by Ana Krunic
VANCOUVER – Traditional heavy metal’s progeny, power metal, has its roots and biggest fan base in Europe. Across the Pacific, we have more of a penchant for death and thrash metal. Indeed, watch a power metal music video from anywhere in the world (always liberally sprinkled with mountaintop guitar solos and haphazardly CGI’d flames and/or medieval scenery) and you’d have a hard time saying that it doesn’t have a distinctly “European feel” to it. The traditional scene has been rising up against the steady torrent of ultra-heavy sounds we’ve been inclined towards in the Americas. That same change happened in Europe in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the European power metal sound came to be with bands like Blind Guardian and Helloween. But even then, the genre was seen as the weird and uncool stepchild of the genre.
Sweden’s HammerFall was forged in the same fires, coming together in 1993 when guitarist Oscar Dronjak quit his band, Ceremonial Oath, and curated a lineup that included members of Swedish powerhouses In Flames and Dark Tranquility. They didn’t release original music for a few years, focusing on live shows and covers before releasing 1997’s Glory to the Brave. It struck a nerve in Europe, at a time when power metal was gaining popularity. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Dronjak prefers to distance himself from that resurgence.
“We have never identified with the ‘power metal movement’ that started towards the end of the ‘90s,” he says. “When I formed HammerFall in 1993, there was no such thing. U.S. power metal was a thing, but that was bands like Savatage, Omen, and Jag Panzer. We came from the German school of heavy metal, which spawned bands like Stormwitch, Accept, and Running Wild, among countless others. At the time, heavy metal was considered outdated and supremely uncool by the people ‘in-the-know,’ but we didn’t shy away from it because we loved heavy metal music. We wore the badge and wore it proudly, and fuck you if you didn’t respect that. Which a lot of people didn’t, since grunge and aggressive, rhythm-based music was all the rage in the ‘90s. So I get offended when people lump us into that category – we have always been proud to call ourselves a heavy metal band since day one, and nobody can change that.”
HammerFall’s career is an insight into the popularity of the genre and how it’s changed around the world. It’s been hard in the past to sell out shows as a heavy/power metal act in North America. Now, though, there are more homegrown bands of that style, crowds are growing, and international acts have been stopping in more frequently.
“Canada has always been more European in this aspect,” says Dronjak. “But now it seems even the U.S. is starting to wake up. The tours we did in 2005 and 2010 were a little disappointing to us, but the tour we did last year with Delain really showed a difference. And here we are, five shows into our most successful headline tour in North America yet. I guess hard work pays off!”
Their current North American headliner tour marks 20 years since the release of Glory to the Brave. Whether you call them power metal or heavy metal, Dronjak seeks to keep it true with HammerFall for as long as possible.
Hammerfall plays The Rickshaw Theatre on June 9th with Flotsam and Jetsam.