The many faces of Hammerfall: metal, My Sharona, and Taekwon-Do

Back towards the end of January I had the fortune to chat with Anders Johansson of Hammerfall about the band's upcoming release No Sacrifice, No Victory - coming out in March this year. The last time I talked to Anders was in May 2008, when they were just heading into the studio to record the album.

Listening to No Sacrifice, No Victory, and comparing it to earlier releases, such as 1998's Legacy of Kings, you can really see how Hammerfall have evolved; their releases are less raw, but at the same time don't sound overly engineered. I ran this past Anders and he agreed.

'I think it's very important to stay true to metal and yourself. And I also listened to Legacy of Kings yesterday!' he laughed. 'It's my favourite album, probably my personal favourites are the new one and Legacy of Kings. The raw is nicer sounding, and the newer albums are starting to be more vocal, but not overly... When we record, we try to record to make sure we can play it live.'

The result of this is that while Hammerfall record and edit like anybody else, and that while the process itself is very digitised, they don't use the process to add on too many extraneous things.

'It's layered a little bit, but not too much of course. Some parts are harmonies on guitars and vocals that we can't really do live, but then again, it's not too much of that stuff,' Johansson hastened to add. 'We are a guitar-based band, and we can't use too many keyboards normally.'

This last comment is in reference to the guest appearance made on the album by Johansson's brother, Jens - keyboard player for Stratovarious - on the organ, on  Between two worlds; and a lead solo on the instrumental track. They used Jens because, as Anders put it, 'he is the best one around'.

As Hammerfall fans would know, Stefan Elmgren left the fold fairly early last year, to pursue his dream of being a pilot. Anders was fairly neutral on the issue of whether it's been weird without Elmgren, despite the latter having been with the band for eleven years.

'He talked to me about it a few weeks before. The thing was, due to his pilot schedule he was too hectic. He didn't want to quit the band: it was a forced thing. He thought he didn't have enough to make it and had to pursue it when he saw that he had a chance. I think it was a surprise to everybody,' mused Johansson. 'It came so fast. We knew that he was studying to be a pilot and looking for jobs.'

But - back to the release! Given that Charlie Bauerfeind worked with Hammerfall again as engineer for this release, I had to ask Johansson whether he enjoyed working with him. When I asked what Bauerfeind is like to work with, the very serious response I got was:

'He's very German. He works long, long hours, and he's very dedicated, and he's like a working machine,' Anders emphasised. 'It's weird how much concentration he has. He's very true to the power metal, and metal in general, so you know; he's very German, and very dedicated, and reliable, and very good for Hammerfall. The other thing is that he's been withthe band for many years, everybody's happy with the way he works. He's very easy to get along with and stable, and gets the best out of the band.'

But on the other hand, Johansson was a little bit ambivalent about it.

'There are other producers and I think, um, it would be interesting in a way - but a big change. we recorded with other guys, and I personally liked it, and the other guys didn't. It's a good compromise with Charlie coz he's a good producer.'

One thing that really made me smile, with astonishment I might add, when I listened to No Sacrifice, No Victory, was that Hammerfall covered The Knack's My Sharona as the very last track on the release. I just had to know the story.

'That was my idea!' exclaimed Johansson joyfully. 'This My Sharona thing started when we were hanging out backstage, our sound engineer used to play on guitar backstage, and Oscar is a technical player: he plays different riffs, and parts of different metal songs. I thought that when he played My Sharona that he didn't really know the song, but when Oscar played it  we realised how much the fans liked it. Even metal fans. I told him we should record it as a joke, and keep it as a bonus track. He was like "I don't know, don't know". I nagged him a few more times and he was like "ok, let's do it". And it turned out pretty good. Joachim sang it; it was easy for him.'

To make things even more interesting, Oscar competed in the Swedish National Taekwon-Do Championships towards the end of 2008. It's something that Oscar and Anders both do - though Anders has been doing it longer - and they don't normally compete, because of the risk to their fingers and elbows from injury. 

'When Oscar was competing, he was doing little trials you do when you demonstrate kicks and punches in sequence. He's a very sports-oriented guy really. He was picking it up pretty good. I have almost a black belt; he's getting there: he's a blue belt.'

And if you're wondering whether they use each other as sparring partners, they did. But only for a short while.

Hammerfall have a huge tour schedule lined up for this year, and while Johansson hopes they'll get to Australia, and while everybody really wants to come, it is - as is usually the case - a matter of waiting for the right situation, and seeing if the local promoters see fit to bring them out here.

'We've talked about it and come close a couple of times. I don't know why it didn't happen; I think the situation was that we were told that we would have to pay for it.'

Well, let's hope that this release and the clips that the band have done will push their popularity high enough that we'll see Hammerfall here sooner rather than later.

Hammerfall's No Sacrifice, No Victory will be released on 20 February in Europe on and everywhere else on 24 March 2009.