After quitting the death metal act Ceremonial Oath in 1993, guitarist Oscar Dronjak formed HammerFall and soon asked Jesper Strömblad to join him. Since this idea had been existing in Oscar's for a while, the name, general direction and some music (such as the song "Steel Meets Steel") were already there. Jesper and Oscar decided that HammerFall had to be forwarded on a project level, since both wanted to keep on with their other, freshly started, bands, In Flames and Crystal Age respectively. They enlisted the help of fellow metallers Niklas Sundin (guitar) and Mikael Stanne (vocals) of Dark Tranquillity, and Johan Larsson (bass guitar).
The formative years
The aim was to get together a couple of times each year, rehearsing to particitpate in a local music competition called "Rockslaget". Time went on, and Niklas and Johan were replaced by Glenn Ljungström (In Flames) and Fredrik Larsson (Crystal Age). Apart from the HammerFall tunes "Steel Meets Steel" and "HammerFall", the band performed the Pretty Maids classic "Red, Hot and Heavy" as well as the Alice Cooper 1987 metal icon "Freedom".
The turning point
Fast forward to 1996. For the first time, HammerFall advanced to the semi-finals of "Rockslaget" with "Steel Meets Steel" , "Unchained" and the Judas Priest anthem "Breaking The Law". Amidst the celebration, it was discovered that vocalist Mikael was going to be unavailable at the time of the semi-finals. Hence, a new singer had to be brought in for this gig. After a bit of research, the name Joacim Cans came up. A phone call later, and they were in business. The cooperation with Joacim proved to be a success, and he was immediately sworn in as a permanent member of the HF clan. Though entering a strong performance in the competition, HammerFall never reached the finals; the band was edged out in the last minute by the judges, who perhaps feared the imminent and unavoidable rise of Heavy Metal once again to international prominence. However, a two-track live performance was recorded and sent on video tape to Roel van Reijmersdal of the Dutch label Vic Records. He marvelled over its contents and immediately offered HammerFall a deal. Consequently, the summer and fall of this, the olympic year, was spent writing, rehearsing and perfecting the soon-to-be debut album, already entitled "Glory To The Brave".
The recording session
The songs recorded during sixteen fabulous November days were: "The Metal Age", "Unchained", "HammerFall", "Child Of The Damned", "Steel Meets Steel", "The Dragon Lies Bleeding", "I Believe", "Stone Cold" and "Glory To The Brave". All are original HammerFall tracks except "Child Of The Damned", which was the band's tribute to the far too unnoticed metal masters Warlord. The lyrics deal with topics ranging from sword wielding warriors and the travelling of dimensions, to paying homage to Heavy Metal and the losing of beloved ones. They are designed to complement the music and at the same time tell a story; simply to entertain the listener
The rollercoaster ride begins
In January 1997, Oscar and Joacim decided that, in order to be able to give HammerFall no less than 100 %, a few line-up changes were necessary. Jesper and Glenn decided to continue full time with In Flames, and they were replaced by Patrik Räfling (who actually plays the drums on the album) and Stefan Elmgren, both members of Joacim's previous band Highlander. Oscar and Fredrik's Crystal Age had ceased to exist a long time ago, but Fredrik also had another commitment: the thrash metal group Beyond, now called None. He decided to stick around long enough for the HammerFall to find a replacement, though. Shortly thereafter, the German label Nuclear Blast approached Vic Records and HammerFall, showing great interest. This encounter resulted in a licensed release of their debut CD and a four-album deal for the band, starting with the next record.
