“We don’t write just songs, we write albums”

HAMMERFALL have been making records of the past two decades and they only get stronger with every album. They are about to release their eleventh studio album Dominion and are about to embark on a US tour with Power Metal Titans SABATON. Rock Out Stand Out’s Lotty Whittingham speaks to Joacim Cans about Dominion, their upcoming tour and how he feels about being called Heavy Metal Jesus.

Hello Joacim, thank you for joining Rock Out Stand Out today. With regards to the album cover of Dominion, I noticed the hammer being held has got an upgrade. It has spikes and it looks bigger, was this the intention?

It was actually. The name of the guy on the cover is Hector and he has been with us since day one. We invented him back in 1997 before the release of the first album. He has been taking different shapes from time to time; he’s a traditional warrior with a hammer, he’s lost weight, he gained weight, his hammer got smaller, his hammer got bigger and so on.

For this album we wanted Hector to take a more demonic shape. We wanted to try something new and make Hector a bit more modern and up to date. With today’s computer graphics and artwork, you can do so many things. The artist who designed the cover for Dominion, did a lot of our album covers and he works for Blizzard Entertainment in California. So, we went down to Blizzard last year, we met him and the rest of the staff. We discussed with him what hammer we wanted to have for this album. So, we told him we wanted Hector looking more demonic with flames.

The title track has a foreword saying “Welcome To Pandemonium, The Capital Of Hell” and I think he captured that perfectly on the cover.

Would you say this modernisation of Hectre reflects the content on the album?

Sound wise I would say we’re still polishing the same diamond. I mean it became polished twenty-two years ago but now it’s shining brighter than ever because HammerFall is heavy metal music. Nothing more, nothing less. For this album, I think we managed to keep the momentum that we have had for the past three years, especially on tour with the energy we gained on stage. We directed this into the song writing process when we were in the studio. This marks the beginning of the next chapter for HammerFall.

Do you have a favourite song or favourite section on the album Dominion?

We don’t write just songs, we write albums. I know we’re in the year 2019 where artists only release songs. We’re still old fashioned in that way, we sit down and compose a full album. You need the fast tracks, you need the mid-tempo, you need the ballad, you need that punch in the face somewhere and you need that ending that leaves the listener wanting more. That’s what we have on this album.

When it comes down to personal favourite songs of HammerFall, I usually pick the songs where I sing the highest. I pick the ones where I surprise myself. I kind of like the title track a lot, the verses are different to what I have done before. It took some time to come up with the title of the melody but I was trying different approaches to make it good. I mean it was good, but we wanted to go for great. Eventually I came up with what ended up on the album so the title track is special to me.

I also really like the ballad Second To One. For us growing up in the eighties, we feel that every album needs a good ballad. You need that intermission song to take a breath and wait for the rest of the album to punch you in the face. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album.

Since I have been involved with the song writing, every song means something different to me.

You say you don’t write songs; you write albums. Does this mean you write a lot of songs and decide which of those make the album or are they songs you have written in the past that didn’t make previous albums?

We have been working the same way since the mid-nineties in that we write the exact amount of songs we intend to include for the album. That was the way Oscar [Dronjak] worked. Oscar always started the songs and I would finish the songs with melodies then finally the lyrics. We have never had bonus tracks or anything like that because we think the bonus track is a song that isn’t worthy to be a part of the album. If we feel the song isn’t good enough, then why should we release it.

For this album, everything changed. We had a moment on the Built To Last tour that went on for almost three years and we had to be creative on tour. This was the first time we were writing and playing live at the same time. This was something that Oscar would say no to in the past; he wanted to be at home when writing songs and whilst on tour he didn’t want to be creative. There were moments on the US leg of the tour where he would go back to the tour bus, he had a mobile studio set up, and he would start to create riffs. I would be sitting at the front of the bus working on some melodies and lyrics. This was a very creative process and we came out with a few extra songs that with a little extra care and love, they will end up on the next HammerFall album.

Speaking of touring, you have some coming up alongside some festival appearances. Can you tell us more about those?

First thing we will be doing is to do six shows in Columbia, that’s kind of an adventure to us as it will be an unexplored territory for us. We will be out there showcasing some new songs and meeting some new fans. We will then be doing some shows in the US, Japan and then we will be special guests on the Sabaton tour in November. We then have the first leg of the European tour from the end of January and throughout February.

After that, everything else is open. We are looking at doing dates in the UK, rest of the Europe and South America. So, for us this is a puzzle. Every time we release a tour date, people complain about why we aren’t playing certain places. There are so many countries to visit and we want to play everywhere, sometimes you just can’t because if you go to a country you have never played before, there may be a reason for that as you won’t draw in a lot of people. At the end of the day, this pay to play scheme doesn’t work because you go on a tour for three weeks and then come back with no money.

You’ve toured worldwide and visited different countries. Do you notice differences between the audiences?

Yes, there is a huge difference. In some countries we pull a lot of people, in others we don’t pull anyone. I mean one day we could be playing a show in a five thousand capacity arena and the next you could be playing to one hundred people. It doesn’t matter for us because whether it’s one hundred people or five thousand people, we put on a full show. They have paid full price for a ticket, some of them have travelled four hours to see us so we need to treat every show as the most important show of our career. That’s the attitude we have.

I have noticed the further south of Europe we go; fans tend to be more enthusiastic and passionate. Same with America, particularly South America they are so passionate. Whereas if you go up North of Europe, like in the Scandinavian countries; sometimes people are a little bit like “yeah this is cool but I’m not sure if I want to waste my energy.”

I have a few questions from Rock Out Stand Out readers. The first one is how do you feel about being referred to as Heavy Metal Jesus?

Actually, I think that’s really cool and I used that a couple of times in theatres too. I wrote my own Christmas show for theatre where I perform as Jesus on the cross. So, I have no problems in that. I don’t actually believe in Jesus but I believe in the other JC and that’s Joacim Cans.

Here’s another, what time period would you travel back to if you had a time machine?

I wouldn’t travel too far back because people were dirty, eating bad food and the beer was horrible. If I could, I would travel to the year zero and just see what would actually happen. To see if there really is a Jesus and call out any bullshit. I want to go back to year zero to re-write history and tell the truth.

A reader wanted to know when you did tour the UK, where was your favourite place?

The biggest surprise for us was when we opened a show in Manchester back in 2009/2010. So many people showed up to the gig and that was a big surprise to us. One of the biggest moments on tour for us was when we opened up for Saxon a year after that. Edinburgh was really cool and of course London because we have a lot of loyal fans there.

Last reader’s question, do you have a favourite band at the moment?

I do. At the moment I have been listening to a lot of Battle Beast. What a great singer Noora is, her voice is fantastic. I have also been listening to the new Soilwork album which is fantastic too.

Finally, what can fans expect from Dominion?

Well they shouldn’t expect too much otherwise that leads to disappointment but if you’re into HammerFall, you will love this. If you don’t like this album, maybe HammerFall is not for you.

Thank you so much Joacim for joining Rock Out Stand Out and best of luck with the album release.

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