13 Reasons The Haters Are Wrong About Sabaton

Making the case that – no matter how unapologetically preposterous – Swedish military metallers Sabaton deserve their spot at the high table of modern metal...

13 Reasons The Haters Are Wrong About Sabaton
Sam Law

For many outsiders, Swedish military metallers Sabaton feel like the laughing-stock of post-Millennial metal. Clinging, with po-faced persistence to their war torn imagery, heroic themes and (literal) battle-vests is one thing. But when they back it up with songs as cheesily overblown as Primo Victoria and The Red Baron, it’s just too much to stomach for the uninitiated. With uber-bombastic World War One concept-album The Great War (their ninth LP thus far) having just dropped like a 120 mm pig iron incendiary shell, though, not to mention the headline performances at Derby’s Bloodstock Open Air festival (August 9) and London’s Wembley Arena (February 8, 2020) looming, their popularity is at an all time high.

We thought we’d pull on our most weathered fatigues for a look back at how the Falun battalion have outmanoeuvred even their most vociferous critics, and at why those of you who’ve been sleeping for too long on their gleefully OTT attack better shape up and join the ever-swelling ranks of the Sabaton Army. To quote a wise man: “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?!”

They Put The Cheesy (Fire)Power Back Into Power Metal

Are Sabaton the cheesiest major act in metal today? You cheddar brie-lieve it. Piss-taking aside, however, there’s something joyous about a band embracing the over-the-top bombast of power metal to such impactful effect. Veterans of the European scene over the past couple of decades will know that there’s not much better than getting stuck into a fist-pumping, lung-bursting chorus with the likes of Blind Guardian, Gamma Ray, Helloween or Hammerfall. Although the lyrical basis of Sabaton’s music is tied much more to the mud and blood of battle than the more fantastical tales of their forebears, tracks like Carolus Rex and The Last Stand have always overflown with gleeful aplomb. Even as the likes of The Battle Of The Dead Men and The Great War push their sound forward, there’s no danger of that bombast getting stomped into the grit. They’re tight as fuck, too.

Remembrance Has Never Before Dared To Be This Much Fun

There’s an art to balancing the ridiculous and the sublime. Sabaton tightrope it just about every day. “It almost feels disrespectful, trying to condense four years of conflict into 40 minutes of heavy metal,” frontman Joakim Brodén told us of their latest album, stressing the difficulty of revisiting some incredibly heavy history while maintaining a lightness of touch. With a genuine passion for the subject, however, and no lack of research in delivering the most in-depth commemoration possible in a few minutes of music, these songs do feel like a genuine, worthwhile form of remembrance. Even as they toy with overblown musical experimentation (recording actual gunfire into the mix on 2016’s The Lost Battalion) and cultivate outlandish cross-cultural collaboration (2017’s collaboration with videogame World Of Tanks), each step feels like it’s taken with the most honourable of intentions. If anything, it’s The Great War’s choir-led rendition of John McCrae’s heart-rending In Flanders Fields that feels like a bridge too far this time...

You Can't Listen To Their Lyrics Without Cracking A Shit-Eating Grin

Although their command of the English language is second to none, some of Sabaton’s wilder lyrical flourishes arrive with a sense of Scandinavian naïveté. They’re never less than entertaining, mind. “Rhyming ‘Russia’ with ‘Prussia’ is utter cringe,” we reckoned of The Red Baron in our recent review, “but when they pair ‘Squadron leader’ to ‘Rote Kampfflieger’ a couple of lines later, it’d take the dourest history geek not to crack a grin...” Dive further into their back catalogue, and you’ll find that’s just the tip of the iceberg...

Sabaton History Might Just Be Our New Favourite Show On YouTube

As if it wasn’t enough to release a ‘History Version’ of The Great War – complete with pre-song blurbs explaining the historical context of each track on the album – Sabaton also teamed with renowned YouTube historian Indy Neidell (of TimeGhost History) to offer fans the chance to learn more about the heavy subjects at hand with a series of videos deconstructing the stories behind their most popular songs. “We’ve wanted to do historical documentaries since YouTube was all about cute kitty videos,” Joakim tells us. “We got in touch with Indy, who’s a musician himself as well as having previously made online documentaries about the war, and everything took off from there. We are very passionate about history, but we can never really deliver more than a three or four-minute movie trailer-style tease over the course of a song. That needs to be the beginning of [listeners’] research, rather than the end!”

That War-Metal Shtick Is Endorsed By Actual Veterans

Finding fans just as easily within the world military academia as within the heavy metal fraternity, Sabaton have received some pretty special gifts in their time – from heavy water from the factory Norwegian saboteurs disabled to prevent Nazi development to the atomic bomb, to a ceremonial sabre presented by the Archbishop of Gdansk. Few match up, however, to their honorary induction into the Brazilian Expeditionary Force and getting the seal of approval from the surviving nonagenarian veterans. “A couple of years ago we were playing Brazil,” remembers Joakim, “Jose Maria [Nicodemos] – one of the real Smoking Snakes we sing about – came into our dressing room to meet us. I remember he just pointed at our drummer Hannes and said, ‘You’re tall, in battle you would die first!’ We were surprised that he was actually coming to our [notoriously wild] show, but he said ‘Guys, I survived the Nazis, I think I can handle this!’”

Their Drum-Riser Is A Tank!

Iron Maiden might’ve done it first on the Matter Of Life & Death tour, but compared to the Londoners’ blatantly pneumatic offering, Sabaton’s machine-tooled set-up – complete with a battery of rocket launchers and flame jets – feels far more fit for military metal purpose. It’s just the centre-point of their gloriously over-the-top current production, too. Featuring sandbag-barricades, barbed wire, a vast video screen filled with archive footage and a 13-member men’s choir (fitted out in a variety of military uniforms, naturally), this is the sort of no-expense-spared, unapologetically immersive effort that’ll propel them towards the top end of the metal hierarchy. They’ve already warned us that it might actually be too big for the stage at their Bloodstock headline set next month, but rest assured that they’ll squeeze in every ridiculous nugget possible in service of their fans.

