by Fdez Ferdinand
From the lands of Sweden, we have the opportunity to chat with an iconic heavy metal band, the mighty Hammerfall, that has given us, from its beginnings, a memorable musical experience and that coming from a country where the extreme metal predominates, letting us know that the powerful traditional heavy metal has not died and they have shown us that in their musical trajectory. Hammerfall was formed in Sweden in 1993, as a side project when guitarist Oscar Dronjak quit Ceremonial Oath and invited Jesper Strömblad (from In Flames) to join him as a drummer. With trends well defined by the true sound of heavy metal, decided to give the best of their musical project which was well received by the scene and has transcended in these 23 years of his majestic music, teaching fans that heavy metal still does not die.
We have the opportunity to talk with Fredrik Larsson, current bass guitarist of HammerFall. First of all, thank you for your collaboration with Metalheads Forever Magazine and as a follower of your music it is an honour to have this conversation with you.
Let’s Go back in time, we moved back to the period from 1993 to 1997, when the band was formed unto the release of your first album ” Glory To The Brave ” respectively, with a musical proposal that would give way to reviving the traditional metal sound. In an era where metal music was having a new dawn, what was your biggest challenge for the era as a band? And with a proposal of traditional metal, bearing in mind that you had signed with a discography in which Death metal bands prevailed?
Fredrik: When we started, and especially when we recorded the first album, we did it for the love of Heavy Metal. No one thought it was “cool” to listen to that kind of music at that time and the genre was pretty much dead, although a couple of the big bands released some very good albums then. It was Grunge and Death, Black and Thrash Metal all around us but we followed our hearts and did what we wanted to do. We had no idea how successful that album would turn out to be but it seemed like we came along at the exact right moment and people still wanted to hear some classic Heavy Metal. At first people were kind of laughing at us, coming at them with full armour of studs and leather, but we didn’t really care because Metal for us isn’t about trends. It’s about going your own way. And that’s what we did, and I think that honesty can be heard on our albums. Back then it was a big thing, a really big thing to record an album and I don’t think there were many people that thought we were even going to record another album but now, almost 20 years later and 10 studio albums in our back I can proudly say we’ve proved them wrong.
Your sound has made a difference and has revived the essence of traditional metal, albums like Renegade and Crimson Thunder were well received and were given very positive support by the scene. It was speculated that there was a remarkable change in the sound of Hammerfall. what are your thoughts on this?
Fredrik: We have always played Heavy Metal the way we think it should sound. We try to take the pieces we love from the classic albums and then make it fresh and up to date. The core is still classic but we try to tweak it so there has been some changes through time. But often we’re also in the hands of the producer, of course we decide how we want to sound but in the end the person behind the mixer have a lot to say as well. He wants to show HammerFall from its best side and that is of course a matter of taste.
Many people theorize that the band has changed a lot since the first two albums and even since Renegade and one of the most recent albums (r) evolution, that the band has been losing its roots, what do you think about these speculations?
Fredrik: We can’t go back and record an album like ‘Glory to the Brave’ again, because we are totally different people nowadays. We have all grown in a lot of different ways and to try to make an album filled with naive youthful energy would just fail miserably. I still think we have a lot of energy in our albums because that is something we really work hard on and on the two latest albums I really think we are going back to the roots of what is HammerFall. I don’t necessarily mean that we sound like we used to but we looked back to the albums that inspired us then and made those two albums and that is going back to the roots for me.
Now talking about your latest album ” Built To Last ”, which since its departure has had an extraordinary reception by the fans! And like your sixth album ” Treshold ” which ranked as # 1 the charts in Sweden, now ‘’Built To Last’’ has achieved #1 most added record in the US metal radio charts. What does it feel like to know that the band has been able to make a difference and reviving heavy metal power all these years till now days?
Fredrik: That is just fantastic. I’m really proud! And isn’t it wonderful that people still wants to hear classic Heavy Metal in these days! I mean, there is so much music out there, so many sub genres and radios playing everywhere. I’m in awe, I want tour the whole world and spread our music as much as I can. Without our fans we are nothing, thank you!
What is the overall concept behind Built to Last? Can we say that it is a sequel to the story told in (r) evolution?
Fredrik: The story behind the title is pretty obvious. We’ve been around for 20 years and we’ve proven the naysayers wrong so we are definitely Built to Last! Hopefully we will be around for another 20 years. Other than that we actually don’t write concept albums. Some songs might have a connection now and then but not over all. It’s Joacim that writes most of the lyrics and we don’t talk that much about it. He always tells people to interpret the lyrics by themselves and that is what I do too.
Personally, I love ‘’Dethrone and Defy’’ and ‘’The Sacred Vow’’, I feel that they represent the band in essence, I would like to know, what was the inspiration in these songs? what challenges did you have in the composition and if it really represents what Hammerfall Is in essence?
