Heart of Steel: Interviews

Interview With Joacim Cans
Intro and interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Interview photos taken by Humberto Sanchez

Joacim_pic13.jpg (9909 bytes)What is it called when a bunch of famous musicians from well known and appreciated metal bands let their creative juices flow and keep their passion burning in order to achieve some goal together? Perhaps īA Heavy Metal super groupī? I guess thatīs a descriptive enough common word for this anyway and Joacim Cans, the vocalist of HammerFall, can rightfully be proud of the line-up for his first solo album titled Beyond the Gates. Along with Joacim, there are musical contributions from no less than Mat Sinner from Primal Fear, Jeff Waters from Annihilator, David Chastain from CJSS, Mark Zonder from HammerFall, “Metal” Mike Chlasciak from the Halford band, etc.

I met Joacim here in Helsinki at Hotel Radisson Plaza on March 2nd after spending a long and rather stressful day at my work. I was therefore lucky and glad to see him so excited and full of energy to talk about his first solo album Beyond the Gates along with other interesting and thought-provoking things as well...

Hereīs what I got, so get yourself comfortable and please enjoy reading...

 “Beyond the Gates of HammerFall”

 First off, congratulations for making a strong debut solo album.

Thank you very much for your kind words...!!



I was listening to it 3-4 yesterday and I was really impressed with what I heard. Itīs just a really HEAVY album all in all!! Also, Iīm impressed by the strong line-up you have for this album. Thereīs guys from such bands as Primal Fear, Fates Warning, the Halford band, and Annihilator who have contributed the songs on it one way or the other...

Well, Jeff (Waters) isnīt actually playing on the album. He wrote the last song on the album, that ballad song (“Forever Ends”). I got that song from Jeff. I had only two guitar players on this record; one of them is Stefan Elmgren from HammerFall and the other is “Metal” Mike Chlasciak from the Halford band. So Jeff is not actually playing on the record. I think thereīs been going around a few rumors lately that Jeff would also play on the album, but the fact is he just wrote one song for this album and thatīs all. He doesnīt play on this record at all.



And Jeff sent you this particular song on either a tape or CD?

Yes, the thing is that this was the only song I didnīt have anything to do with. I got it, it already had all the musical parts in it, all the lyrics ready, everything was there. I said that as the song is so good, I really need to have it on the album, too.



Do you kind of feel that you are fortunate that you were able to work with so many talented players for this album?

Absolutely... absolutely!! I must say that I wanted to have like a base of musicians that are like, well, first of all, comparable to each other and then they bring... well, letīs take that movie called “X-men”, for instance. They have different people in that movie; one of them has this vision and you have that Wolverine guy and everyone brings in something īuniqueī into that movie, yīknow. And since I wanted to have a dark, heavier, like semi-progressive, but still melodic metal album compared to HammerFall. I needed to have a person that could bring in some progressiveness into the music without making it too complicated, yīknow. Like the guitar parts, for example. My first thought about that kind of person was Mark Zonder (Fates Warning), who else could have it been? And he hasnīt bothered me, but asked me for a long time like: “Whatever you are gonna do in the future, count me in...”. It was actually very easy for me to ask from Mark whether he might be interested in this type of project and he was like: “Yeah, sure... no problem man at all...!!”.

And then I wanted to have a bass player that could have more kind of a īrockīnīroll grooveī in his playing style and who could have been better choice for that position than Matt Sinner (Primal Fear), to deliver something like that. I asked him on tour and he said the same thing as Mark did: “Yes, of course!! Usually I donīt do this, but as you asked it from me in the first place, letīs do it...!!”.

As for guitar players, I wanted to have two different types of players. On one side is Stefan who is more like a īthinking guyī, kind of like saying to himself while composing something for a song: “Ok, first Iīll take this note and I will hold it like for 40 seconds and then Iīll move on to another note... perfect!”. And then Mike... He just comes there, he plugs his guitar in and starts playing.

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And he just let it go...

Yeah, he just let it go. And out of the combination of all these people became this album. And yes, itīs a solo album, but still thereīs a band behind it after all.



