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INTERVIEW: Oscar Dronjak – HammerFall

HAMMERFALL will be back later on in 2016 with their tenth studio album, Built to Last ­– the first album that the band have released with Napalm Records. We caught up with the band’s guitarist Oscar Dronjak, as he discusses the upcoming album, as well as how the Swedish power metal band have progressed since their debut record back in 1993.

How has HAMMERFALL progressed since the last album?

Oscar: Because we recorded both these albums exactly the same way, and it was also quite close together in time, I think those two albums are always going to be linked together in a lot of ways. I feel like what we started with (R)Evolution we continued with on Built To Last, so all the things that we felt afterwards that we could have done better on (R)Evolution we corrected those mistakes on Built To Last.

What was the recording and writing processes like?

Oscar: It was difficult for me this time because normally when we write songs for an album I need 6-8 months without anything going on. I need to able to think about writing songs, and I need to be able to have that in my head all the time. This time, pretty much every other month we were doing a tour somewhere so that disrupted the whole process for me a lot, which made it more difficult in the end because it was more stressful and I never got the chance to enjoy writing songs the way I normally do. When one song was finished, I just wanted to move onto the next one rather than finishing one song and being able to savour the moment for a while – I never had any time to do that, so it was a little bit difficult, but I trusted my gut instinct that the songs that I had done were good enough, that I would like them in the end and it turned out to be really, really good. I’m very happy with everything, despite the pain that I went through to create it. I believe the saying is all art comes through pain!

What sort of themes/messages are present in this album?

Oscar: Joacim writes all the lyrics; I come up with the song titles and then he creates the stories on his own, but if you take Hammer High for example, that song has a lot of that heavy metal spirit going through it, along the lines of “you can’t tell me what to do, no matter what you say I will hold my hammer high for what I believe in”, and I think those types of things like the heavy metal spirit usually runs through a lot of our songs because that’s the way we feel about life in general, and it could be applied to a lot of different things as well. I know Joacim had a little bit of a difficult time to find great ways to sing about stuff, like finding the words, and I think this time he focused a little bit more on what words sounded good when he sang them. He wrote some parts that he said this is what the song is going to be about, and then he started singing and let his mind flow free and adapted the lyrics to whatever he was singing that sounded good. I think that was a really good way of making the album better in my opinion because it had more of a flow. One song in particular is Twilight Princess, which is the ballad on the album. Normally for every album there’s one song that I write myself from start to finish, both lyrics and music. There have been a lot of ballads over the years and this is no exception, and this is the one I wrote myself, and I wanted people to think that it was just another love ballad when you hear it until the end, so I wanted to take people for a ride a little bit. The lyrics for that song are supposed to be about a loved one, and then in the end it turns out that was not the case at all, so there are a few different things on the album as usual.

Have there been any particular influences for Built To Last?

Oscar: Not particularly actually, it’s the same things as always for me. When I’m in song writing mode and I know that over the next couple of months I’ll be writing songs I usually try to listen to a lot of the music that I had been inspired by over the years. For example, JUDAS PRIEST are always one of my main inspirations, and I have this thing that I do where I go back and listen to their albums chronologically; I don’t mean that I put it on at 1 o’clock and then listen to all of them in a row, but when I listen to JUDAS PRIEST I always listen to the next album in succession. I started with Rocka Rolla and then went on to Sad Wings of Destiny and of course onward from there. By doing that I see the development of the band in a different way, because the first album I’d heard by them was Screaming for Vengeance, and then I listened to every new album as it came out, so for me going through the albums chronologically it gives me a sense of nostalgia, but also for me it’s a great way to see how JUDAS PRIEST has developed. I’ve done this with a number of different bands, KISS, MANOWAR, ACCEPT and KING DIAMOND as well. This is just a tool for me to find inspiration basically.

What are you hoping to achieve as a band with the new album?

Oscar: It’s a new label, we’re on Napalm Records now after being on Nuclear Blast for 18 years so we have big hopes. We know this is a very strong album, we think that this will be able to take us to the next level, and we hope that the people who buy the album also sees this in the same way. When I like something, it’s general that our fans also like it and that’s the way we determine whether something HAMMERFALL does is good or not; if we like it then it’s good, so I’m hoping for a great tour – that’s basically it at this point, a really good tour with a lot of people having a lot of fun at the shows, that’s what we’re hoping for.

