Hammerfall had been marching onstage in top-to-toe studded leather-based, enjoying songs like The Dragon Lies Bleeding. Did that require balls of metal? “Cling on, let me verify…” Oscar friends downwards. “It doesn’t appear like it! No, it was simply, ‘That is what we need to do, and fuck everybody else in the event that they don’t perceive it.’”
Twenty-five years since their Glory To The Courageous debut nearly single-handedly triggered a energy steel revolution, the key to Hammerfall’s longevity stays the bond between Oscar and Joacim, proudly proclaimed on Brotherhood, the opening monitor on new album Hammer Of Daybreak.
Collectively they’ve overseen this unlikely journey from defiantly outmoded, low-priority side-project to much-loved Swedish steel establishment, and their connection stays powerfully evident, the mutual respect and shared humour shining by means of even remotely on a chilly, gray Thursday morning Zoom name.
“I nonetheless have the very first letter that Oscar despatched me,” beams Joacim. Oscar laughs at Joacim’s playfully ‘bromantic’ selection of phrases, as this introductory missive was simply “some directions for a few songs”.
However, that 1996 epistle – as outdated now because the singer was when he obtained it – represents the primary contact between Hammerfall’s stalwart bandleaders, from a time when world excursions and chart-topping albums had been an inconceivable dream.
“When you began enjoying this music after we did, you had been delusional should you thought it was going to guide wherever,” says Joacim. “When our debut got here out, we thought if we offered 4,000 copies that’d be wonderful. Attending to report a heavy steel album and launch it on vinyl, that was all I wished out of this, that was one of the best factor I may think about.”
It didn’t take lengthy for Hammerfall’s humble ambitions to require dramatic upscaling. Breakthrough LP Renegade, launched in 2000, turned them into Swedish steel superstars – however their heightened profile attracted hate in addition to love. In 2002, Joacim was glassed within the face at a neighborhood rock membership by a black steel yob, a horrendous assault that also impacts him.
“Getting up onstage afterwards was no downside, getting to the stage was extra the issue,” he reveals. “Strolling the streets, if [I met] guys with lengthy hair, I noticed them because the enemy hastily. And that’s nonetheless there, that hesitation about going into crowded rooms. It didn’t have an effect on my profession in any respect, I used to be just a bit extra insecure, however in some way I got here out stronger. We simply continued as deliberate and handled it. Isn’t that like taking a contented capsule, being onstage, doing what we do?”
Oscar additionally suffered a daunting bodily trauma, spookily precisely one yr later. Cruising on his Harley-Davidson at 70kmh in shorts and tank prime, he collided with
a parked automotive, and was fortunate to flee with a damaged arm. “My first thought was, I hope nothing occurs with the present tomorrow,” he confesses.
These setbacks solely appeared to strengthen the bond and redouble the resolve, however some issues needed to change. Managing themselves till the duty grew to become too huge, Hammerfall went by means of a string of brokers who weren’t sufficiently dedicated to the purity of the band’s imaginative and prescient, whose makes an attempt to vary the successful system obtained brief shrift.
Joacim nails it: “By no means change what you do, change the way you do it.”
Oscar lights up: “Finest quote ever!”
An instance of this dictum in motion got here after 2011’s Contaminated tour, coming into their fifteenth yr of relentless schedules and saddled with administration points, with Joacim approaching burnout. “When the afterparty is extra essential than the precise present, one thing is fallacious,” he explains.
“What we did was to take slightly break and suppose, ‘The place can we need to take Hammerfall?’ Coming again after that hiatus, beginning to write songs once more, I don’t suppose I’d skilled something that enjoyable in my complete life. From that day on, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in my profession or with some other band.”
Oscar concurs: “It was one of the best factor we ever did, to take that break. It was good for everyone to take a step again.”
Hammerfall quickly returned to a constant schedule that suited them, however they’ve currently been pressured to take one other step again, together with the remainder of the world. Each males acutely really feel the absence of stay exhibits, however are grateful they managed to finish a US tour with Sabaton earlier than lockdown – a welcome alternative to impress a youthful crowd. “It was incredible to do that tour to indicate the rattling Yankees what’s happening in Sweden!” Joacim enthuses.
“Heavy steel is an enormous export right here, and it’s wonderful what Sabaton have carried out; it’s a complete new technology they reached out to. In one other 10 years the old-timers gained’t be round, it was time to move the torch years in the past, and Sabaton are a kind of bands.”
“That was an enormous deal for us,” Oscar notes of the tour. “We had plenty of new followers come as much as us, so glad to discover a band they like. The keenness of people that simply discovered about us may be very contagious!”
The enforced hiatus has solely sharpened their starvation, Oscar visibly straining to get again onstage. Joacim is extra sanguine, seizing onto the brotherhood theme as our dialog winds to a detailed.
“The band has grown nearer collectively than ever earlier than,” the frontman avows. “We’re all working in direction of the identical objective, we’re all respectful of one another. The main target in thoughts is what’s finest for the band – and it hasn’t at all times been that approach. That’s a part of why the brotherhood is so sturdy proper now with Hammerfall.”
Hammer Of Daybreak is out now through Napalm