What was, or were, the most demanding thing(s) to make this album as far as the songs are concerned? Was it hard to make songs “click” with one another both style-wise and concept-wise as well?

I never actually see it like that way that the songs should īclickī, like you put it, together to each other because when I sat down and made a plan for the whole album, I decided immediately that I didnīt want to have 10 different īprojectsī. I wanted to have a real band feeling around this album to back me up. Then I invited many different song writers to write songs for the album with me. And in order to not make all the songs stand out from each other, sounding more like a compilation album - I mean, thatīs why I wanted to have a band to make the whole album to sound like a whole piece. So I was never really nervous about how this album would have turned out musically. Of course when I heard the song “Dreams” for the first time, I listened to it and it sounded like a Pop-Hard Rock song and I went like: “Uh-huh... what am I supposed to do with this song...?!”. Then I started thinking: “Ok... if we add some guitars over that part, making it to sound like Genesis in 1975...”, like a semi-progressive thing in the middle and it worked even though some songs are far away from each other musically.



joacim_cover.jpg (16001 bytes)If you could look back and think about the album from the beginning up to the mixing and mastering of the album - did you notice that the more you progressed and developed ideas, the more you wanted to strive for some kind of perfection, to find the very best elements and avoid any compromises as much as possible?

I think I went into a gut feeling most of the time. I was listening to the stuff I got and I started to work with like the vocal lines and I felt at some point that it didnīt work as I could not come up with anything good. I said: “No, Iīm sorry, but I cannot use this song...” because I really needed to get a feeling for this song and also a feeling to be able to work with it. I mean, I got 12 songs from David Chastain alone and just used one of them for this record.



12 songs? Thatīs quite a lot from him...

12 songs... yeah, I mean, ideas for songs! But you know, that guy does write a lot of stuff. Same with Matt Sinner, he got 8 or 9 songs, I think and used two of them for the album. One was fantastic, but it was like a very traditional Power Metal type of song and I was too afraid to do that because maybe it would have been too close to some HammerFall stuff and that was a big īno-noī for this direction I wanted the songs to go toward on BEYOND THE GATES. Then obviously the only question in every interview would have been: “Why did you do it...?”. Like why did you do it an album that sounds exactly like HammerFall? Itīs very important that it didnīt make it for this album and I really satisfied I made this decision even if the song was great and all that, yīknow.



Could you say what songs  on BEYOND THE GATES represent the style of how you wanted this album to sound in the first place? Do you have any faves?

Usually I cannot pick up any songs as my fave songs as it actually takes time to find your own favorite songs from any albums you do, but I can give you one song that pleases me very much and itīs the track no. 6 on BEYOND THE GATES; the song is called “The Key”. Itīs got a choir of kids and that song is basically so different from other songs on the album. Itīs so massive, itīs like a big...like a train coming and then it comes down to the middle with this snare drum, a īmarching drumī part and it goes like punching you in the face into the solo section. That song at the very moment is my favorite song from this album.

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Could you even claim to be absolutely 100% satisfied with the whole result, with other songs on it, too?

Absolutely!! Thereīs just no question about that...

...even with the mixing and mastering process went well without any dramatic setbacks or anything?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, things happen during the mixing. We actually had to move the mixing of the album from Sweden to Germany and that was something that interrupted the finalizing of the record a little.

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What happened then?

Well, the room we were mixing this album at, didnīt really work for mixing. So Charlie couldnīt get it to sound the way he wanted in the first place. He had to go down to the Blind Guardian studio (“Twilight Studios”) to finalize it. And I couldnīt go with him because I simply didnīt have time to do it. So that was a little weird, but we sent files and I checked them all out and I told him: “Raise this, lower this part, etc.” and in the end it turned out pretty massive, I must say.



About the ending song on the album...

In my opinion, the heaviest songs on the album are the opening track “Fields of Yesterday”, “Back to Hell”, the title track “Beyond the Gates” and “Signs”. Therefore, I also happen to consider them as my favorites on the album. Then thereīs a song called “Forever Ends”, which is the last song on the album and is totally different from the rest of the content on BEYOND THE GATES. Donīt get upset or mad at me or anything, but in my opinion itīs nearly a Robin Williams type of ballad song which really creates a huge contrast to the rest songs on your album. So that makes me ask, whatīs the story behind that song and why did you use it?