How does Built to Last compare to your previous albums?

Oscar: I don’t think we’ve had an album with the same diversity – I think (R)Evolution was close, but No Sacrifice No Victory was probably the closest one in terms of really good songs that are similar enough, but also different enough that it creates a really good album as a whole. I think you can say Built to Last is filled with really good songs that complement each other really well.

You’ve been a member of HAMMERFALL since the start in 1993. How do you think the Power Metal scene has changed and how it’s perceived now compared to back then?

Oscar: Well when we started there was nothing called Power Metal back then! Power Metal was usually referred to as US Power Metal in bands like JAG PANZER and the likes, but the scene in ’93 was, if not dead already, then it was dying. Heavy metal was very much not something that you did because you thought you’d have a career in it or something you did because you’d be famous for it, that was ridiculous to even think like that in the 1990’s because heavy metal was something that was regarded as a way of the past. It was something that was still seen as being stuck in the 80’s whereas we were in the cool 90’s, so to speak – nobody could be bothered to think about the ridiculous 80’s anymore, that’s how many people saw it. We obviously didn’t see it that way, we saw heavy metal as our passion, that’s what we really, really loved, so that was the only reason we played this kind of music. If you have that attitude you can never go wrong I think, but also if you have that attitude and you know this is what it is going in, if the scene you’re going into at that time is virtually non-existent, everything that happens after that is a bonus. When we released our first album, we had no expectations at all; we were hoping for a couple of thousands of record sales, that’d be great, and also play some shows outside Sweden. That was the goal, we never in our wildest dreams thought that we’d make a career out of this – we were prepared for it, but we didn’t think so, we didn’t think in those terms. When we actually got the chance to do it, it was like a dream come true.

Built to Last is the tenth studio album of HAMMERFALL’S. Did you think you’d reach this milestone?

Oscar: There was no way we could have imagined it; it took a couple of years actually from releasing Glory to the Brave and being able to make somewhat of a living off this music for a while, and touring the world, it took me a couple of years to realise that this might be what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future. It was such a weird situation to be in because we didn’t have those expectations – if you had those expectations you were either crazy or a liar! I feel very, very fortunate to have been able to do this for so long.

Power Metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal and there are a number of bands who fall under that category. How do you ensure that the material that you write is kept fresh?

Oscar: That’s a difficult point, because it’s very difficult to realise what you are doing when doing it is something that can be considered being fresh a year from now. I think that’s where our gut feeling comes in, that’s been serving us well for the past 20 years – if our gut says that this is a good song then the chances are that it is going to be a good song, and that’s what I’ve been basing my judgement on. Keeping it fresh is always a balance, because you can’t add too many new things; you can if you want to but that’s not what HAMMERFALL is about. I like to describe it as creating new recipes with the same ingredients basically, and that’s what we try to do. We try to make each album interesting and tasty if you go along with the food analogy, but not too different. We don’t want to include a lot of industrial influences or ingredients that don’t make any sense in a heavy metal album. Keeping it fresh is a struggle, you have to be wary of it – you have to be wary of it enough that you try to make it, but it’s also something that is difficult to decide at that moment if it’s fresh or if it’s going to make people think that this is a great HAMMERFALL record; it’s just something that I have to trust my instincts with, and it’s also something that you have to try as well when writing songs. You can’t just go through the motions all the time, but for us that’s never been the case and we always aspire to keep things fresh, it’s always been that way since day one, and I think it’s something that we’ve done well with Built To Last.

You’ve recently announced a European tour with GLORYHAMMER, and a North American tour as well so what other future plans do you have in store as a band?

Oscar: Well definitely touring! The album comes out on November 4th, and after the album’s come out we’re going to be doing Christmas at home which is nice, and then after that we’re going to be doing a lot of touring. That’s basically what we’ll be doing now, the tours that were mentioned will be happening before summer, and then of course when summer comes around we’ll have all the festivals which will be a big season for all bands. For the Fall we’re probably going to do the territories that we didn’t do so far on this tour, so while I don’t have any concrete plans, the only thing I know is that there’s going to be a lot of shows in the near future for HAMMERFALL.

Built To Last is set for release on November 4th via Napalm Records.

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