HAMMERFALL Guitarist Discusses New Album, Lineup Changes

Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal of Metal Assault conducted an interview with guitarist Oscar Dronjak of Swedish melodic metallers HAMMERFALL on March 27, 2010 at the House Of Blues in Hollywood, California. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

Metal Assault: The guitars on the latest album were tuned down one whole step. What was the reason and how did it impact Joacim's [Cans] vocals?

Oscar: We did start out with the standard tuning and dropped half step and continued like that on to the new album where we dropped another half step. It has helped him and I think he feels more secure with the vocals. Even if it's just half a step, it makes a difference. Plus the guitars get heavier and I have no problem with that (laughs). So it all works out.

Metal Assault: What difference has the new lineup [with Pontus Norgren on guitar and Fredrik Larsson on bass] made to the new album?

Oscar: If you just start with the fact that we have two new members in the band, before songs were written and before any rehearsals were done or anything like that, just the fact that we have two new guys it's like an adrenaline injection. To be honest, we had done things the same way for far too long without realizing it. People were kind of tired of going through the motions of recording, touring and writing songs. So this was a good shake-up for us. First we got Fredrik who is my best friend in the whole world. It's fantastic to play with him again. I played with him before when he was in our band for the first time. Having him back is unbelievably cool. He's a much better bass player with Anders [Johansson, drums] because he plays together with him and creates the rhythm, the foundation of what the guitars and the vocals build upon. These details are important and make a difference to me, especially when you are playing live. Pontus is a fantastic guitar player. I'm not taking anything away from Stefan. He was great too, but Pontus is more versatile than Stefan [Elmgren] was which makes it easier. When we write songs, I know that Pontus can do all kinds of different things. On this new album, there is a lot more space for the solos this time and it was intentional. I try to play some solos whenever I can, I'm not that great at it (laughs) but I can do some melodies. I'm like K.K. Downing of JUDAS PRIEST and he's obviously like Glenn [Tipton]. But, that was the sort of way this album was going to be. It was a good way to introduce him. I think we've been lacking in the solo parts. Not that they were bad, but they weren't long enough before. This has nothing to do with Stefan. We just came to a realization that Pontus is a really versatile guitar player. We could have done that with Stefan too but we just never thought about it. Plus the experience of Pontus as a producer and in sound engineering on the tour has been invaluable.

Metal Assault: HAMMERFALL has traditionally done really well in Sweden and other European countries. How much do you think you've progressed here in North America?

Oscar: I don't know about sales and I think they basically still suck. We've done three weeks on this tour and the thing I'm most happy with and the most surprised with, is that at most of the shows the first few rows are filled with teenagers. I didn't see this last time. So that gives me a lot of hope for the future. It was like that in Sweden and Europe too. We started played for people mostly of our age, which was about 25 in those days. Then we started seeing lot more younger people and all of a sudden there is this new metal generation. So this gives me a lot of hope and I hope we can come back again. The way I see it is, we do this tour now which is like ground work, we come back soon for the next time and if there are not many people at the shows then I don't think we are going to tour here anymore. This is the last try. We are a band and everybody has their say, but if I had my way I would like to come back and do it again soon so we can know if this actually worked. Everybody always tells you that in the States you have to keep touring all the time. We never did that. We did 98, 2002, 2005 and now 2010. So four tours in 13 years is not a lot.

Metal Assault: You've had the same label [Nuclear Blast] but three producers through your career. What did each producer bring to you as input?

Oscar: The first producer we had was Fredrik Nordström. He was a friend of mine from before. Both Fredrik and I recorded albums with him before HAMMERFALL. The two HAMMERFALL albums were perfect with him. He is really good at certain things but we felt that we wanted to change the scenery and bring something fresh. Then we decided to do it with Michael Wagener. ACCEPT have been one of our biggest influences and he has done several ACCEPT albums. So it was a great thing and a great experience to be with him. "Renegade" is the best-selling album that we have so obviously he did something right. We had a great eight weeks over there in Nashville. His studio is on the ranch of ACCEPT guitar player Wolf Hoffmann, so for me back then I was star struck! It was like the first time I met Udo [Dirkschneider]. I didn't dare to say anything. I just walked there and looked at him to see if it was even true. Then we found Charlie [Bauerfeind], the producer we've had on the last four albums. I think with the direction we were going in, when we started writing songs for "Crimson Thunder", he was the right man for the job. We have evolved the relationship with him and the working structure is really good now. We're just starting talks about recording a new album. I mean, it's going to be next year or something but we still have to plan it ahead of time. He understands what we want to get out of the music and that's really important too. I've never had any bad experiences with him. I hear about producers who come in and tell people, "Hey this is what I want," and then go out. Charlie is a workhorse. He gets in the studio before everybody else and leaves later than everyone. He works 12 to 14 hours everyday. We have every other weekend off but he does it every day. There is no way I could do that so hats off to him!

Read the entire interview from Metal Assault.

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