Well, thatīs why I put it in the end. First of all, I like the song so much that I wanted to use it for BEYOND THE GATES. Then I realized that picking up a song like this I needed to be very careful where I put it on the album. If I had put it like as track no. 3, people would have probably hung me. But as I put it in the very end of the album, kind of as a īgood-byeī song and then the album stops. I still think that the chorus in that song is still very powerful. But I know that people are still gonna ask me about that song a lot. But like I already said to you, the song was way too good to leave unused for this album.



Still, like I already mentioned earlier, I think the contrast is damn huge compared to the rest of the songs on the album, though...

Yeah, I realize that, but you need to keep in your mind itīs a ballad song, so I think itīs kind of unnecessary to compare it to the rest of the songs. And we wanted to do it, well not too soft, but not to add any loud guitars to it either. We kind of wanted to keep it pure the way it is there on the album, yīknow.

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Cans vs. Hammerfall

Compared to your main band HammerFall, I have to say there is actually a difference between your solo project and HammerFall musically...

Thank you very much by saying so!! I hope that people could be open-minded and not compare this band to HammerFall at all even if thatīs the first thing they probably will do of course because since Iīm doing most of the melodic parts for the HammerFall songs, you are gonna hear similarities. Itīs just unavoidable...!! On the other hand a structure of the songs, the way we open the album with, I mean, the orchestra parts being as loud as the guitars, they are something we could never do with HammerFall, for instance. And that was my biggest fear that people would not get an idea what my solo project is supposed to be all about. They all listen to it, itīs metal, itīs Joacim from HammerFall singing, so a-ha, it must sound like HammerFall.

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I guess that can only be their headache if they are going to draw assumptions like the one you just spit out. They should be more open-minded and realistic about the album in the first place, I think...

But itīs sad that not everyone is realistic. As it is, a lot of people are very narrow-minded, yīknow.



I know. But how would you personally describe this kind of style that BEYOND THE GATES represents?

Thatīs a tough question. Well, I would call it just metal...

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Like calling it traditional metal with a modern vibe? Yīknow, thereīs always a bunch of people who would like to get some sort of an advance view from a guy whoīs a part of some record and as this is your own solo band, I was wondering whether you could be somehow be a bit more specific to describe this album by a few words at least...

Alright, I know what you mean. But yeah, thereīs lots of traditional metal on BEYOND THE GATES, but I still would say that thereīs a big mixture of what happened in the early ī80s right up to this day. Thereīs like some riffing part going on on the album that didnīt happen in the ī80s. Thatīs why I wanted to work with a guy like Jeff Waters for example as he wrote the last song on the album, that ballad (“Forever Ends”). I didnīt get any of his real rhythms or riffs for the album that he normally is known for. But to answer to your question, the album is dark, semi-progressive and melodic Heavy Metal.



Thatīs quite a fitting description to it actually, I think...

Yeah, I agree. It is dark by its atmosphere. I wanted to have a dark touch to it with the cover, with the lyrics, everything...



Is there actually any chance that this solo project of yours might even have some effect on the next HammerFall album musically?

Nah, I donīt think so. I mean, HammerFall is HammerFall. It stands for something. We have done four studio albums thus far, 3 world tours and people that buy our albums, come to see us on gigs. They wanna hear HammerFall, they donīt wanna hear anything else. And thatīs one of the reasons why I did this album in the first place in order to be able to go outside of boundaries. Like I wanted to have kidsī choir here and loud keyboards there for BEYOND THE GATES. But with HammerFall itīs like: No, no, no... We have to stay in between... with these two boundaries you know what Iīm saying. But of course you can do a lot of things inside there as well even if you cannot really do some of those īextra little thingsī that I wanted to have on an album.

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Thatīs what solo projects are for...

Yeah, exactly!



When you started thinking of the stuff for your first solo album, were you like, letīs just say, listening to any old-school British Heavy Metal stuff that kind of worked out for you as īan extra fuelī, kind of giving you an idea how you wanted this album to sound like eventually?

