May 21, 2013
April 15, 2005
By Tony Antunovich
True knights of the metal realm. Keepers of the flame. Guardians of the flag of steel. HAMMERFALL are one of Europe's best Power Metal institutions, and with a legion of worldwide fans standing firmly behind them, not even an earthquake can stop them. The band have just recently released their fifth studio album, appropriately entitled "Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken", through Nuclear Blast. It's a welcomed return to form that should undoubtedly add to Metal's already vibrant uprising. From his home in the band's native Sweden, lead vocalist Joacim Cans spoke to us about the new album, the upcoming tour (including the Monterrey Metal Fest and Wacken 2005), working with different producers over the years, why "Hair Metal" bands killed metal in the late '80s, plus much more.
Well, first of all Joacim, I want to congratulate you on the new album. I think it's an outstanding effort and a definite return to form.
Thank you very much. With this album, people have said that we have gone back to the roots. I will not say that with this album. It's more like going back to the roots mentally - like finding the joy that we had during the "Glory To The Brave" album. Everything has just been going around in circles. You write an album; you record an album; you promote the album; you go on tour - like that - over and over and over. All of a sudden it's seven years. Then after Oscar (Dronjak) had his accident with the motorcycle, all of a sudden we had to take a break for six months. We didn't plan for it because we were actually planning to release this album six months earlier. After the accident, this break was exactly what we needed. That was a really good thing.
I remember that. It was really unfortunate that that happened to him. I think when any band comes back after taking a break for a while, they regroup, and that's exactly what I think you guys have done here. It just seems to me that you have a new sense of energy within the band. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the first riff on the new album. I said "Oh. This is going to be a good one."
(Laughs) Cool. I like that you said that. That is kind of a good thing with an album - like you say - you know by the riff if it's going to be good or not.
Let's talk about the material on the new album. As I said, I feel it is a definite return to true HAMMERFALL form and that's awesome to see. I'm sure your fans will agree that. I can hear it in the music. How would you describe that?
Like I said, all of a sudden, I think you can really feel that we had fun recording this album. What I do like with this album is the fact that we were able to add some new elements to the music without betraying our true style. Some people say, "Yeah I heard this should be much heavier, but I listened to it and there is no difference at all." But of course, they were hoping for something else. To me, this is a true HAMMERFALL release, but it's more mature, it's more powerful, and it has a certain edge - especially on the vocals - that I was not able to produce in the past. I was 34 when we recorded it, and I know my voice now. I know my limits. I think that is one of the most important things being a vocalist. You need to know your limits and then work with strongest side of your vocal capabilities. So that's why I'm trying to push everything down a little bit. I'm not going for really high notes. But then of course, in "Fury Of The Wild", I'm going higher than ever (laughs). It happens sometimes.
You still have some songs on the album that are kind of an obvious link to "Crimson Thunder" - "Hammer Of Justice" and "Born To Rule". Those songs were the first to be written for this album. I think parts of the songs were already written when we did "Crimson Thunder". So those are the obvious similarities. But then for "Knights Of The 21st Century" - the intro where I do the vocal duet with Cronos (VENOM) - that was meant to be an intro for "Glory To The Brave".... or was it for "Legacy Of Kings". We actually already worked on that in 1996. They were some goodies we had stashed away.
Wow. I had no idea.
I don't think I mentioned it to anyone. You're the first to know.
One major thing I notice on "Chapter V" is that your vocals are better than ever. They are much more powerful.
I'm glad that you hear it.
I actually first heard it in "Blood Bound" - I can't sing - but when you sing "bursting into flames" (attempts to imitate Joacim's vocals). I don't know how to do it (laughs).
(Laughs). It's kind of the way we recorded this album. I learned a lot by doing my solo album, because we had limited time. I didn't have the same budget as HAMMERFALL, of course, so we just went for it. Usually I'd sing one song one day and then I'd have a day off - so five songs would take ten days. But for my solo album, I did like four songs in four days, had an off-day, went back and did four songs, then had an off-day. But now, for the "Chapter V" album, we just said, "Let's go for it! We do not make a schedule. We just go." After five days, I had five songs done. I was able to kind of not give my vocals chords a chance to recover, because as soon as they start to recover and heal, they get kind of wobbly. By just continually singing all the time, it gave the overall vocal sound a character that I hadn't heard before. Now I'm eager to go back to the studio and see what we can do with the next album.
