Classic heavy metal was very much out of vogue when Hammerfall guitarist Oscar Dronjak founded the band after his 1993 departure from Swedish death metal outfit Ceremonial Oath. The classic sounds circled back around again though, and more than 25 later, Hammerfall is still thriving thanks to their latest record, Dominion, and their current tour alongside fellow power metal titans Sabaton. The tour comes to The Wiltern this Friday, October 11, and we caught up with Dronjak as the tour started and picked his brain about the endurance of pure heavy metal.
L.A. WEEKLY: What drew you away from playing death metal with Ceremonial Oath to playing the type of classic heavy metal that Hammerfall plays?
OSCAR DRONJAK: Classic heavy metal was how I learned to play guitar in the ’80s. I was playing along to bands like Judas Priest and Accept. When I got older, I changed schools and met some friends that were into thrash and death metal. I had so much fun playing death metal, but I didn’t like any of the newer death metal bands that were coming out in the early ’90s. I realized that for all of the years I had been playing death metal music, my source of inspiration for my playing was still the classic heavy metal sound I grew up with, and I had just added the death metal bounce to it. I realized that Hammerfall was something that needed to happen for my own sake.
How do you challenge yourself to not just write the same album over and over again after twenty-five years?
You have to write songs in the vein that people have come to expect from Hammerfall. But the beauty of that is that’s the only thing I have ever wanted to do. I don’t have any other creative urges that I can’t get out through Hammerfall. Whenever I write music, this is the absolute top of music for me. This is heavy metal. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do.
Hammerfall just released its eleventh album, Dominion. Was there anything different about your songwriting approach compared to your previous works?
I wrote songs on the road, which was a first for me. I started bringing along a laptop computer with Pro Tools and a Traveler Guitar, which is a full-scale guitar neck but everything else is trimmed down so you can fit it in a suitcase. I never thought it my wildest dreams that I could write like that.
What I didn’t realize was that being on stage every night was such an adrenaline kick that you could convert to writing new and exciting songs. I used to think that if I wrote songs on the road while playing Hammerfall songs every night that what I would come up would just sound exactly like the songs I was just playing on stage. I’m so glad that I was wrong about that.
What is it about the classic heavy metal sound that resulted in it circling back to being something you could make a career out of again?
I don’t know if I have a definitive answer to the “why” of that question. I think one of the reasons people are so attached to heavy metal is that you don’t start listening to it unless you really love it. For me, that’s the power of heavy metal. It’s like that quote about the Mafia — once you’re in, you’re in.
We do this because we love it. I started Hammerfall because I loved this music, not because I thought I would be walking around somewhere in America 25 later waiting to play my next show. We just started playing this music because we love it and have passion for it. If people listening can hear the passion, they feel the passion too.
Hammerfall plays with Sabaton on Friday, October 11th at The Wiltern.