Hammerfall entered the musical arena in 1993 and have since become one of the biggest names in power metal. Their dedication to touring and uplifting, melodic anthems have made them metal favourites, playing to audiences all over the globe. After over 20 years performing, and ten studio albums, they are ready to unleash their eleventh effort, Dominion, on August 16th via Napalm Records (pre-order now here). We spoke with Hammerfall’s vocalist, Joacim Cans about Dominion, how their outlook and creative direction changed, touring, and life.
So, Dominion is released in just under a month. How are you feeling about its release? Joacim Cans: I’m really, you know, anxious to get the feedback from the fans. We’ve been working with this album for way over one and a half years now, and the final mix was done in March. For me, it feels more like “Oh, didn’t we release this album already?” (laughs) So, it’s kind of an awkward feeling waiting for something to show the world. But I’m so happy, and very positive our fans will love it. It will also open new doors for Hammerfall as a band.
Of course. You’ve already released a single off the record, “(We Make) Sweden Rock.” What was the response to that like? Cans: It’s been great! It’s been great. The song was a tribute to the Swedish heavy metal movement that started in the late ‘60s, but it seems a lot of people outside Sweden understand the idea behind this song. We’ve played this song live ever since we released it in May, so we tried it on the Mexican fans, the Swedish fans, Czech fans, Dutch fans, you know, and it’s working pretty good I would say! But, at the same time, Hammerfall is an album band, so I’m waiting for the album to come out so you can hear the full concept of the album. It’s one out of twelve songs that make the album complete.
Yeah, you’ve got to have the full picture to understand what you’ve been going for. Cans: Absolutely, absolutely. Last week, we released a second song from the album, “One Against The World.”
With a brand new live music video, just released this week, here’s Hammerfall performing “One Against The World” off Dominion.
What do you think they’ll enjoy the most about Dominion? Cans: I think they’ll enjoy the diversity, of course. I mean, it’s a diverse, typical Hammerfall album, it takes you on a very energetic musical journey. I think what stands out is the energy that Hammerfall, even though we’re close to 50, or some in the band it’s actually way over 50 now (laughs), we sound more vivid and more energetic than we ever did. So, this is a full-blown heavy metal masterpiece in my opinion.
You’ve been going on for over 20 years now, refining your sound and finding out what you enjoy doing more than anything else. The fans will, of course, appreciate that as well. Cans: I hope so. I mean, we write the music that we want to play. We write the songs that, if someone else wrote (those) songs, we would buy the album. That’s kind of the way me and Oscar (Dronjak) work because you can’t really please everyone. In that case, you would just go around chasing a mirage of something that isn’t out there. I think now that the team behind the band is so powerful, we really found the perfect set-up when it comes to the production side, and that’s also very important for this album. Everything kind of started with Infected , an album that really, kind of had a bad reputation... it was kind of judged by the cover.
That’s kind of weird, “Oh no, that’s not a Hammerfall cover! I hate this album.” But, everything kind of started there when we involved James Michael of Sixx AM being part of the production. Now, it’s the fourth consecutive album I’m working with him doing the vocals. After the break we took after Infected, we got Fredrick Nordstrom back as a mixer and co-producer. I mean, that team together, I think that’s perfect for us, and the kind of ultimate… I think we’ve been polishing the same diamond since day one, but now it’s shining fucking bright! (laughs)
Just constantly polished and now blinding, right? Cans: Yeah (laughs)! Now it’s like 40 karats or whatever you say.
Hammerfall’s eleventh album, Dominion, will be released on August 16th via Napalm Records. Check out the rad artwork:
Right on. So, can you talk through the main themes of Dominion? Cans: I think that’s also very diverse, but it’s different in this album in comparison to the previous ten studio albums (because) if you buy the album or you get the digital booklet, you get a preface or a foreword of each and every song. Just to open up the door a little bit to say what the song is about. If you tell people exactly what the song is about, you kind of lose them, you kill the illusion of the people getting their own opinion. There are so many songs where I love the lyrical context, and then someone told me the song is about something else, and I’m like, “What, what are you saying? I thought it was about that!”
Writing for me is… how do you say it... You know, I can watch a documentary on TV and get totally hooked on it, and from that documentary, I can feel the need to write something. “Never Forgive, Never Forget” came out of a twelve-hour documentary on the Vietnam War, for instance. There’s another track on the album, “Bloodline,” which for the first time I’m talking about Norse mythology, that was kind of what the song told me. When I was writing the vocal lines, I was like “Shit, this has to be about Odin, it has to be about Asgard,” that’s what the song tells me. So, apart from the typical heavy metal type of lyrics, I think it’s personal reflections. Songs like “Second To One,” the ballad, it has the importance of your life (not being) full until you are second to someone else when you have someone in your life that you value higher than life itself.