Can you describe the songwriting process for this album? You mentioned that there were a couple of songs that you had previously written, linked to the "Crimson Thunder" album.
There is a certain amount of pressure for every album. I think I felt the most pressure for "Legacy Of Kings", first of all because we released that one only a year after the debut album. We had to write and record the album and promote it at the same time as we did a lot of festivals. After that, I said I would never do it like that again. I mean, the way we write is still the same, but after we work on the musical parts, we kind of make small pre-productions at home - adding the drums, bass, and guitar - then it's handed over to me. I work with the vocal lines and finally, I do the lyrics. Then it's time to record it. We also present it to the rest of the guys before I do the vocals. This is kind of funny because Anders (Johansson), the drummer, doesn't have a clue what the vocals will sound like before he hears the final album. That is kind of funny. I mean, this is the way we work and we never write more songs than we need.
We never write any bonus tracks or songs that will end up being like fillers. Usually the producer gets stuck with something and he just puts it in the drawer. I think that is the case with the intro for "Knights Of The 21st Century", and also for "The Way Of The Warrior". I think one of the guitar riffs was also actually written at the same period as "Glory To The Brave". It takes some time. I think that it's a good thing that you do not force yourself to finish off a song because you have some good ideas. Maybe it's better to put it away for awhile - let is just grow; let it mature - and then maybe one day you will find the connection how to continue the song. That is more of less how we write. And the label hate us for this because they say, "Ah we want to have bonus tracks. We need bonus tracks for Japan." I mean, why are the Japanese worth more than anyone else?
A lot of times you see that there are going to be a couple of bonus tracks on the Japanese version.
It's so expensive to buy CDs over there, so if they don’t have anything special on the album they will just import it directly from Europe. It's so much cheaper.
You've worked with some different producers over the years - Fredrik Nordström of course on "Glory To The Brave" and "Legacy Of Kings" - then with Michael Wagener in Nashville on "Renegade" - that was a change - and now with your current producer, Charlie Bauerfeind. Who have you most enjoyed working with over the years?
I would say everyone. They are so different from each other. You know, working with Fredrik was really easy since he was located in Gothenburg. We just had to record an album. Working with Michael - I mean he is such a legend in the business as a producer. So, that was really cool to go to Nashville…. the heart of Country music to record a Heavy Metal album. That was kind of weird and funny thing to do. But as a vocalist, I would say working with Charlie has been the best so far because he knows how to direct me. I mean, it took a while to get to know him. If he would say, "This sounds like shit!", I thought he meant that. But then after awhile, I realized that actually only means "Let's do it again." I'm very comfortable with Charlie and I know when he gives me directions or suggestions, I know that it makes sense to try it out. That is very, very important. I would not change Charlie for anyone else at this point.
So obviously it was a good experience working with him again on the recording of "Chapter V"?
Definitely! - very, very relaxing. I mean, it maybe took one album to get to know him - when we did "Crimson Thunder". But we also did the solo album ("Beyond The Gates") together and then we started to experiment a little bit and when it was time for HAMMERFALL again, we just kept on going.
Speaking of "Crimson Thunder", this album, "Chapter V", is definitely heavier than the last one. That's what I hear anyway.
Yeah. I think so too. I think this album is also more open. "Crimson Thunder" was kind of more "compressed" so to speak. I think this album is more alive.
I fully agree with you. It really is good. I think it's great that Cronos (VENOM) was involved.
It was a nice collaboration I would say. That probably would stir some echoes in the black metal genre because obviously they are not really into HAMMERFALL. But now, the father of all Black Metal decided to be part of a HAMMERFALL album. I haven't heard any bad things about it. People really understand that it makes sense to have him there as the voice of the voice of "the prophecy". It was really cool to work with him. He is a legend.
