At the 'Threshold' of ... Hammerfall
(Joacim Cans pictured center)
November 13, 2006
Swedish metal titans Hammerfall have just scored a No. 1 album in their home country with the release of Threshold, an album leading its listeners into a dark, futuristic world of power metal. After 10 years, six studio albums and two gold records, Hammerfall is a legitimate force in metal. The band will embark on a tour of Europe in early 2007 titled At the Threshold of ... Europe and look to invade U.S. soil in the near future. Just a few days after news broke of the No. 1 album, Live-Metal.net's Jeff Maki talked with Hammerfall vocalist Joacim Cans about the new release, the history of the band and why Sweden is a breeding ground for heavy metal.
Live-Metal: Where are you calling from?
Joacim Cans: I’m in New York.
OK, you have a listening party?
Yeah, we have it tomorrow. Tonight I’m gonna go to the Skid Row release party and see what those guys are doing.
You guys just had a number one album in your home country of Sweden, the first since Renegade in 2000. What was your reaction to that?
Having a number one, to me, is like a gold album, like a gold award you get. It’s something they can never take away from you. It means a lot and maybe it means a lot more for the record label, ’cause it’s a lot of politics going on there with the charts and things like that. Maybe my mother is more happy than I am. It is a cool thing and I think it’s also a statement that it’s been now six years since we had our first number one with Renegade and now we’re here after six years with another number one and Hammerfall is a band to count on for the future. I think this really shows the status of heavy metal music in Scandinavia.
I really like the album a lot. I had the song “Titan” on repeat, actually, before you called here.
Oh, OK, cool.
Yeah, it’s great. Can you tell us some basic info about the new album, Threshold?
In my opinion, this album is by far the best effort from—I mean, the whole sound of the album is so much heavier than before. I think every member of the band is playing at the peak of their performance. I felt sitting in my little studio in my basement that I really wanted to try and do something—not something different but try to come up with something new, at least. And after six albums, a couple project albums, a solo album, it was hard to do something not repeating yourself or copying someone else’s songs. That was a little bit tricky, but, of course, that is what being an artist is all about. You have to have your share of anxiety. You just sit there and say, “Hey, I’m stupid. I’m worthless. How am I going to pull this off this time?” But it worked somehow. Sometimes I sit there day and night for two weeks and nothing happens. And then you just go down to the studio to turn the lights off and you get a brilliant idea and two hours later you just completed a song. So it is a struggle and I never experienced anything like this before that was so hard, actually. But I think we pulled it off somehow. Then in the studio, we did the same setup as on Chapter V, same studio, same producer, same catering lady. I had my same bedroom in the studio. Everything was the same except this time we were behind schedule from day one. Before, we were always ahead of schedule. We were done with the mix and we had five or six days just sitting there and like, “OK, so what are we doing now?” That did not happen this time. That caused a lot of frustration. The air conditioning system broke down. We had 30 degrees Celsius in the studio. I was singing in my underwear one day. It was so damn hot. Then the heat wave actually caused the computers to crash. The full production was standing still for two days. And all this frustration, we just really didn’t know what to do with. But I think something good came out of it, at least. I think that you can hear that this is a little more unpolished, it’s a heavier album. Maybe that is just because we had so much frustration going on in the studio.
Whatever happened in there, like I said, I think it turned out great. You mentioned you think it’s heavier than previous releases. How else do you think it compares to your past discography?
I think it’s actually a combination. I think you have a lot of the spirit from Glory to the Brave and Legacy of Kings together with the power that we found on Chapter V. I mean, this is definitely a Hammerfall album. I think this album definitely is what Hammerfall is all about, so if you don’t like this Hammerfall album, to quote [guitarist] Oscar [Dronjak] now, “you don’t like Hammerfall.” So if you don’t like this album, there’s no need to buy anything else.
What are some of the lyrical topics on Threshold? Obviously, there’s some Dungeons & Dragons kinda power metal stuff, but are there hidden meanings and messages behind the lyrics?