No, no... I just had everything in me already and I just needed to get it out. I donīt listen to that much metal at home because like you are already involved with it so heavily with your band, it feels like getting an overdose of it sometimes. Thatīs why I try to find some other types of music that are more like īrelaxingī to listen to. I think I listen to more of an extreme type of music in my car like System of a Down, a band that I hated a couple of years ago...

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In your car?

Yeah, because I realized one day that they actually have some really good stuff. I think the aggression like they produce through their music, sounds great. I also listen to one of my favorite bands from Finland, Finntroll, just because I have lots of interest that kind of a very unique sounding stuff and I have open ears for different types of stuff in general. Like kind of asking from myself: “What are they doing? Ok, wow...!!”. You can actually mix an accordion with an electric guitar... cool!! Nothing is impossible...



Karaoke versions for the Japanese fans...

Did you manage to record any extra material during the sessions for this album that could be included for some special editions of the album or anything - like for a Japanese edition?

Iīm gonna give them karaoke versions of the songs... (*laughs*)


Sounds like a... (eh!), īgreat planī, ha-ha!!

Yeah, ha-hah-hah...!! But seriously again, I planned to use one of the songs as a bonus track, but when we were done, I realized there are no bonus tracks on this recording!! Taking one song out and calling it a bonus recording, would mean that the song wasnīt good enough to be on the album. So I decided eventually that everyone is going to get the same album with the same songs on it. For the Japanese, Iīll give them their karaoke versions and thatīs it.


I also kind of like to bet that you have also given a chance to some of your closest and best friends to hear some songs off from the album in advance, so what kind of comments they have given to you about the songs on BEYOND THE GATES?

I simply didnīt have time for that kind of thing because the journalists came like the day before the last day of the recording of the vocals. We had like 12-14 journalists listening to the album, so none of my friends got to hear anything from this album in advance.

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What about some of those feedback and stuff they gave to you after the pre-listening session of the album?

The majority of those journalists said more or less the same thing as you did just almost recently. Like: “Wow... we expected something closer to HammerFall stuff, but this is different...”. I have to confess that I was really nervous when I played the album for them for the first time.



Was it easy to sort out the final order for the songs on the album? For example - what song could be a starter song, what song would end the album, and how the rest of the songs would find their place there somewhere in between?

The track listing was a little problem for me. I actually had a discussion with Charlie Bauerfeind about the final order because I didnīt wanna put the 4th song (“Back to Hell” that is) where it is today on the album. I wanted to have that in the very end of the album. But he said to me: “You know what? You wanna make a horror inspired album, right?!”. I just responded to him: “Sure...!”. Then he relied back to me: “Then you have to give out a little rougher songs for the beginning of the album and then, take it down...!!”. I said: “Nah, Iīm not really so sure about that...”. I wanted to give it more fast songs for the beginning and then take it down and bring it up later again. We had a big discussion about that and he won in the end eventually. But I can see his point now. His point made sense, so to speak. I just had a little bit more vision about it as wholeness. But yīknow, sorting out a track list for an album is always damn difficult. Itīs actually really, really damn hard... At first I did not wanna have the opening track that I now have there on BEYOND THE GATES. That song was for me like the 2nd song, but in the very same breath I need to say that I didnīt have an obvious first song. But then we I thought about it a bit more, I was listening to the songs on it around and then when I heard “Fields of Yesterday” a couple of times more, I realized itīs got a long instrumental intro, but itīs still a perfect song to open up the album.

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I think the first impression of an album is always very important, so picking up that particular song as an opening tune of the whole album, should tell more than loud enough that this is NOT HammerFall...

Yes, exactly, exactly... On my webpage there was a girl who checked out that song on the Noise Recordsī homepage, but she was like: “Uuuh... this sounds exactly like HammerFall...!!”. I was like: “Wow, what the song she was listening in the first place...?!”. (*laughs*) That was funny. Funny people do exist, I guess, ha-ha! As I said, (*uh!*), never mind...



How do you think this album will be welcomed amongst the Heavy Metal fans? What kind of expectations you have about BEYOND THE GATES?