The release preparations
Nuclear Blast wanted to launch HammerFall heavily onto the world, and in order to do that, they needed a visual aspect beside the musical. Therefore, two videos were recorded in the beginning of May 1997, to the songs "HammerFall" and "Glory To The Brave". The making of the videos took place in and outside the small Swedish town Mora, and was realised and supervised by Alfen Productions. A promotion single with the tracks "Glory To The Brave" (radio/video edit), "HammerFall", "I Believe" and "The Dragon Lies Bleeding" was printed and distributed throughout the world. On the sleeve, it was falsely printed "Stone Cold" as the fourth song. This was a mistake, as the song appearing on the CD is in fact "The Dragon Lies Bleeding". To do the music contained on the album justice, the legendary great Andreas Marschall (Running Wild, Blind Guardian, U.D.O.) was asked to paint the full length album cover. He came up with the finished version a little over a week before his initial contact with the band, giving the HammerFall concept its finishing touches. The month of May also saw the HammerFall line-up completed, when Magnus Rosén joined on bass guitar. He is most famous for his work with Billionaires Boys Club and Keegan. Magnus is an extremely skilled bass bender and has proven to be a valuable addition to the rhythm section. As hard as it seemed to be to replace Fredrik, the HammerFall line-up finally was complete!
The initial response
Neither Nuclear Blast nor the band themselves could expect that a heavy metal band could get such exposure and raving reviews in the nineties, but it happened! "Glory To The Brave" was awarded Album Of The Month in both Rock Hard and Heavy Oder Was?, two of Germany's leading metal magazines, earning 10 out of 10 and 11 out of 12 respectively. The album entered the German Music Chart at position no. 38, the highest for a debut heavy metal album ever! All of Europe's major metal press almost unanimously praised the album, and the sales figures showed that also the fans loved HammerFall.
The first outings
In August, the band co-headlined an eight show tour of Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands together with rock legends Raven, with Tank as opening act. The first HammerFall concert outside of Sweden was at Wacken Open Air, in front of 12-14,000 fans. The tour was completed in at the Pop Komm festival in Cologne, at the Luxor. In front of a jam packed house of 500, the tour package got assistance from Virgin Steele and Lake Of Tears. After spending three weeks at home, it was time to hit the road again, this time with long time hero Kai Hansen's Gamma Ray and the American band Jag Panzer. The tour package travelled through most Western European countries, and it was a complete success, from start to finish! On the second night, at the Heavy Oder Was? Festival in Tübingen, Germany, Andy Mück, formerly of Stormwitch, joined HammerFall in a rendition of the German cult band's "Ravenlord", to a rabid crowd reaction. The ending in Greece was also a memorable one, as the first show in Athens was sold out beforehand. The promotor decided to book another show the next day, and 2,500 people saw HammerFall and Gamma Ray tear down the house two nights in a row! A great conclusion to a great tour!
The winter months
A new video of the song "Glory To The Brave" was made in August, and a CD-single was released. The release featured a radio version of the title track, a studio version of Stormwitch's "Ravenlord" - the first material ever recorded with this line up - and was supposed to include a remixed and remastered version of "I Believe", recorded at the Wacken Open Air. As it happens, Nuclear Blast made the tragic and unforgivable mistake of pressing the record with a rough mix of "The Metal Age" from Wacken. The second pressing of the CD-single featured the originally scheduled "I Believe", but the harm was already done. During the fall, the album was also released in U.S.A. and Japan. Before long, the total sales figure of "Glory To The Brave" was approaching 100,000 records worldwide! Who would have thought this a year ago? This capped off an unusually eventful year in the life of HammerFall. The band got an early Christmas gift when the nominees for the annual Swedish Grammis Awards were announced. The impact of the band had not gone unnoticed, as HammerFall was nominated in Best Hard Rock Act. Although the award went to another band, the meaning of the all this is not to be overlooked: another victory for heavy metal was one simply by being nominated, once again bringing the music back to the forefront.
The new year
The year of 1998 was kicked off with a short headline tour, supported by Belgia n cult act Double Diamond. Five gigs were played in Belgium - a country not visited by HammerFall before - and the Netherlands. Shortly thereafter, the first HammerFall concert in Göteborg in six months was scheduled. It was organised by Rock Scene, and the 400+ tickets were sold out over a week before the show. The concert was recorded live to be used on an upcoming single. Before starting to concentrate on the follow up to "Glory To The Brave", a handful of Swedish shows were made, to overwhelming response.
