Interviews

Oscar Dronjak discusses Hammerfall’s new album ‘Dominion’

Interview by Erik De’Viking

 

ED: Dominion is your 11th studio album, and your second working with Napalm Records. As the album opens, it seems almost sedate before it launches in full tilt with that incredible riff and bombastic drum line. As the album expands, you’re left with a classic testament to your musical legacy. Are you happy with the result?

OD: The result of this album is… well I’m always happy with a new album, because we work hard, and we try to make it as good as we can, but this time it feels like we’re on a little bit of a different path. For me, without… we haven’t reinvented anything, but we have reinvented ourselves a little bit. It’s like a new era for Hammerfall, but it’s not completely different from what we’ve done before, it’s just more, vital, now than before. That’s what I hope people will hear when they listen to it. It feels really good, and we’re really very happy with how it turned out.

ED: What has it been like working with Napalm?

OD: For the most part good. It’s sometimes… well we knew when we signed with them that they were a smaller label than Nuclear Blast. We’d been with Nuclear Blast our whole lives, our whole careers, that’s the only label we had since ’97, but we left them because we felt like they took us for granted. So in a relationship like that, if you feel you have more to offer and they don’t give you anything back really… I mean they didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just felt like there was no inspiration coming from them at all, and we felt we had more to offer. So when Napalm came along and, we thought “ok they’re a smaller label, but they’re where Nuclear Blast was when we first signed with them.”  And you know, no relationship is without lumps or whatever you call it, and so it was with Nuclear Blast as well, but if you look at the releases, this release in particular looks really good – the special editions and stuff that they do – it’s going to be a great release.

ED; Having listened to Dominion in depth, it has a very “live” production sound to it. Was this your intention from the start, or just the result of the quality team assembled to work on the album?

OD: It’s the intention from the start, as it has been on almost any album that we do. Sometimes we’ve not succeeded as much, this time we succeeded quite a bit… or really a lot I should say. There are certain factors to this… One is that instead of having that normal six to eight month song-writing period that we normally had before every recording – you can’t do that anymore. You don’t have that luxury anymore, because you need to be on the road a lot more and the territories are growing and all this stuff… So you can’t really be away for more than half a year like that, or in that way… So we had to write songs more continuously, and also earlier, so we had to start earlier working on the songs.

So we started already in June of ’17, seven months after the release of Built to Last I started writing this one, and that was in part due to the fact that I was so stressed, even before Built to Last. We had like two months between when we had the last show and the recording started, and we had written songs, but I was nowhere near finishing anything… So the last two months… I hated those two so much, so I wanted to avoid that at all costs this time. But what I tried to do for this album was to try to write songs on the road, rather than at home…

And for me, writing songs is all about I have to be home, calm, controlled, and in a relaxed environment. Not have to think about anything else. That was the only way I thought I could write songs, but you can’t do that anymore I guess, so you have to try something different. And also my initial thought was, if I try to write songs while we’re on tour, everything that I write is going to sound exactly like what I’m playing live, but what I didn’t take into account was the adrenaline rush you have from being on stage and interacting with the audience…

ED: So it’s great when you find that the new way is actually really good for you…

OD: Yes!

ED: Even when you thought it could never be possible.

OD: Never! And if you asked me that before this, I’d have said no, don’t even think about it, it’s not going to work – don’t even try it, you know? But I felt like I had to try it somehow, because we had this schedule planned, and so many shows planned. Once I tried it, I realise this is pretty inspirational, to do it this way, that I continued, even if the album was more or less done, because it was fun to write songs. I just kept working on material. So I’ve done that a lot. Another reason why it sounds the way it does, is because we were originally due to record in August 2018, and then release in January before the tour, but after the experience with Built To Last, I thought it’s never going to work.

It never works to do an album that quickly, so that it’d be ready in August of 2018, and plus we had a US tour that we did in May and June, that ended too close to – you know, all these things that were coming together at once, so I said lets postpone the recording until August and the release as well. And that meant by the time that August rolled around we were almost done with the songwriting anyway, but of course I didn’t know it would be like that a year before.

So we had all these months that we could polish the songs and perfect them, and take all those little details that would make a good song great, or a great song legendary… So all those things, we had the time to work on those, and that really helped. Plus the time we had meant that we had time to rehearse together, which is a process we hadn’t done in years – mostly because of laziness, but also down to other reasons too, but this time we wanted to. We wanted to try the songs, test them out, see how it felt, and I have to say that the drumming of David, our drummer… because on Built To Last, because of everything surrounding that recording, he more or less played the demo drums that I laid out for him. Not much of David is on there.