First of all, I hope that people would give it a fair chance. I hope they wouldnīt judge it in advance by thinking because Iīm in the band, it sounds like HammerFall without even hearing it. I want to give those people a try who donīt fancy HammerFall -stuff that much. Just listen to it and do not judge it before you hear it. And I hope that people would enjoy the album as much as I do even if I donīt want to listen to, yīknow, my signing, myself. Sanctuary Records is putting a lot of promotion into it because they are believing in the album and Iīm believing in it, so letīs just wait and see what will happen...



Will this album come out in the U.S.A. at the same time like here in Europe? (19th of April to be more precise)

Iīm, not sure... I am not really sure about it. I think so, though. They have got like a priority release in the States and thatīs amazing īcoz I donīt think that we have ever got that with HammerFall.

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And what about Japan then?

In Japan... I have no idea when it will be released over there, but I assume a bit later this year, however. I count on Charlie that heīs working with some karaoke versions at the moment for a Japanese edition...



Joacim Cans - The Witchmaster

Joacim_pic8.jpg (11281 bytes)You also shot a promo video for a song called “Red Light” which is supposed to be some sort of a īhorror/action videoī according to your own words? Is there anything else youīd like share about it for our readers?

That video is about witch-hunt. And my role in it is to be a īWitchmasterī. Or Iīm accused for witchcraft in the script of that video. Iīm getting tortured, they throw me to the water and Iīm getting drowned. Then they burn me at stake, etc. We put it back to the 14th century and we had lot of extra actors in it like 25 people or so who were all working for this video clip - just being actors in it. The main idea behind in the script is all about revenge. Same as in the song... A person is being accused for witchcraft and eventually heīs getting burnt. But then he comes back and takes his revenge on the righteous ones, or the evil ones. In this case the priest and the priestīs daughter will get their revenge in this video. But the revenge takes no less than 700 hundred years to get accomplished.


Is the actual script a product of your (sick) mind from start to finish?

No, almost the whole idea for this video came from the director of it.

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And you contributed with some of your ideas what comes to the actual script of the video?

A little here and a little there, yes...



Are you going to tour with the new band... or play any metal fests or anything?

Maybe we wonīt be touring with this band, but we will do some festivals, however.



And starting when actually?

In 22nd of May we will do a festival back in my home country Sweden; it is called 2000 Decibel Festival and we will headline in Saturday.

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Is that festival basically for more traditional sounding Heavy Metal bands or?

No, itīs for every kind of metal bands - from Death Metal to Power Metal and so on, but itīs only for Swedish metal bands, though. But since Iīm Swedish, I can come and they really want to have us there. My other non-Swedish band mates Mat, Mark and Mike will fly over to the festival and do this one-off show and then they will go back home.



Is this a big festival according to its size then?

No. Itīs kind of a small festival for maybe 500 people or so... Itīs still pretty cool for us as a first shot, however.



Talking about Sanctuary Records for a moment, what kind deal do you actually have with them with this solo project of yours? Was this deal made for just for this album or maybe for some more?

The deal contains this album plus 2 after this.

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And thatīs sort of an option deal for two more albums, I guess...

Yes, for two options.



And what next... for the future?

So tell me Joacim will there be any continuation for your solo band in the future, probably with a whole different line-up?

I hope so. Now it really depends on the reactions of the people. If they like the album, and even better, buy the album, then we will definitely move on and maybe after the next HammerFall tour or even during the HammerFall tour, we start writing the next album. That is the plan because I donīt like to call this band ījust as a projectī, yīknow because this is my solo BAND. Iīm trying to make it work out alongside with HammerFall as long as it works. Of course HammerFall will be the main priority naturally, but I still wanna focus a lot on this band as well. I hope to do a follow-up album to BEYOND THE GATES because I have got some really good ideas already, he-he!!



So, if thereīs ever going to be some sort of continuation for this band, do you wish to do it with the same line-up as well?

I think so, yeah...

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And you might even try out some new song writers for a next possible release as well...?

I think Iīm gonna stick to the ones who made the core of this album, those writers and maybe try out some different writers, too. And there are some people I will definitely work even more with on the next album.



So, whatīs your part precisely with this album in summa summarum? Of course itīs obvious that you made all the main vocal parts for BEYOND THE GATES, but did you possibly contribute some riff ideas and stuff for this album even by a chance?