The pressure is on…and delt with
The last couple of months had been sporadically used for song writing, but in February the real work started. The recording was sheduled to begin on April 27th, and the expectations would be sky high for the second full length album from these guys. Once again written by Oscar, Joacim and Jesper, "Legacy Of Kings" lived up to every one of those expectations. On a side note, due to Jesper no longer being an active part of the band, his input in this album is considerably smaller, often reduced to just a riff or a melody. But all three wanted to continue writing together, to preserve the magic that made "Glory To The Brave" what is was. Around 40 days was spent in Studio Fredman perfecting "Legacy Of Kings". It was hard work, but it paid off in the end. The result is a much more mature album than the first, both playing wise and in the structure of the songs. A large attention to detail was paid, from the overall sound to every little part of every song. The album was produced by Fredrik Nordström and Oscar Dronjak, with assistance from Joacim Cans on some vocal parts.
Festival frenzy I
Beginning with Dynamo Open Air (Holland) in May and ending with the Rock Hard Festival (Germany) in August, HammerFall made appearances on several festivals. Apart from the already mentioned, Karlshamns Rock Festival (Sweden) and Monsters Of Rock (Italy) in June, and Mind Over Matter (Austria) and With Full Force (Germany) in July are among worth mentioning. Bands that appeared at these festivals were: Rammstein, Dee Snider's S.M.F.'s, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Dream Theatre, Saxon, Stratovarius and countless others
The second chart entry
On August 3rd, the first sample of what "Legacy Of Kings" would sound like was unleashed upon the world in the form of a single. The songs on the release were "Heeding The Call", a classic heavy metal track, "Eternal Dark", a Picture cover, and three of the live tracks recorded in Göteborg in January, showing the pure strength and power of a heavy metal concert. The single entered the German Singles Charts on position 48 and stayed on for three weeks, selling almost 20,000 copies in the process. Compare this with the Blind Guardian - one of the leading German bands - single "Mirror, Mirror", which entered the chart on pos. 44 but was nowhere to be found the next week, and you will begin to understand what an incredible breakthrough this was for HammerFall and Nuclear Blast!
More dreams come true
Like "Glory To The Brave", "Legacy Of Kings" was launched with a release party. This took place at Kåren, Göteborg, on September 19th, in conjunction with the Swedish Music Fair also happening that same weekend. In order to make this a very special night, some guest artists were invited. First up was AC, the former drummer of Running Wild and current Lacrimosa beat master, with whom the band performed the Rainbow anthem "Man On The Silver Mountain". For lifelong Accept fans - like the band themselves, for example - the next guest was truly unbelieveable; Mr. Udo Dirkschneider himself made an appearance, taking the mike on two Accept hymns, the fantastic "Head Over Heels" and the immortal "Balls To The Wall"! On the latter, the ensemble was joined by Motorhead's Mikkey Dee on drums. The party was concluded with a very special version of Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law", where all band members switched instruments with each other.
A flair for tributes
During the summer, the band was asked to participate on three different tribute albums, to three of their childhood heroes. Rock Hard and Century Media Records wanted to follow up their success with the "Judas Priest: Legends Of Metal" tribute albums from last year with one revering the great Ronnie James Dio. HammerFall recorded "Man On The Silver Mountain" from the first Rainbow album. Nuclear Blast will hit the world with two tribute albums, one for Accept and one for Helloween. "Head Over Heels" from "Balls To The Wall" and "I Want Out" from Keeper Of The Seven Keys part 2" was chosen for these releases. What better way to record a Helloween song, than in Hansen Studios? The session was booked for the beginning of October, and all three songs were recorded at the same time. To make their contribution something special, the band wanted to have a special appearance on each song. Being a major Cozy Powell fan, AC was once again asked to join the band for "Man On The Silver Mountain". Kai Hansen helped make "I Want Out" a very memorable version by singing a duet with Joacim and playing a little guitar, and "Head Over Heels" was recorded partly with Udo Dirkschneider on vocals, uniting the old and the new in heavy metal. Needless to say, this was an unforgettable experience for the five HammerFall members, and a great way of preparing for the upcoming tour.