There are no dragons on this album. I’ve had one dragon, maybe twice, with the debut album and “The Dragon Lies Bleeding.” But the dragon was then a metaphor for the enemy. On the second album, Legacy of Kings, I also dealt with a dragon, but apart from that, we never use the word “dragon.” It’s something that kind of haunts us. People are like, “Oh yeah, you’re all about sorcerers and dragons.” Like, “Uh, no, not really.” Lyrically, in metal it’s about every individual’s right to do whatever they want to do and to follow the beat of their drum. That is what it is all about. This album might be a little bit darker, like “Titan,” for instance, is kind of a very dark, futuristic vision when we all have to leave planet Earth to find something, like a new habitat. It’s a lot of dark elements going on there. And “Natural High” is maybe a little—quotation—cheesier. I was thinking about that title “Natural High.” OK, what can be more natural than getting high on blood? Ah, cool. So this will be a vampire song. It’s about vampires. “Rebel Inside” is kind of a statement, announcement—a proclamation, maybe you would say—about Hammerfall. This is Hammerfall, this is what we stand for, if you don’t like it, fuck off. We have been taking a lot of bullshit in the past 10 years for what we do and people laughing at us. They didn’t really take us serious. But I think now after 10 years, six studio albums, two number ones in Sweden , two gold albums, I think people are not laughing that loud anymore, at least.
Who are your influences vocally?
I must put Geoff Tate of Queensryche at number one. When I heard “Queen of the Reich,” the EP [Queensryche], for the first time, it totally blew me away. Totally. I really like the work of Eric Adams of Manowar and, of course, Rob Halford of Judas Priest. He is the metal god.
There’s another singer I do like. I just recently discovered an American band called Disturbed and I really like the sound of his voice.
Yes, that’s his name. I was really happy to hear a modern American band with really great melodies.
Yeah, it hasn’t been too common here in the past few years, but I would say that Draiman does have a strong ’80s influence vocally, that Halford kind of singing style.
Hammerfall has an upcoming European tour in 2007. Who are you going to be touring with and could we possibly see Hammerfall in the U.S. sometime soon?
To answer the first question first, we are still negotiating with a couple of bands to support us on the European tour. This will be another headlining tour for us in Europe and we are trying to broaden the horizons a little bit now, not only bringing bands in the same genre. I believe three bands playing the same type of music for, let’s say, three or four hours, sometimes that is an overkill. We’ll see what happens. Pretty soon we will announce the support bands. As for the U.S. , yes, we are discussing different options. I’m not really sure how we’re gonna do it the next time, if we’re gonna do a smaller club tour, a headline tour again or if we’re gonna try and support a bigger band. I think now we’ve done three tours in the U.S. and maybe it is time to try and find a bigger band to support, a band like Disturbed, for instance, which I think would make sense because they are melodic and we are also melodic, but still we are more towards heavy metal and they are more modern. It’s hard to find a heavy metal band to support. That is impossible.
When was the last time you were over here in the U.S.?
August last year. We did a headline tour with Edguy.
What can fans expect out of a Hammerfall live show?
I think that is depending on where you see Hammerfall. If you catch Hammerfall in Europe , then you have like what it was like in the ’80s, the big stage, a lot of pyro. The last tour we had, like, an ice mountain stage. We had risers we can walk up on. It’s very, very different. When we tour the U.S. , then we cannot really fit it on the stages that we play here. They’re too small. But no matter what is behind us on stage, we always give 100 percent. There’s always a lot of energy going on, interaction with the audience. We don’t come there and do this theatrical thing where you put a curtain in front of the audience and then you don’t see them. Hammerfall live is a way for the fans to be part of the show. It’s a lot of energy, a lot of fun. Playing live should be fun. You should not see it as something that you have to do.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences in Hammerfall?
Well, first of all, one of the biggest things is still when we got the record deal in the first place. This was in 1996 at a time when heavy metal was probably the most uncool thing you could do, the most uncool music you could play. That is really, really memorable. The first world tour, the same thing, in 1998. We were able to do South America for the first time. We toured North America with Death. It felt weird at first to tour with a death metal band, but it turned out to be a fantastic tour and I got to know Chuck Schuldiner, which was really cool because he passed away two years later. It seems like with every album we have been able to raise the status of the band. Now, just before we recorded this album, we did two videos, one for the Swedish Olympic curling team for the Winter Olympics, then we did a song and a video with some athletes in Sweden for the European Athletics Championships. So we are living a dream, more or less. The last 10 years, I remember everything that happened. There are so many small things that have happened, but they are so important to me. If I would give you everything, we would probably have to put out a magazine only with this.
