Sweden’s HammerFall are power metal monsters. Forming in 1996, their headstrong approach has seen them endure for over twenty years, releasing ten albums and sharing stages with the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and more during that time. Returning at the end of last year with latest album ‘Built To Last’, they show no signs of slowing down just yet. We caught up with bassist Fredrik Larsson to talk about the disc, and the band’s plans for 2017. Last man standing; Eamon O’Neill.
How are you today, Fredrik?
I’m good. It’s pretty decent weather, and everything is fine here in Sweden.
You released your new album ‘Built To Last’ in November last year. Tell us a little bit about it.
Well, the title is obviously a statement. When we recorded the first album in ’96, no one thought that we were ever going to record another album. There were a lot of people that were laughing at us for doing what we did at that time, with the popularity of all the Grunge and heavier music, and we kept on struggling with our heavy metal. But now, twenty years later and ten studio albums, we can say that we’re definitely built to last!
That’s a fantastic statement.
It is, and with the album itself, I would say that this is kind of a twin record with the [2014 release] ‘r(E)evolution’ album. They have a lot of things in common; they were recorded in the same place, and in the same vein; we did everything exactly the same, pretty much. It was really relaxed, and we could focus on what we wanted to achieve with this album.
Did it feel like a sort of rebirth for the band?
In 2013 we took off the whole year, and we came back in 2014 for the ‘r(E)volution’ album, and we noticed that we had a lot more hunger, and we wanted to show the world that we still exist, and that we wanted to play heavy metal. On this album I think we took it even further, and it feels like a really powerful album, with a lot of hunger. We didn’t aim for the perfect pitch, or the perfect take, or the perfect timing in every way – as long as we got the energy in the take, that’s enough, and I think it shows on the album.
The break seems to have done the band the world of good; you must have been pleased with the results that it led to.
Absolutely. For myself, I came back to the band in 2007, so I didn’t notice that as much as the other guys. I think they were tired of doing the same thing over and over again, with nothing new that happened; they released an album, did a tour, did the summer festivals, maybe did another tour, and then straight back to release another album, and that kept on going for so many years. So, once we decided to take a break and came back, we all realised that this was a really necessary break.
Just to recharge the band?
Yes. Of course, we could have kept on going and released another album, but that wouldn’t have been so good, and probably it would end up that we were splitting instead, in the long term.
Picking up on something you mentioned earlier, and the style of music that HammerFall plays has really never been fashionable, yet you have a fiercely loyal and passionate fan base.
Yean, I mean, when we started, we wanted to play heave metal, our way. Of course, we took the ‘classic’ heavy metal path, because that’s what we grew up with and liked so much, and we didn’t want to change that recipe too much. That’s the boundaries we have; we play classic heavy metal, but we want to do it our way, and we want to do it fresh. We need a fresh production, because there’s a lot of good albums from the ‘80s, that I can’t listen to. It’s so bad, production-wise, and that’s a bummer, because if they were sounding good, I would probably have listened to them.
Are you referring to any bands in particular?
No, actuall, I can’t remember the names because I didn’t listen to those albums. I mean, Oscar [Dronjak, HammerFall guitarist], and Joacim [Cans, HammerFall vocalist], they loved heavy metal at that time, so they listened to a lot of small, strange bands, and when they put them on; “oh, this song is so fucking good”! Yeah, it’s probably a good song, but I can’t listen to it, I can’t stand it!
I’ve noted that you worked with three different producers on ‘Built To Last’.
It kind of became that way, because the head of producing is Fredrik Nordström, who came back on ‘r(E)volition, who worked on the two first albums with HammerFall. He’s in charge, but he wasn’t there in the studio all the time – he just popped in and said some comments about things, and he was with us there in the beginning, to set up the sounds and everything, and he recorded the drums. But then we have Pontus [Norgren, guitarist] in the band, who also is a great producer and studio technician, so it would be foolish of us to not use him. So we recorded the bass and guitars ourselves with Pontus. And then we have James Michael, who recorded all the vocals with Joacim. He produced the whole album ‘Infected’ [in 2011], and that’s when we realised that James and Joacim really matched well together; he could really bring out his voice. He recorded the vocals on ‘r(E)volution’ as well, and that was something we really wanted to do this time too.
You released a fantastic video for single ‘Hammer High’; you must have been pleased with the results of that one.
Well, yeah, we’re pleased, but it’s a video, and there’s always things that we talk about and think about, and it sounds so good on paper but sometimes it doesn’t turn out that way. It’s a good video, and we hope people enjoy it, but for myself, I think there’s a lot of things that could be better.
Quite a number of names have passed through the Hammerfall ranks over the years; does this make it hard to maintain continuity, or is it just part of it?
Well, this is a band, and we tour and we live really close together, and I understand that people want to drop off. I mean, we’ve been around for twenty years, and you change and want different stuff from life. So it’s like kind of like a marriage; some people are made together and want to continue to struggle, but on the other hand, sometimes it’s better just to quit.
Did you miss it when you were out of the band?
When I left in ’97, HammerFall was pretty much nothing; we’d just released the album and it was a really, really small band. I played with a couple of other bands and they were equally big, so I didn’t think of it in them terms. But then after the first album [1997’s ‘Glory To The Brave’] was released, then it really took off, and it took off fast, and they became really big. I think the first show they actually played outside of Sweden was at Waken Open Air [festival, in Germany]. But I’ve never regretted that I quit, because I would probably have left after the second album or whatever, because I wanted to do so much else. If I couldn’t concentrate 100% on HammerFall, it was better for me to leave that place open. But coming back in 2007 was a no-brainer, because I was out with Joacim on his solo tour, with Cans, and played a couple of shows, and I really enjoyed the company and had great fun, so when they asked me if I wanted to join HammerFall, it was; “sure, why not?”
You’ve shared stages with a lot of big names over the years; any favourites?
Well, when you play with your childhood idols, it’s something special. Looking at Accept and Judas Priest, it was fantastic to see them on stage, and doing their thing. You instantly become a child again, almost. But, on festival stages, it was a lot of fun to see Iron Maiden; such professionals, even nowadays.
Is there anyone you’d like to tour with that you haven’t yet?
Well, if Iron Maiden would call, I would definitely jump on that plane. That would be amazing!
Finally, what’s next for Hammerfall?
Next stop will be ‘Hammerfest’ [in Gwynedd, Wales], and then we’re going to do some small Swedish things, and then we’ll head off to a North America tour, before the festivals in the summer start. We have probably, at least twenty festivals coming up. There’s a lot of festivals that are not confirmed or are official yet, but hopefully will be.
'Built To Last' is out now, via Napalm Records.