So, that’s the context of that song. The last song, “And Yet I Smile,” about a person that just kind of reflects on his life. I mean, I think that the only thing we will regret on the deathbed is the things we did not do. So, that is very simple, but it is very important to underline some things. Even though you get bruised and scarred through life, every scar tells a story, so it’s about trial and error. That’s what life is all about. If you don’t dare, you will live a pretty boring life. You need to be more adventurous.
I think that’s definitely part of what made you guys so big in the first place, not having one particular message or sound. But, power metal itself is very uplifting and inspiring and motivational, and those themes link together really well. Cans: Cool! I’m glad you like it.
Check out the lyric video for “(We Make) Sweden Rock,” also off of Dominion:
That brings me onto a point, actually. I’ve always wondered where you find inspiration for your lyrics, and a Vietnam documentary as an example is pretty awesome. Cans: I mean, from life itself! From, you know, having both eyes open every day, open ears. I’m listening, I can listen to conversations, I really love books. I mean, I read these self-help books, is it called that? Yeah. Just to get my mindset sometimes, you know? Get in there, change my thinking sometimes. The older you get, the more negative you get. I hate change (laughs), therefore I have to read a book sometimes. You know, watching a documentary, watching a movie, watching my kid do her thing, just going on vacations, I mean, you just need to be open-minded and always be creative.
That’s kind of the motto we had for this album, we had two mottos. The first one was “Good is not good enough, it has to be great,” and the second was something that Oscar picked up from our artwork guy, Samwise Didier from Blizzard Entertainment. He told Oscar: “ABC - Always Be Creative! Always have a pen and paper with you, always bring a portable guitar on vacation! If you just go somewhere over the weekend, bring your guitar.” That’s made a big difference on this album, I must say.
It clearly had an effect. Cans: Yeah. Also, the fact that good is not good enough, it has to be great. In the past, especially when I wrote vocal melodies, sometimes I think I was too much of a coward sometimes. (laughs) You know, I wrote the melodies that were good for me, but not the melodies that were good for the song at times. So now I think, “Ok, you are a singer, do not be such a coward in the studio, just do it.” So, I felt I had the time now to try every possible way of where to take the melodies, and in the end, some songs are extremely high pitched, but somehow I manage to nail them. I’ve always been afraid of heights!
Well, you’ve definitely beat them. After listening to some of the tracks on Dominion, I have no idea how you get that high! Cans: Neither do I! (laughs) I just hit it! I think that’s also a thing, don’t overthink it too much, just fucking do it.
Don’t be the “Last Man Standing.” Check out this classic cut and music video from Hammerfall:
A solid slogan you can take all across life. I was going to ask how you’ve evolved since Built To Last, both as a band and you yourself, but clearly, this album has had quite a good effect on you. Cans: Yeah. The main difference, I would say, is on the first ten studio albums we worked exactly the same way. We had a period of six to eight months where we were composing, we went to the steroid, we released the album, we went on tour. Then, back to square one. It was kind of the same cycle over and over again. Oscar was working at home in his studio, and I was working at home in my studio. We actually never met, we just sent files. In the beginning, we sent demo tapes, then we sent CDs and now everything is digital.
But, it’s kind of a long story because in Built To Last we found momentum as a band because we decided to go to North America. We gave up on North America six or seven months ago, but now we’ve found someone who truly believes in Hammerfall so we had the possibility to break some new ground with us. That meant we had to postpone the songwriting process, we also had to postpone the recording process and the release.
Since we had to be on tour kind of in the middle of the songwriting process, Oscar brought his portable studio on tour and all of a sudden we were being creative on tour, something that never happened before. Being on stage, having such a good time together, being so positive, having so much energy, I think all this energy was taken back into the tour bus, into the songwriting process. So, the momentum and all the energy we found on stage were directed into the songwriting process. I think that’s one of the main differences and also the main reason why it sounds so energetic.
That makes so much sense. You just finish a show, you’re excited, you go back together and you can just keep the flame going. Cans: Absolutely! You just grab a beer or two and do your thing.
The cover art for Built To Last, the band’s tenth album, released on November 4th, 2016, via Napalm:
Yeah, in a more relaxed environment. It’s quite interesting, all of a sudden you come together and get this massive creative explosion. Cans: We started sending files, but we are also very connected as a band. We are, you know, also having fun together offstage and that is also very important. The members of Hammerfall, we might not be the best musicians in our trade, but together we make something unique. The social part is so much more important, I would say.
As much as you like making music, you’ve got to get on and have fun together and enjoy each others’ company. It’s like a family. Cans: Exactly. The shows are two hours a day, then you have 22 more hours to kill. (laughs) It’s nice to enjoy the company of others.
Onto touring, how do you keep yourself happy and entertained on the road? Cans: It was different before. I mean, I think that was my problem, being a singer. I’d always be like, “You know what guys, I’m gonna take it easy, I’m gonna rest. I want to be in good shape for the show,” and after, let’s say, sixteen years when we took the break, I was talking to a friend of mine and I said I’ve been around the world around six times, I’ve been to places you’d only dream about going to, but I haven’t seen shit. I’ve seen airports, I’ve seen hotel rooms and I’ve seen venues. That’s it. I need to be more adventurous, I need to live life more. So, from that point, I decided to do something every day on tour. Small things.