It sounds like a gargoyle voice. You almost get that "Lord Of The Rings" type of feel from it.
Yeah. It's like what's his name? He has two personalities.
Gollum! Yeah. Like Gollum. I haven't seen the third one yet. I have it on DVD, but I haven't had the time to see it yet.
Do you find the studio environment stressful at all, Joacim?
It kind of depends. We now found a studio in Denmark. It's located in the middle of nowhere. When I say "nowhere", I mean it. You couldn't even find it driving on the road. I was looking for a way to get into the studio and I couldn't really find it. I mean, I went in there and it had three different studios. We had full accommodation and catering service. Everything was there so we could focus only on recording. In different studios - like when we recorded at Tenerife - Tenerife is nice, of course, since it's in the Canary Islands - but you always had to cook dinner and make your own lunch. Now we didn't have to do that. We could focus on what we were there to do - to record an album. I felt really, really comfortable this time around. It was only five hours to go back home by ferry or car - only a couple of bridges to get to Sweden. So that also made it much easier for me knowing that every second weekend I would be home with my family. It is very stressful if you have a one year old.
She (Joacim's daughter) was not even one year old back then. I didn't want her to wonder, "Who the hell is that?", after I came back from being in the studio for six or seven weeks. I needed to see her occasionally. Like I told Oscar a few weeks ago, "You know what? I don't want to do the tour. I want to go back to the studio."
Really? Right now?
Yeah. You know, if we had the songs, I would love to go back because I really enjoyed spending time there. I think we have everything set up for the next album - same studio, same producer.
It's really good that you have that fit. Have you had any particularly bad experiences in the studio that you would not want to revisit?
Well, not really. I mean, like I said, for "Legacy Of Kings" it was very, very stressful. I got a really nasty cold. I was home for five weeks. So that meant that we were overlaying guitars and vocals. Usually we do the guitar for one song, and then the vocals in order for me to get some rest. But not for "Legacy Of Kings". Everything was recorded so I just had to get out of bed and do the vocals. And all of a sudden, I only had…. I think it was five or six days to do the full album - and that I will never do again. It would have been better to stop the production and return later. It's very stressful mentally knowing that I know I could do it better, but I didn't know how at that point. I will never combine touring with the studio - never again.
Do you prefer the studio or touring?
I prefer being on stage. The touring itself…. pretty boring. Being on stage is like the payoff for all the hard work.
Let's talk about the cover artwork. I've always been impressed with HAMMERFALL's artwork. You worked with Andreas Marschall, who did the first three albums, and now Samwise Didier who did "Crimson Thunder", "One Crimson Night", and the new album as well. Almost all of the concepts were devised by you and Oscar. How do you come up with these concepts and who has more input?
You just sit down and you think, "Okay, what should we have on this cover?" You try to visualize it by writing down words - describing what you want - because neither Oscar nor I can really make anything. I can draw a car and a flower, that's it. So it's just telling each other the ideas we want to have. For the single ("Blood Bound"), I just sent him (Didier) some photos of the artwork for "The Day After Tomorrow", and I told him, "You know what? For the single, I want to have something like this, but instead of the Statue of Liberty coming through the ice, we want to have the hand and the hammer." - and the same thing for the album cover. We wanted to have a monumental version of the "warrior" - more like a statue in ice. It became something in between there. I think Sam did a fantastic job on the new release. Now, I think he finally found the touch - how to make the "warrior" perfect.
I thought they were done by the same artist. They look so similar. I thought Andreas was still doing it.
No. Andreas was doing a lot of things. I felt that he was somewhat repeating himself. You really could see on an IN FLAMES cover that there were some similarities to our last album, and vice versa. We just felt like working with someone that is out of the distance. Sam is actually designing computer games for Blizzard Entertainment. We just wanted to see what he could come up with. He works in a completely different way - doing everything on the computer. Meanwhile, Andreas was painting everything freehand.
Thanks for explaining the meaning behind the cover artwork for "Chapter V". That's what it represents to me - the warrior standing tall, strong, and victorious. That's very cool.
