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Sunday Old School: Hammerfall

It always feels when looking through the Sunday Old School archives that power metal is an area that gets severely neglected. Of course, there have been some of the big names covered such as Helloween and Blind Guardian, but such acts are few and far between the likes of Napalm Death and Testament. So this week, we’re taking a step to rectify this by focusing one of the most popular bands in the history of power metal, Hammerfall.

The band was formed in 1993 by guitarist Oscar Dronjak, following his departure from extreme metal band Ceremonial Oath, who invited his former bandmate Jesper Strömblad (who had also just formed his own band, In Flames) to join him as the drummer. They were soon joined by bassist Johan Larsson and Niklas Sundin (who were soon replaced by Fredrik Larsson and In Flames guitarist, Glenn Ljungström,) as well as Dark Tranquillity vocalist, Mikael Stanne. Because of the members time mostly being spent with their other bands, Hammerfall was treated as a side project for the most part and had few original songs of their own, mainly performing covers by bands such as Judas Priest and Alice Cooper .

They mostly performed at a local music competition called Rockslaget, which they reached the semi finals of in 1996, at which point Stanne was unable to perform with the band and so, with the initial plan of making him a temporary member, Hammerfall brought in singer Joacim Cans, who impressed them enough that although the group didn’t make the final, he was made the new vocalist on a permanent basis after the show. The band started taking themselves a little more seriously after and recorded a short live performance, which eventually earned them a record deal with the Dutch label Vic Records.

After signing the deal, the band got to work on their debut album, which was released in June 1997 under the title, "Glory to the Brave." It was almost immediately regarded as a classic album in power metal, receiving a perfect score in German magazine Rock Hard, who later featured it in their list of the 500 Greatest Rock and Metal Albums Of All Time. It was the first time the band’s mascot Hector, a Paladin was displayed and although Strömblad was credited as the drummer, it was session musician Patrik Räfling that actually performed on the record, becoming their permanent drummer soon after. Because of the success of the album, the members were required to focus more of their energy on Hammerfall, which led to Ljungström leaving to concentrate on In Flames, while Larsson was more interested in his band, None.

In their place came Stefan Elmgren on guitar and bass player Magnus Rosén, the former of which had contributed some guitar parts to "Glory to the Brave." Around this time, Nuclear Blast purchased Vic Records and invested heavily in to the band, allowing them to record their first music videos for the title track and their eponymous song. Shortly after this, the band began recording their sophomore full length, "Legacy of Kings," which was released in September 1998 and once again received some excellent reviews, as well as reaching the number fifteen spot in Germany and their native Sweden, in addition to entering the Austrian and Japanese charts. A video was made for the song, "Let the Hammer Fall" and the record also included a cover of the Pretty Maids song, "Back to Back," which harked back to one of the group's favourite bands to cover in their early days.

Touring for the album led them to share the stage with such legends as Saxon and Deep Purple, before embarking upon their first world tour, which soon had to have dates postponed and cancelled after Cans and Rosén were struck with throat infections, which soon spread to the rest of the crew. The trek was soon resumed but afterwards, Patrik Räfling left and was replaced by Rosén’s friend, Anders Johansson, the son of famous jazz pianist Jan Johansson and brother of Stratovarius keyboardist, Jens. He made his recording debut with the band on their third album, "Renegade," which hit the shelves in 2000 and was notable for featuring contributions from founding member, Jesper Strömblad. It was another success, topping the charts in Sweden and saw them reach the charts in Switzerland and Finland for the first time.

Following the release of their first DVD, "The Templar Renegade Crusades," the band recorded their fourth album, "Crimson Thunder," which was received very well by critics at pre-release events. It was also another commercially successful effort, entering the French charts for the first time and spawned the single, "Hearts on Fire," which reached number 11 in the Swedish singles chart. It also marked the beginning of their collaboration with artist Samwise Didier, the art designer for video game company, Blizzard who has since contributed pieces to many Hammerfall releases. It was also while preparing to film the "Hearts on Fire" video that Cans was attacked in a bar, having a beer bottle smashed over his head, which resulted in the singer requiring plastic surgery.

Although touring for "Crimson Thunder" was deemed a success, they were robbed by their manager following a tour with Dio and eventually their world tour was brought to a sudden end when Oscar Dronjak was injured in a motorcycle accident. After extensive physiotherapy, he was able to perform again at an event in Germany alongside the likes of Gamma Ray and Helloween. To tide fans over before the next album, another DVD, "One Crimson Night" was released before, "Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken" was released in 2005. It received the usual praise and was notable for the song, "Never Ever," which made references to Game of Thrones long before you convinced your girlfriend to watch it.

"Chapter V..." was followed by “Threshold” in 2006, which not only topped the Swedish album charts, it stayed there for eight weeks, despite it not being quite as revered as previous records. It was also notable for being their last with Magnus Rosén, who left the band the following year to seek more challenges as a musician, which led to the return of former bassist, Fredrik Larsson, who recorded three new songs with the band for the release of their first compilation album, "Steel Meets Steel: Ten Years of Glory." Another compilation album, "Masterpieces" which consisted of cover songs, was released in 2008, following the recruitment of a new guitar player, Pontus Norgren, who replaced Stefan Elmgren.

In 2009, the band released, "No Sacrifice, No Victory," their first full length album of new material in three years, with the exception of a cover of the Knack hit, "My Sharona," which was released as a single along with, "Any Means Necessary," the latter of which also provided the name of their festival tour, "Any Festival Necessary." This was followed two years later with their eighth album, "Infected," the cover of which caused great concern to fans who were worried that the band were moving away from power metal with the image of a grey hand on a black, yet bloody backdrop, making it their first album not to feature the mascot, Hector, though he did appear on the artwork for the single, "Send Me a Sign."

Hammerfall then recorded and released another DVD, "The Gates of Dalhalla," named after the Swedish town where they recorded the show, which featured appearances from former members and saw them celebrate their entire career, after which the band decided to take lengthy break. Eighteen months passed before they reconvened with a renewed sense of desire and linked up once more with producer Fredrik Nordström for their next album, which came in early 2014 under the title, "(r)Evolution." Hector made a triumphant return on the album cover, and was also honoured with the opening track and single, "Hector’s Hymn." It became their third album to top the Swedish charts and also entered the top ten in Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic, while also entering the Billboard charts at number thirty two and topping the Heatseekers Chart. Since then, the band has been riding high on the album’s success, selling out shows worldwide and proving to everyone why they are one of the most popular bands in the history of power metal.

Hammerfall - "Glory to the Brave"

Hammerfall - "Let the Hammer Fall"

Hammerfall - "Renegade"

Hammerfall - "Hearts on Fire"

Hammerfall - "Bloodbound"

Hammerfall - "Natural High"

Hammerfall - "Patient Zero"

Hammerfall - "Hector's Hymn"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.

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