The Templar World Crusade Part One
On October 15th, the band began their first world tour. The band had jumped the gun two weeks earlier, supporting Deep Purple in Copenhagen and Stockholm, but the 'real' premiere took place at die Markthalle in Hamburg, together with Primal Fear, Labyrinth and Pegazus. Not so surprisingly, the band were joined by Kain Hansen and Dirk Schlächter for an encore of "I Want Out", the first of only two times HammerFall has played the song live. This first leg of the tour went through Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Holland and Belgium. After the last show, at the Longhorn in Stuttgart, it was off to the United States of America, for a five week, twenty-eight-show tour with labelmates Death. Judging from the amount of e-mails the band recieved from North America afterwards, and the sales figures in said territory, this tour was a huge success. It served its purpose; to expose the US citizens to what heavy metal is all about and how it is supposed to be performed.
The Templar World Crusade Part Two
After a short break for Christmas, it was Japan's turn, as HammerFall made four very well recieved shows in the Land of the Rising Sun in January. Going there was a remarkable experience for the band members, as the japanese organisation was impeccable and the fans were very educated to the band's music. The cultural differences were huge but interesting, to say the least! The day after returning to swedish shore, the band was scheduled to perform at a party held by Shure Brothers in Göteborg. Shortly before The Templar World Cusade began, HammerFall had agreed to an endorsement deal with the world famous company, who supplies its artists with microphones, among other things. The purpose of the party was to initiate the only two swedish bands endorsed by Shure: HammerFall and Arvingarna, a very popular dance band. No rest for the wicked they say, and so, with only three days passing since HammerFall returned from the japanese shows, it was off on tour again. Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, as well as the parts of Europe that was never visited in October/November, was up next. Countries such as Spain and France would definately not be forgotten on this Crusade for Heavy Metal, which was joined by Edguy and, for four selected swedish shows, the legendary U.D.O.! Unfourtunately, disaster struck at the end of the swedish leg: Joacim caught a serious throat infection and was sidelined, unable to speak - let alone sing! To make matters worse, Magnus immediately caught the infection, and before the trip was over, most people on the bus had caught at least a minor version of the illness! During the second sold out show at Die Hafenbahn in Offenbach - thanks a lot, people, you rule! - half the crew were bedridden with the disease, hence no pyrotechnics. As is custom in this venue from hell, the temperature was at least 50° C, and Stefan, the latest casualty, valiantly defied common sense and performed that night. Sure, he had to go and throw up in the middle of the set, but what mustn't be done in the name of heavy metal?! The affected shows had to be postponed or, where that was impossible, cancelled. As it turned out, all but one gig was rescheduled at a later date. See you next time, Malmö, sorry for any inconvenience! Inexplicably and highly regretfully, Greece was left out this time. The band still has no idea why it didn't materialise, but it might have something to do with local promotors not wanting to bring them over. If you want to see HammerFall in Greece on the next tour - rest assured that the band desperately want to return - tell your local promotor so at the next metal show you attend.
The South American Adventure, The Templar World Crusade Part Three
As March neared its end, Magnus, Joacim, Oscar and tour manager AC allowed themselves four short days of vacation on the beautiful brazilian west coast, before the rendevouz with the rest of the crew in Sao Paolo. Two regular shows and one acoustic were scheduled, and all that had been said about south american audiences proved to be true! The fans were absolutely crazy and the atmosphere was fantastic! This continued in the other two countries visied on this continent, Chile - where HammerFall headlined a festival in front of over two thousand fans, after Deicied had cancelled - and Argentina - where the stage was a good three meters high and created the feeling the band was playing for a bunch of hungry lions - and HammerFall went home after yet another successful crusade.