I asked the guys, now that we had the break, “If you want to join me on my little journeys or adventures, you’re welcome” and everyone said, “Yeah, of course!” Just a couple of examples; in Germany in Cologne, I took them to a chocolate factory. Doing things like that. We went to a vineyard in Chile and had like a food and wine pairing, I mean, doing a lot of running. Now, I’ve got the bass player to run with me while I do something I call sight running. I just put on my shoes, I check a map out and I just get lost in the city. In the U.S., we got a rental car and just took off to Las Vegas, we watched Journey, we went partying and took a flight to Dallas the next morning, and then we had a show. There’s time to do these things, there’s time to just go crazy and enjoy life.
Check out the music video for the title track to Hammerfall's classic Glory To The Brave album:
That sounds like so much fun. So much better than just hotels and airports! Sightrunning especially. Cans: Yeah! Unfortunately, my left foot is really in a bad shape now so I’m not allowed to run, but by the time we hit the North American rounds in September/October, I’m going to start running again.
What’s been your best experience on tour? Cans: I liked when we got the rental car, just waiting behind the stage in Arizona. We got off stage, had a quick shower, jumped in the car, and we drove up to Flagstaff. We booked into a motel, slept four hours, went up to the Grand Canyon. I’m an Excel guy, I kind of have everything calculated in detail when we do things. We came up there, I checked the watch and said, “Ok guys, now we have ten minutes to do sightseeing, take pictures, selfies, whatever, at the Grand Canyon, because then we really need to go to Las Vegas in time for the meet and greet with Journey.” So we just took pictures and had people helping us take pictures, got into the car, and drove straight to Vegas. Parked the car, checked into the hotel, had some oysters and a glass of champagne, went to see the Journey guys, went to see the show, everything was so thoroughly planned. That was the best trip I’d ever done, the best experience I’d ever had on tour.
How about the bands you’ve played alongside? Any favourites? Cans: I mean, I think we’ve always been kind of the loner band. We were hanging together, keeping to ourselves, we never really blended well with other bands for some reason, I don’t know why. But, that also changed. I think the last, most recent tour we did in North America where we had Flotsam & Jetsam as a support band, I don’t think we ever got as close as we did to those guys. You know, talking to them daily and it feels you’ve become lifetime friends with them, and that feels really good. One of the greatest guys I’ve ever toured with was also Chuck Schuldiner from Death. We also became really close, unfortunately, he passed away three years later, so that was a bummer. We met so many great bands, really really great bands. I mean, Deep Purple, that was weird. One of the first short tours we did, they said “Do you wanna support Deep Purple?” like what, are you kidding me? Yeah, but Flotsam & Jetsam guys, fantastic.
And over 20 years in, what are the highlights of your career so far? Cans: That we’re still doing this. After 22 years since we released our debut album, the band has been going on for longer than that, but just the fact that I’m sitting here talking about the most vivid album that we’ve ever released up to this date after 22 years. That is a big highlight of the career, I would say.
This classic song and video still has our “Hearts On Fire:”
Definitely. Lastly, where do you see Hammerfall going with Dominion? Cans: Straight to hell! (laughs) We’re going to announce all the venues next week, that we’re going to do. Especially for Germany, the Czech Republic, and other territories, we’re starting to actually take a step into the halls now, more of the bigger venues, the arenas. I think that this album will help us take this necessary next step in many other territories, too. I think we will get a lot of, I would say, get the respect that we truly deserve, in some territories. It’s been, I mean, especially in the ‘80s, it was kind of a cool thing to dislike a band like Hammerfall. But, I think things have changed in the past years and with this album, I think it’s a statement that Hammerfall is here to stay, and we are also a band that you can rely on also for the future. Because, there’s going to be a major change in the European festivals shortly when there are no so-called headliners left because they’re all dying of age, unfortunately.
I think Hammerfall is ready to take the next necessary step to be a part of the league of headliners for the future. I really hope so. Unfortunately, that was really disturbing in one sense. We’ve done a few festivals this summer where more or less every headliner is an American band. Even though they haven’t delivered anything solid or new in years, they’re still a headliner. I think we should be more careful in Europe, we have good headliners in Europe, you know? I’m just happy for a band like Sabaton, that they’re working in more or less every territory, they’re really a band for the future when it comes to stage shows. I mean, they put on a really good show.
Anything you’d like to say to the readers? Cans: I really hope that people take the time and the opportunity to listen to this album. Some people are going to love the album, some people are going to hate the album. If you hate the album, maybe Hammerfall is not for you, after all! We’re looking into getting some dates for the UK, hopefully, we’ll announce them soon.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today! Cans: No, thank you! Have a good one.