What do you think makes Sweden in particular the heavy metal breeding ground that it’s been?
Good question. I think first of all, growing up in Sweden as a musician or as an artist in general, no matter if you’re into sports or into music, you get a lot of support from the government, I would say. You get to go to music class in school. You can pick your instrument and you don’t really pay that much money to do it. When you put your band together, they support you with rent money. So there’s always a lot of support going on. I think we have a strong musical tradition in Sweden and it’s really hard to point out exactly why it’s been like this. Maybe because of the winter, the darkness, people get depressed and they want to create something. And in these depressions, good music and good things come out eventually.
Hammerfall obviously has had close ties to In Flames. Do you guys still talk to Jesper [Strömblad] or Glenn [Ljungström]?
Well, Glenn, he left both Hammerfall and In Flames like eight or nine years ago. I have not seen him since. Jesper I run into from time to time, but they are touring constantly. Oscar is talking to Jesper on the phone once in a while, emails, they’re chatting, but they’ve been friends for like 16, 17 years. I met Jesper the first time when I started with Hammerfall, so we didn’t really have a history together. But once in a while, you meet the guys and you hang out, have a few beers and talk. They’re cool guys.
Definitely. They’re one of my favorite bands.
And they’re doing really well over here.
What advice could you give to aspiring heavy metal vocalists?
Find your own personality, I would say. I met so many kids who are teenagers asking me, like, “I wanna sing like you.” Well, don’t. There is already one of me. There is already one Rob Halford. There’s already one Bruce Dickinson. We don’t need two of every person. Try to find your own style. Try and get some help by a vocal coach that can guide you into the right direction but without changing your character. I think nowadays the personality is the most important thing. Everyone wants to be famous. For what? They’re on these reality shows behaving like assholes. So they become famous for acting like assholes? What happened to integrity? What happened to having something special in the people? So I think it’s a lot of hard work. Keep your integrity. Try to find your own voice. And then things will happen by itself. And if you don’t have high-pitched vocals, you have to tell the band to tune down. Tune down the instruments. I met some bands with singers that after a show they can barely talk because the songs are so high. I say, “Wow. Maybe you should tune down the guitars.” So then the guitar player says, “No, we can’t.” You can.
What do you think about traditional or power metal recently resurfacing in the U.S. with bands like Dragonforce or Cellador?
I have not heard Cellador, to be honest with you. I’ve been meaning to check them out because you’re not first guy mentioning them. Dragonforce is from Britain , by the way.
I think we had an explosion around the year 2000. You had these so-called power metal bands coming from everywhere and the majority of the bands did not have anything personal whatsoever. They all sounded the same. Then the genre cleansed itself within a couple of years and what you see now is the bands that I believe are the future of heavy metal music, of the traditional heavy metal music, I would say. Dragonforce did the Ozzfest this summer, right?
I think that is an improvement that they opened up the door for a so-called true heavy metal band at the Ozzfest. So I think things are changing here, as well. The people are more open to melodic, traditional heavy metal.
What goals do you think are left for Hammerfall?
We are not really big in every territory. We are still focusing on some territories to try and make it over there. The U.S. , for instance, is one territory. The U.K. is another territory. As long as we can write songs that we are pleased with and as long as we have fun playing music, we’re gonna continue. We have goals set for the band. We want to play some countries we never played before, Australia , for instance. As long as we have fun, the main goal is to maintain kind of the happiness in both the creative department and also playing music. As soon as you don’t have fun anymore, I see no reason to continue doing anything because the people will remember you by the last effort. If you put out a crappy album and decide to call it quits after that, people will remember you for that. You should have, like, an insurance policy telling you if someone pulls the plug—like, “This sucks,” and they pull the plug before you record this crap album.