This time he practiced, he rehearsed, he thought about it, he knew what he was going to play and this album is full of David’s personality. His vibrant energy. I felt, that when you recorded it, you felt it – because we do the drums first, and then we do the bass and guitar – and when it came to lay down the tracks for the guitar, you felt that energy in the recording. So it was a really good start. And even I didn’t know just how good of a drummer he was. I didn’t know he had this in him. This is 100% David’s personality shining through.

ED: So why Dominion as an album title? It’s a brilliant track on the album, but is there a specific reason for going with that, over another?

OD: Yeah, I mean we want an album title that sounds cool – that we think is a good album title, but what we had in mind for the album cover this time fit really well into that theme. It was kind of like, when I presented the song ‘Dominion’ to Joacim, early one – because I usually do the song titles – and I give him the titles and he creates his own world around those, and whatever he feels or gets from it is not normally what I get, but it doesn’t matter… So he creates this whole tale around the title. But with ‘Dominion’ we were both like “hey, this is the prefect title for the concept we have for the album artwork,” so it was a kind of an easy choice this time.

Of course with Built To Last it referred to us. Ten albums, ten years later, and we’re still here. We were built to last. But with Dominion I think you can put that in there as well. Dominion is a strong word, and I didn’t really fully understand what it meant before. I heard it many times, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, but once I realised that, I knew it was a good song title for Hammerfall… Because it can mean… it can refer to what we’re doing, like this is our domain so to speak…

ED: Joacim has mentioned that ‘(We Make) Sweden Rock’ is a kind of history lesson in Swedish Hard Rock & Metal. There’s no denying how influential Swedish bands like yourselves have been on the Hard Rock & Metal scene over the years, so was it important to you all to encapsulate that in song, like a snapshot in time?

OD: Yeah, important, I don’t know… but it’s a great idea. Joacim came up with it – he sent me an email, and I remember this very well, because it was a special moment, I was in the store grocery shopping, and I read it and thought “oh this is really good idea, and I’ll have to deal with this when I get back!” So I texted him back “I’m here, hang on”… But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this was a fantastic idea, because Joacim had the whole idea outlined from the beginning, even the video, with its event scenes and photos of other bands and stuff… But the idea is that it’s just Hammerfall that make us rock, it’s all the bands from Sweden that make us rock.

And of course there are all these Swedish bands now that are really big all over the word, but it really started all the way back in 1969, with November, and from then it grew and the 80s in particular was filled with bands, who had members that later went on to form bands like Europe and others, so there were a lot of bands to choose from, so to speak. So when he wrote the lyrics, all the lyrics are a reference to a band or to a moment that made them special, or an album, or maybe a song title or whatever. All in all, it’s 13 references in the song, but for the video we wanted to have as much as we possibly could, so that’s why we collected all the photographs and stuff

ED: The stand-out tracks on the album for me are ‘Second To One’ and ‘And Yet I Smile’, with the former having a particularly resonating sonic structure, with the crystal clear vocals layered over the stunning piano line. Do you have a favourite?

OD: Not really… it may be a cliché but it’s like choosing between your kids – it’s really difficult to choose. So it’s like I play one and I’m like “of course this if my favourite,” and then I’ll play another and it’s like “no this is!” So it’s really difficult. I really can’t choose. I have certain songs that I feel more strongly for, because of how we created them, ‘Second To One’ is one of them actually, because towards the end of the recording – this was in November, I think, or early December even – and it was the last song that we did. Basically, the album was finished. We could use a ballad, but we didn’t have to, and we didn’t need it… But Joacim, and this idea to… you know, Joacim’s vocals are always recorded with James Michael in Los Angeles. James is a great singer of course, but also a great producer, and also a great songwriter.

We’ve worked with him for four albums now, we’re friends with him, so we thought that if we could write a song together with him this time, that would be excellent. He was all for the idea. He’s a really easy-going guy, really nice… So we went over there for four days, Joacim and I went to LA – so the worst part of what could happen is that we don’t get anything done, and we have four days in LA, not too much to complain about there… The best thing that could happen is that we could come up with a song.

So I had all these ideas that I had done… and to be honest, this song idea is old. It’s been around at least since before the first album. So the idea was, at least the first part, was that I’d play it on guitar, but then I did it on piano… but then I had to draw it in the programme, because I don’t know how to play it in that way… and so I just had this idea, and so when Joacim asked me, “should we try to write a song with James, should we ask him if he’s interested in that?” I could say that I have the perfect song idea for that, but when we went over there I didn’t know what he would be like working with like that, and I didn’t know if he thought it’d be fun to do or whatever… I had a tonne of stuff to play for him, things I’d put together, ideas and so forth, but I thought I’d start with this… I had it called ‘Second To One’ already, which was kind of a play on ‘Second To None’ on the previous album.

