Latest release: Dominion (Napalm)Website: www.hammerfall.net
There are probably fewer bands more true to their craft than HammerFall. 26 years after their tenuous beginnings in Gothenburg, this Swedish five piece have lived and breathed heavy metal. With their 11th album Dominion due for release in August, it was time to check in with lead vocalist, born again tourist and fitness freak Joacim Cans to see what continues to inspire them as they raise the metal hammer once more.
This album has been quite a while coming, Joacim. Your fans have been waiting for a new HammerFall album for some time now.
Well I hope they have! It’s been three years since the last HammerFall album, and I think that HammerFall is at a really, really good place now. The last tour was really really successful and we managed to get some good momentum going in some territories and I think that is what you can hear on this new album. All the positive energy together with the momentum, we managed to direct into the songwriting process and also into the performance on the album. And so I’m very eager to show the world the new HammerFall baby!
HammerFall’s been a band for a very long time now, so it must be great to be able to get that new energy and to be doing a new thing after twenty years. It must be very refreshing for you.
You need to reinvent yourself every once in a while. If you go on doing things exactly the same way you’re going to get very bored and it’s not going to be fun after a while. I think that’s what happened to HammerFall back in 2012 when we decided to take a break. We were in a really, really bad place with the bad then, and the only way to change that was to push the emergency button and stop the whole roller coaster from moving. I think that when we came back with the next album (r)Evolution in 2014, that was a fresh start that led up to Dominion which I see as a second coming for the band, to be honest with you.
You’ve said that it’s a second coming, so do you think now, seven years on from that break, that it was really necessary to create that snowball effect that’s brought HammerFall back to where you want it to be?
I think so, yeah. If we wouldn’t have taken this break back in 2012, I wouldn’t be here talking about this album. I would have moved along and be doing something else. Back then, I sat down one day and said to myself that I had been around the world six or seven times and I had seen more cities than other people had dreamed about: Rio de Janeiro, India, Japan, more or less everywhere. And then I asked myself, What have you seen? What have you experienced? Nothing: hotels, airports and crappy venues. That’s it! I can’t go on like this. I need to be more adventurous. I need to experience things. I need to dare to do things in between the shows. When I came back on the tour in 2015 for (r)Evolution, I told the guys, ‘Everyday I’m going to do something. I’m going to check on the internet and see what I can do in this city. It doesn’t matter if we are in a boring German city, I’m going to find something. Who’s with me?’ And everyone said, ‘Yes, of course, that sounds very good!’ So what happened was that we went to a chocolate factory in Cologne, we managed to get to a winery outside Santiago in Chile and on an off day in the US we took a car to Vegas and we watched Journey and partied real hard and the next morning flew to Dallas for the next show. That was a major change, because all of a sudden not only are we a tight band, we’re also very close on a personal level.
It would help to break that touring monotony, and I imagine it would help with inspiration too.
I would always say that after a week or two on tour, the Tour Brain would take over. And that means the capacity of the brain is down fifty per cent. You just sit around backstage waiting for someone to tell you that it’s showtime and go on out. That is really devastating. That is killing creativity. I’m not just sitting around anymore. I run a lot. I’ve been running for six years now, and that is also something that I do when I come to a city. I put on my running shoes and I do a site run, just in the area, to check things out.
So how have you found those changes – the running, the tourism stops – have helped you now creatively and performance-wise?
With the running it means that I can go on stage for two hours, singing and headbanging at the same time, then come off at the end and still have plenty of energy. Seven years ago, eight years ago, I was walking around on stage and I felt like an old man, overweight, trying to catch my breath between songs. That didn’t feel good to me. I didn’t want to present myself like that. So I think I’m better and a more energetic stage personality now, and I think I’m a much better singer. Everything is connected somehow.
On the Built to Last tour, we decided to go to North America again. That was a territory we decided to give up on in 2011. But we found people who truly believed in us, and we went there on a co-headline tour together with Delaine, and that was probably one of the best tours I’ve ever been on. That also started this momentum going for HammerFall. And when we decided to do this tour, we had to postpone the recording of the Dominion album, because when this tour was over we immediately booked another tour in the US the year after, and that was during the songwriting period. And for the very first time, we were actually creative on tour. We had a little studio set up in the back of the bus, and Oscar sometimes, right after a show, would grab a beer and say, ‘Guys, I have to go down into the studio because I have so many ideas’. And that was after 1 hour and 45 minutes of headbanging on stage! There was so much energy. That was one of the positive effects of the whole thing.
So you’ve now done two US tours in a couple of years. That’s a really big territory to conquer. It sounds like you really thought you were banging your head against the wall trying to crack it there for a while.
Yes, absolutely. You go over and you play in front of like 100 people, and then you go home and you can’t really pay your electricity bill after five weeks of touring. It was devastating on many levels, I would say. What a difference when we came back in 2017!
Let’s look at the album now – how do you think Dominion fits in with the HammerFall catalogue? What are your thoughts on it looking at it now?
I think it has all the ingredients in there. HammerFall stands for heavy metal, and nothing else. We wouldn’t change the recipe because that would change the whole product in the end. If you go out and buy a can of Coke, and you open it up and take a sip, and inside the can was tonic water – you would get really pissed off! The true fans of HammerFall want to have HammerFall and nothing else, but for us it feels good to put out album number eleven and still sound fresh, like we still have something to give to the metal community. It’s not just another album that we put out just so we can go on tour. I mean, it’s not a bad excuse to go on tour! It’s really something that we can build the status and the career of the whole band. So even though it’s HammerFall, I feel that we have songs on this album that people have never heard before. We’re not repeating ourselves, but we’re staying within the boundaries of heavy metal and HammerFall.
What are the chances of bringing HammerFall down to Australia?
We have only been there once. We played Melbourne. What I think we should do next time is to do at least three or four shows. And that’s something we’re looking into for next year, but of course we will need to find a promoter who truly believes, and if we come there and find ourselves in a small bar, well, that’s not really how we want to present HammerFall. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter if we play in front of 100 people or 85,000. We will always put on the same energetic show.