I didnīt do any riffs for it at all! Thatīs why I invited song writers to do all that kind of stuff for the album because if I did the riffing and things like that, it just would turn out the way I wanted at all. Iīm only responsible for the vocal melodies and the lyrics on this album. My trademark as a song writer is to create melodies and thatīs it. I donīt wanna get into things that I cannot īhandleī that well, he!



You also have your own music publishing company. How is it coming along?

Itīs still pretty small company. I just signed a co-publishing deal with Warner, so Iīm more or less like an A&R in my own company now. And they have all the legal parts in the agreements; the promotion and they take care of basically īall the boring stuffī nowadays. Itīs just a thing that when one day everything is over, I have something I can make my living by. I hope it works... weīll see.

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What about Warlord? I know you did all the vocals for their RISING OUT OF THE ASHES nearly 2 years ago. Are you ever going to record with them again?

No, I donīt think they have any plans at all for another Warlord album. Itīs really up to their guitar player if he wants to do anything in terms of Warlord. On the other hand, I told Mark since he was playing in Warlord as well that I donīt have time to do it any more. From now on Iīm focusing on HammerFall and on my solo album and thatīs it because I simply donīt have time to do anything else. I donīt like the fact, not waste, but you invest like 6 months of your life for recording an album and then label releases it, but they donīt give a fuck at all afterwards. They just release it and hope it will sell. That was a case with a Warlord album and I said: “No! Iīm not gonna do that again...”.



“Soap operas” - good or bad entertainment?

Then as a last question Iīm just a curious to know have you been following this great “soap opera” called Stratovarius lately...


... this “soap comedy” seems to be full of an unexpected and hilarious action all the time that it makes it kind of hard to follow it if you even miss one week by accident, heh! Mr. Tolkki just got stabbed by some guy in Spain last Sunday; did you hear about that?

In every interview I called it myself as a “soap opera” just the same way like you put it. Thereīs a lot of things going on in their webpage. Itīs very amusing to read about it, but what happened in the Spain just recently, I mean that stabbing thing, itīs gone too far. I know whatīs is like to be attacked. I was attacked by a guy who cut me in the face.

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Sorry for interrupting you, but did you manage to punch that guy in the face at all?

No, somehow he got out, I donīt know how he got out of the club. That was fuckinī weird. Anyway, itīs just so sad, yīknow when they make it personal. If they donīt like the music, why do they listen to it in the first place? I think they should turn the music off then, itīs actually as simple as that. And in the end people should realize that itīs all about the music. On the other hand, the way Timo is approaching people... (*in this very part Joacim couldnīt hold it any longer, but burst into laughing...*)


... heīs approaching them quite an īuniqueī way, heh!

Yes, he does... (*laughs*) Iīm not sure if I would do it like that way as he does, ha-ha!! As a member of HammerFall Iīm involved with, all of a sudden Anders was kicked out from Stratovarius without even being a member of them in the first place. We all were like: “Whatta HELL is going on?? Anders? Is he in Stratovarius now...?!”. And the funny thing was I couldnīt reach him because he didnīt answer to his phone. Then I finally got to speak to him and ask him straight a way: “Are you in Stratovarius now...?!”. And he was like: “What the F...K?! Hell I am NOT...!!”. Then I told him that his picture was already in Stratovariusī homepage and he became even more confused about the whole thing, believe me... (*laughs*)


... and rumors keep on rolling around and thatīs it, I guess.

Yeah, there has been a lot of rumors when Anders so-called ījoinedī Stratovarius, some of those rumors even told that I left HammerFall and I took Stefan with me, so HammerFall was no more... and so on and so on.

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Ok, I think our time is up. Thank you Joacim for speaking to Metal-Rules.com and if you have anything to say to our readers, then go ahead...

As I said earlier, I hope that people will give this album a chance and well... Iīm not going to tell them something like “Buy our album NOW!” or whatsoever, but the more people may buy that album, the better they will have a chance to see us playing in their country for sure. So give it a chance and stay metal!! Thank you very much!! 

Joacim Cans official website