When I played to him, he said it was great so we didn’t really try anything else, because we got so caught up in this song… For a day and a half we worked on this song – and it was an experience, because normally I write songs alone, I write for myself, I play, I record, I play it back, I listen to it for a while, I come back to it, and then I send a demo to Joacim, and then we do it that way. So writing together with someone, I hadn’t done for many many years, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but it was really really cool. He was sitting there – and he’s a trained piano player, and that’s why he’s playing piano on the album… otherwise it would have likely been guitar if I was doing it, but he was sitting there at the piano, humming, and we were talking about what key to go to next, and then someone came up with the melody line, and this was sounding good – and it was a really organic experience, it was really good and really really cool…

And then of course Joacim did the lyrics for it afterwards. He was sitting there listening, and thinking about it, and then the lyrics – I didn’t realise this until we recorded the vocals for the album… The lyrics are very special, and are something that I can relate a lot to, and I think it’s because… you know, James doesn’t have any kids, but he has a dog which he absolutely adores, and Joacim heard him say this and saw how he was acting and interacting with this dog, and he started thinking – because it was the same as with a child… That is going to be my ‘Second To One’,  and so it’s about that thing that no questions asked, this is always going to be the thing that you put ahead of yourself at all times. And so that’s what the lyrics are all about. And I think they were very fitting for a ballad.

ED: How do you go about choosing a single when you have such an excellent collection of songs?

OD: First of all, thank you! Now a days it’s different… Twenty years ago when we had airplay on the radio and all the videos, everything had to be three to three-and-a-half minutes at the most or they’d cut it… We never really adhered to that much, but we always had that in the back of our minds, so usually the song that was the shortest got the most consideration for being the single. However for this album, nobody cares any more… If the YouTube is going to be five-and-a-half minutes, people are going to watch it for that long if they like the band – so you no longer have someone telling you how long or short your songs are going to have to be… Which is really great, and as an artist, to not have to worry about that.

So with ‘Sweden Rock’ that was a bit different, as we had it planned to go out before the Sweden Rock festival in early June. So that was always going to be the first one. When it came to the second and third singles, it’s more difficult. We had a couple of choices, because before it was one single before the album, and then you got the album and everyone was happy… Now it’s the first single, and it’s an appetiser, a visualiser, and teaser for this and they do it very differently these days. That makes this the first time that we’ve released three songs before an album, and with ‘Sweden Rock’ already being decided that meant we had to go for something that was going to show what the rest of the album was like.

So we chose ‘One Against The World’ which is more of a classic, and is also our tribute to our fans… and the third song is going to be ‘Dominion’ – and that’s the one with the proper video, the video that actually cost a lot of money to do – the budget went into that one… and that caused a bit of debate, because that’s a song that has to be just the right one from the album and sums it up… and while I’m still not sure, I think that was the best choice. And that’s another thing that’s both good and bad. It’s bad because it’s difficult to choose, but it’s good because it makes the album – because the album is so varied…

It makes it – you know because the songs are all very different from one another, but there all under the same umbrella of the album, and you can hear it, and I’m happy that it turned out that way, because you can plan for it all you want, but it’s really difficult to do it, and make it happen. It’s going to be really interesting to see what people think about ‘Dominion’ for several reasons… it’s a different song – it’s the same kind of song we’ve always done, but it has all these different elements that we don’t normally do, so we’ll see.

ED: Who would you count among your musical influences, and how much of an impact would you say that has had on your sound over the years?

OD: Well, who? I have a long list of artists or various bands, but if you just break it down simply, it’s Accept, Judas Priest and Stormage are three of my main influences. But basically it’s the whole 80s metal movement, that we’re most influenced from – a lot of them are German, a lot of them are English, but I can’t answer this question without talking about King Diamond and Slayer for example, we don’t sound like them, but they’ve had an influence. And of course there’s also Manowar, so I can’t answer this fully, the list is too long

ED: In May you kicked off a mammoth world tour. Any plans on bringing the tour to the UK?

OD: Plans yes, decisions no. Nothing is booked yet. We’re working with a couple people that want to see this happen now, so I think that it will happen in early 2020 – so just have to keep our fingers crossed. We tried for the last tour and it fell through in the end, so hopefully this time it will all come together and work out. We really do think it’s going to happen.

ED: Thank you very much for your time, I hope I get to catch up with you all in person in the not too distant future. I wish you all the best for your album release!

OD: Thank you!

 

Written by: Erik De’Viking

My Global Mind – UK Editor

Erik De’Viking is a London based freelance music journalist. His musical interests include music in all its forms, and he is constantly on the lookout for new bands and genres to discover and later preach about to the masses.

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