Fredrik: Well, since it was Oscar and Joacim that wrote these songs I can’t speak for either inspiration or challenges but I can definitely say that these two songs represents HammerFall very well. We have a big variety of songs on ‘Built to Last’, from slow ballads to some really uptempo and energetic songs, but if you break it down, these would probably be the essence. I guess only time will tell.
Do you feel that the new album is a mixture of your old sound, an extrapolation of its roots that represents Hammerfall with its notorious sound, or looked for a sound with a new or different vibe?
Fredrik: No, this is definitely old school HammerFall with a fresh approach. Fredrik Nordström did a marvellous job bringing out the best in us all and it sounded right to us even on the early rough mixes he did. We’re not looking for different things and trends out there, we want to sound like classic Metal and in my opinion this is spot on.
Everyone is hyped by the new discographic you sign with, Napalm Records. How essential has it been to record the album from the hands of Napalm Records?
Fredrik: We decided to try something different since we felt that it was so easy to slip back into a comfort zone and do things the same way that we have always done. To move forward we need someone who wants to bring us forward so we can struggle together for the same goal. It’s really early with Napalm for us but so far we seem to work really well together. They have nothing to do how we sound and they don’t want to either, we will always walk our own way and do what we think is best but hopefully we can reach our goals together and play more and bigger shows all around the world.
Many fans want to know what happens outside the studio! Aside from being the mighty warriors raising their Hammers High in favour of heavy metal, what other activities do they enjoy doing? For example; I know that Oscar loves MMA a lot and Joacim loves Champagne!
Fredrik: Yes, you’re right about Joacim and Oscar. David likes beers, a lot of different types, and peppers. Pontus is all about music, he is a front of house engineer and records a lot of bands both live and in his studio. I try to spoil my family with as much time I can since I know it will be a bit hard to be away from them next year. We will obviously tour a lot on this album.
What about taste in music? Do you have any others musical influences or enjoy others genres beside metal music?
Fredrik: Yes, of course. I listen to both harder and much softer music. I enjoy a lot of singer/songwriter stuff. Mostly a bit darker and melancholic music. But sometimes it’s too much music going on and I also like to have some quiet times as well.
How about the new guy? The new member of the band drummer David Wallin, how has been the trip with this new warrior that forms an essential part in the execution of Built To Last?
Fredrik: David has been touring with us for quite some times now and we have become really tight with him. He’s an excellent drummer and although it was the first time with him in the studio everything went really smooth and he laid down the drums in no time. It felt comfortable and he brought some extra energy to us all. It seems like we have the same internal clock so it was pretty easy to play with him and it felt like we locked in the groove very well.
In the writing process, which members are involved? Do you write the lyrics as a team for the entire album or each member focus on individual songs?
Fredrik: No, HammerFall is definitely not a democracy in that way. Oscar writes most of the music and Joacim writes most of the lyrics. Often the procedure is that Oscar is writing a song and gives it a title. Then he gives it to Joacim that is free to interpret the title and write a lyric around that. T the time we enter the studio everything is pretty much done. Ok, we have time to fool around with whatever we want to but the structure of the songs are pretty much done and it’s rarely we change that. Most of the time is about doing things on top of the songs, to make it really come alive.
Do you feel that Built to Last has been your best production so far, compared to your previous releases?
Fredrik: Definitely the best production so far. But at the same time it might be too early to say anything about it since we need to give it some time to grow. Maybe we can get the same question in a year or two?
I agree with that. We are excited for the upcoming tour dates in Europe and the United States! We already saw that your itinerary is well occupied in the next year 2017, with tours in Europe, the United States and Canada! What can fans expect from HAMMERFALL playing Built to last at the show?
Fredrik: Well, We actually haven’t started the rehearsals yet but I’m really looking forward to that! I’m sure the new songs will fit very well into the live set and we will make sure to play a couple of new songs, not too many but a couple. It’s always fun to play new songs and see what reactions we get. That’s the best part because you get the reactions right away. It’s not like releasing an album and first wait for the press and then see what people might think. We have a lot of songs to choose from and making a set list is getting harder for every record, but I don’t think any HammerFall fans will be disappointed!
Any country in general that you would love to travel and haven’t visited yet?
Fredrik: We’ve been around the world a couple of times but one continent that I’m missing is Africa, it would be fun just for the sake of it, to visit South Africa. I’ve heard that they have a small metal community there and I would love to see and learn more about it.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with Metalheads Forever Magazine. Any last words for the fans of the entire world?
Fredrik: I really hope to see you out on tour somewhere. If not, I might catch you on some festivals I hope! Thank you and take care!
Fdez Ferdinand / Metalheads Forever Magazine