Interview: Oscar Dronjak of Hammerfall
Since the band's inception in 1993, Sweden's Hammerfall have been almost synonymous with the power metal genre. Their lyrics borrowed from Norse mythology and Templar legends, and combining that with massive choruses, allowed for the kind of escapism that draws fans to the genre in the first place.
Now, on Infected, fantasy elements march side-by-side with the problems of the real world, and the band's sound has become even more infected (pardon the pun) by the hard rock elements that began seeping into their sound with the last album. Rest assured, Infected has its share of sing-along choruses and dueling guitars, but you won't find any mentions of knights and dragons on this album.
Guitar World recently spoke to Hammerfall's Oscar Dronjak about the new direction the band has taken, and where he sees the Hammerfall going in the future as they prepare to celebrate 20 years of being a band.
GUITAR WORLD: Right from when you see the album art, it's clear this isn't your typical Hammerfall album. While there are still a lot of fantasy elements, there's also a lot of realism and dealing with real-world problems on this album. Why do you think that is?
I think it's just a case of getting to be a little bit more mature. Every time we write songs, I think it's based on how we are feeling inside, how we are feeling as people at that point. You know, I'm almost 40 and I guess you mature in different ways; for me I think I matured more in the past three years than I did in the previous 13 years, so I think that's definitely the main reason for this change in approach.
Can you see this being a trend for the band?
Absolutely. We all go through changes as human beings, and you never go back; you never go through a change and then the next day, next year, you go back to being who you were before.
In my opinion we have refined the sound of Hammerfall, we haven't re-invented it.
You have a relatively new addition in the band, Pontus [Norgren, lead guitar]. Do you think he's found his place in the band with this new album? Was he hesitant at first about contributing ideas?
On the first record we did together, No Sacrifice, No Victory, he was only in the band for a couple of months before we started recording. That was a big change for him, and he didn't contribute that much. We just sort of recorded [the album.]
After that we did a whole tour together for a couple of years, so when it came time to record this album, he was much more involved. Maybe he didn't contribute as much musically, but production-wise, for sure; it was a very big difference. We could never have done this album without him.
What sort of amps did you use on Infected?
We actually on used one amp on this album, which was the Marshall JVM 4x10. We tried a couple different amps, just to get the feel for something different, but in the end we always went back to the Marshall.
This was the first time we had ever recorded with Marshall, and from now on it's what we use. Before this it was always the Engl, and I still like the Engl very much, but I think this Marshall fits the new sound of Hammerfall much better.
What about your guitars on the new record?
I used my Jackson for almost all of it. Now I'm playing ESP, because I got that after we recorded the album, but on the album I used exclusively Jackson. In fact, I think I only used one guitar for the entire recording, which was an RR-5, I think. It's either the 3 or the 5, I can never remember. [laughs]
How are you liking ESP now that you've changed companies?
I love ESP. The whole reason for me seeking them out was that I used to be endorsed by them a while ago, 1999 or 2000 or thereabouts. They made me two guitars based on the Randy Rhoads, model but they put our little "HF" logo on the inlays. I always loved those guitar, but because I was endorsed by Jackson for several years I couldn't, of course, play the ESP.
I got in touch with Allen Steelgrave from ESP in California and we met up at NAMM, and from that point on, that's it. I love the Jackson guitars but the ESP I think are several steps above that.
Is there anything in your gear set-up that you consider your "secret weapon"?
I just recently started playing with a wah pedal, which I had never done before. I always hated it because it was synonymous with the late-'60s rock music, and I don't like that kind of music very much. I'm more into the '80s metal kind of thing.
But Pontus showed me how to use it as an effect on the solos, rather than doing these crazy things. It gives you a totally different sound; it gives an edge to the solos that wasn't there before.
A lot of players seem to be using their wahs in the wide-open position as a high-end boost for their solos.
Yes, that's exactly it.
What kind of wah are you using?
Does the wah make any appearances on the new record?
I only got it about two months ago, so I didn't use it for the recording. For the recording we actually did some of the solos with the [Overcloud] TH2. Pontus showed me how to use it, he's very much into Pro Tools and all that stuff. He showed me how it can sound when done properly. It's kind of an analog-versus-digital thing because the amp is always my favorite sound regardless, but for the solos this digital sound was fantastic.
So the band formed in 1993. Any plans to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary in 2013?
We're probably going to do something, but there's a totally different way of looking at it. The band was formed in 1993, but if you count from the first album in 1997, I think that's more appropriate because the band really came together in 1996-1997.
So if you look at it from a record-releasing point of view, we're going to be celebrating our 15th anniversary next year and the 20th anniversary from the day the band was founded the following year. I'm hoping to record something in 2012 and release it in 2013.
It would be cool to do some sort of a live DVD or something like that to commemorate it, too.