Domestic difficulties are overcome
The touring before the festival season was almost over when HammerFall sat down and discussed the future commitments and attitudes within the band. It was mutually agreed that, since Patrik no longer had the drive and desire that burned so bright inside the others, he should step down and let someone else accept the responsibility of being a member of a Heavy Metal Force such as this. Anders Johansson, a good friend of Magnus', was asked to fill the void left by Patrik, first only as a temporary replacement over the summer. As it turned out, the atmosphere with Anders in the band was exceptional and all parties wanted a continuation. In August 1999, Anders was offered a permanent position and promptly accepted. His professionalism, easy going and humorous attitude is a welcome addition to the HammerFall ranks. The HF Family was whole again. Anders is most famous for the work he did in Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force during the latter half of the Eighties, but Anders has participated on over 100 albums throughout his illustrious career. One of them was Billionaires Boys' Club (1993), where the other members were Magnus Rosén, Jörg Fischer and Marc Boals. Along with his brother Jens (of Stratovarius fame), Anders has released many records on their label Heptagon Records, mainly focusing on the fusion side of things, a trait inherited to them by their father, Jan Johansson, a very famous swedish jazz pianist.
The last of the tributes
After doing only two shows with Anders behind the drums, it was time to record yet another tribute song. The band had been approached by a Swedish label that was planning a tribute album to Swedish heavy metal. Now, how could anyone pass on that opportunity? The choice was easy and would fit HammerFall like a glove: "Run With The Devil" from the 1983 Heavy Load classic "Stronger Than Evil". As now is par for HammerFall and tribute recordings, some of the members of the covered band were asked to do guest appearances. The track was recorded in Thunderload Studio - owned and operated by the Wahlquist brothers (Heavy Load strongmen) - the very same studio "Run With The Devil" was originally recorded in back in 1983. Talk about nostalgia!
Festival Frenzy II, The Templar World Crusade Part Four For three months, HammerFall made festival appearances virtually every weekend. It started off weird, with a gig in the very north of Sweden, where it still was extremely cold at night. When the band arrived, the ceiling in the tent they were supposed to be playing in was too low for explosives. At this stage, pyrotechnics is an essential part of the bands live performance, wherefore the desicion to remove the ceiling directly above the stage was taken. This had two effects: first, the pyros could be used, and secondly, it was well below the freezing point.The band all had their difficulties in keeping the hands and feet warm enough to move, few things are as hard as playing when you can't feel your fingers! In Offenbach it was too hot, now too cold. Will they ever be satisfied? Countries such as Spain (Eurometal '99), Italy (Gods Of Metal), Sweden (Sweden Rock Festival, Hultsfredsfestivalen), Denmark (Roskildefestivalen) and Germany (Bang Your Head IV) were visited by HammerFall during the warmer months of the year, culminating with Wacken Open Air in August. The Templar World Crusade was celebrated with an end-tour-party in Göteborg together with local fun favourites Jävlar Anamma. This concluded ten hectic but fun-filled months of almost non stop travelling, taking the band through almost twenty countries on four different continents.
Video and single
Nuclear Blast - for reasons unexplained - decided to nix the idea of a Helloween tribute album, but HammerFall already had their version recorded and ready. The band felt that this cooperation between the old and the new in heavy metal was too interesting for the fans to be left forgotten, and so the single "I Want Out" came about. Featuring "At The End Of The Rainbow", "Man On The Silver Mountain" and a multimedia track (the first video of "Glory To The Brave"), the single was intended to be low priced as a thanks to the fans for sticking with the band. That was not always the case, however, as middle men everywhere often saw a way of making some easy cash and priced the single as a mini-CD. Despite that, "I Want Out" did well and got a favourable reception from most who heard it. A HammerFall home video had been in the works for the last six months, and was now finally ready. It was dubbed "The First Crusade", dealing with the period between May 1996 and September 1998. The segments between the video clips was shot on location at the release party for "Legacy Of Kings, which was the last clip featured on the tape. The release has been met with nothing but great reviews and is destined to be followed by a sequel.
Together with the fans, HammerFall had proved that heavy metal music was still alive and well in the nineties. Now, it's time to turn our eyes towards the next millennium. What lies ahead? What territories are there to explore, what worlds are there to conquer? Who knows what tomorrow will bring? HammerFall do know, however, that none of this and nothing that happens in the future is possible without you, the true heavy metal fan! You are deeply thanked and invited to once again join in letting the world know that A METAL HEART IS HARD TO TEAR APART! The victory march for heavy metal has only begun!