Long Live The Heroes Of Hellfest 2019

You know what’s not metal? Leaving your fans high and dry with less than a day’s notice. Although the smoke has yet to clear on the exact circumstances that led to New York legends Manowar dropping out of their Hellfest headline slot on June 21, there’s no question that it left thousands of punters who’d travelled vast distances and forked-out substantial amounts of money with a bitter taste in their mouths and minus a main stage headliner. Anyone who happened to be present for Sabaton’s subheadline performance at Bloodstock Open Air 2013 – where their stage-gear was lost by an airline and Joakim had to borrow stage-attire from a cosplaying fan – will understand that the Swedes are always up to overcoming adversity. Despite playing a 90-minute set that finished at 2am that Friday morning (at the ‘Knotfest’ pre-show), and Joakim having largely blown out his voice in the interim – they regrouped, passed lyric sheets out to the rest of the band and got the damn job done! Heroic stuff.

No Crowd Is Too Big

Think Sabaton might struggle with bigger stages? Think again. Then check out the videos from 2012’s Przystanek Woodstock at Kostrzyn on the Oder, Poland – as captured on the ‘Swedish Empire’ DVD. Commanding a crowd that was reportedly upward on 600,000 punters strong might actually have been their mightiest moment. During 40:1 (chronicling the Battle Of Wizna in 1939 where under 1,000 Polish troops held the line for three days against an invading force of over 40,000 Nazis) an enormous Polish flag was rolled out over the first few dozen rows of the audience, creating an unforgettable moment for those assembled and one of the most iconic visuals in the Sabaton mythos thus far…

They're Men Of Their Word

Okay, so there’s no lack of machismo in heavy metal. But when Sabaton make a stupid bet, they damn well honour it – as was the case when Joakim found himself having to walk 552km from Falun to Trondheim in Norway – with a hangover. “It was just a drunken bet,” the singer told us shortly after, still laughing at his own hubris. “It was our friend Tommy’s 50th birthday and they had booked Joe-Lynn Turner to play for us in this 250-capacity hall. Tommy’s daughter’s gave me a few too many beers and stupid bets I don’t want to go into were made. The outcome was that whoever lost had to walk to that next show. I didn’t even think about that being a seven-hour drive! The response from our fans was fantastic, though. People would stop to give me beer or food. Sometimes people would invite me into their home to spend the night!”

They're Not Afraid Of Getting Into Some Real-Life Trouble, Too

Joakim is never short of a gnarly tale or two with which to regale us – drunkenly getting his penis pierced in Texas to upstage a bandmate’s new nipple-ring is a personal favourite – but he’s also been forced to realise wisdom is the better part of valour on occasion, too… “I’m not a violent person,” he tells, “but there was one night where myself and that same keyboardist were in Canada – near Toronto – a few years ago. We had a day off the day after, wanted to keep partying and went looking for an after-hours bar. Local laws said they had to close at two, but we found a place – something like a biker bar. He stayed upstairs and smoked, but I went down in and bought a beer and saw these two blonde girls in the corner who looked Scandinavian. I went right up to them and it turned out they were Norwegian. They were like ‘Help us!’ I was like ‘Is there something wrong?’ They said, ‘You’re about to find out!’ This big black guy comes up to me and tells me it’s time to leave. I told him that I’m just another Scandinavian talking to these Scandinavian girls. But then he pulls out a big gun, puts it right to my nose, and says ‘IT’S TIME TO LEAVE!’ It was time to leave...”

They've Even Got Their Own Festival

CandlemassIf you’re looking for the ultimate Sabaton experience, you’re going to have to take a trip deep into their native territory. Sick of their hometown of Falun being overlooked during festival season, they hosted the inaugural event (then titled – Rockstad: Falun) in a disused local military facility back in 2008. Moving outside the next year, then evolving into the current four-day extravaganza in Lugnet over the decade since, Sabaton Open Air is now one of the biggest and best true-metal outings in the world. Running from the August 14-17 this year, they’ll be joined by Candlemass, U.D.O., Alestorm, Evenking, Ensiferum and Apocalyptica for one of the wildest – and cheesiest – parties of the summer.

...And A Sabaton Cruise!

Sabaton obviously aren’t the type of outfit to go into hibernation over the winter. What better way to celebrate than with their very own ‘Battle Of The Baltic Sea’. Where the initial route saw them voyage from Stockholm, Sweden all the way to Turku, Finland, 2019’s tenth anniversary edition will see a re-route – and a substantial extension to proceedings – as they plot a course on December 1 for Tallinn, Estonia. Obviously, it all takes place on a battleship...

You Won't Find Anyone Else Quite Like Them

Whether you’ve sought them out or they’ve cropped up on some runaway playlist, hearing lyrics like 'As the darkness falls and Arabia calls / One man spreads his wings, as the battle begins / May the land lay claim on to Lawrence name / Seven pillars of wisdom lights the flame' unfolding with the clenched-fist conviction and soaring musicality of Seven Pillars Of Wisdom (their ode to Lawrence Of Arabia), there’s no way you could mistake the Falun Battalion for anyone else in the scene. Sabaton are, quite simply, one of a kind. That unapologetic individualism – that combination of singular focus and gunpowder spark – more than anything else, is their greatest victory. “We love being Sabaton,” Joakim grins. “I think our fans love us being Sabaton.” Who dares wins, after all…

Sabaton's new album The Great War is out now. They headline this year's Bloodstock festival on August 9 – get your tickets now.

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