And he'll bow down for no one.
You are going to be performing some Mexican dates in May – in Guadalajara, Mexico City, and of course at this year's Monterrey Metal Fest. The Mexican (and Latin American) fans have always seemed to embrace your music. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I would say from Mexico and down south has been really, really good. In Brazil it's even better. I mean, the last time we played São Paulo we had 2500 people. It's like southern Europe. They are really devoted to their bands and Heavy Metal music, and somehow HAMMERFALL always worked in South America and Latin America. So, this is not on our home page yet, but we will do three shows in Brazil with TWISTED SISTER during the same period. So I think that is a cool thing for São Paulo at least, because we play like a 10,000-seater arena. So that is pretty cool. Both Oscar and I are HUGE TWISTED SISTER fans, even though I didn't really understand the re-recording of the "Stay Hungry" album.
I didn't either. To be honest with you, it didn't really do much for me.
No. I heard the "stay Hungry" song, and I was like, "Okay." I thought they wanted to present it the way they wanted it to sound and it sounds more or less the same.
I don't like being critical, but I think they should have just remastered the original and make it better. It was awesome. I thought it was excellent. And you are going to be playing Wacken this year.
I think that the roster this year is the biggest and best ever.
I was just going to say "the legends ACCEPT!" I'm sure that you like them too, but this band is one of my all-time favorite bands from back in the early days in the '80s. When they exploded onto the scene it was just the best thing I'd ever heard, and they still remain one of my favorites. I've never seen them live.
I saw them the first time in 1985. We've had a great collaboration with Udo (Dirkschneider) for many years and it's cool to see them back together. The studio in Nashville is actually on the property of Wolf Hoffman.
Yes. They recorded "Predator" there with Michael (Wagener).
Well, Michael Wagener rents a house on his property for his studio. They are great guys. I'm really looking forward to seeing them live again.
Udo Dirschneider seems like a really nice guy.
He is. He's really nice and down-to-earth. It's kind of weird sometimes when you talk to him and you realize that you're talking to Udo!
He's a legend.
He is a legend. He did some guest performances with us. He came up to our release party. We just paid for his flight ticket and his hotel. We didn't charge anything. He came to the studio in Germany. We did an ACCEPT cover song ("Head Over Heels") and we did like a duet together. We didn't charge anything for that.
HAMMERFALL have always stood strong for their music, and I admire that. I know the metal scene in Europe is way better than in North America, but I think "mainstream" music as a whole does not accept Metal as well as they should. They think it's dead or whatever.
Yeah. I think the problem is that Metal kind of killed itself in the late '80s with all these "Hair Metal" bands coming out. I think people are kind of referring to that when you say "Heavy Metal" - "Oh no. We do not want to have that back again." They just don't realize that it's in a new package this time around. I don't think the "Hair Metal" bands will ever be that strong again.
It was all a matter of "image". I mean, a lot of these guys couldn't even play.
Some people have accused HAMMERFALL of doing the same thing over and over again, but I think you guys are defending the style of music that you love to play, and you're passionate about it. I respect that. There are many Power Metal bands out there, but I don't think there are many that are really "original".
Right. I mean, like I said. We started in a time where no one really cared about this music.
Do you have any plans to do a DVD to coincide with the new album at some point?
We had some plans but we had to cancel it because we didn't have enough time to prepare. We might record some of the shows to present it. I mean the show in Europe now will be bigger than ever. It would be a waste of we didn't also present it to the people that cannot really experience it themselves. I'm not sure how we will release this package. We're still planning and we have some loose ideas.
Do you have anything that you would like to relay to the readers of METALEATER?
First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for the great support. It's about time for HAMMERFALL to come to Canada and we WILL come to Canada eventually. We're looking forward to go on tour and I really hope that people will show up to support the Heavy Metal movement - the new revolution that is coming.
I'd like to thank you very much for taking time to speak with us today.
It was an honor talking to you.
It was an honor talking to you too, Joacim. I really appreciate it and I wish you the best of luck with the new album, the tour, and your future plans.
Thank you very much. We'll see you at the show! [FIN]
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