SABATON – Young Guns Speak!

February 13, 2018, a year ago

Mark Gromen

feature heavy metal sabaton

SABATON – Young Guns Speak!

When not performing on the 70000 Tons cruise, bands can keep busy, doing interviews and why not, as there are countless media outlets, from around the globe onboard. The guys in Sabaton are no strangers to metal cruises. In fact, they host their own, one-night shindig. As luck would have it, had the chance to speak with the two newest members of the band, guitarist Tommy Johansson and drummer Hannes van Dahl, not only to get their unique perspective on one of metal's hottest properties, but maybe get a glimpse of the pending North American tour.

Like a real Hollywood promo campaign (minus the green screen in-studio interviews), each journo was afforded about 10 minutes, after shuffled to one of the staterooms serving as a makeshift office. Little time for pleasantries, although Hannes instantly recognized we'd met before (Truth be told, on the last night of the 2015 tour, which saw the Swedes open for Nightwish, I'd reported how he and Floor Jansen were playfully getting frisky, backstage. Now they've had a kid together. He reports all is going swimmingly). Time's a wastin', so...

On the Last Stand tour, Sabaton employed actors and a video wall, the latter an ingenious genius way circumvent the lack of pyro in North America (and cheaper), so the boys offer a tease as to expectations for the upcoming tour? Hannes begins, “That's the dilemma every band faces. New album, new tour, you have to step it up, somehow. Adding another tank just doesn't cut it. You have to work to make the whole night an experience. The setlist is as important as the stage set. It's easy to forget that, when you have this huge show with pyro and tanks and LED walls. The combination is important, but I think on this year's tour we're coming up with a cool setlist, an updated performance, in general. I think people who come out will be seeing something they haven't seen before, for sure. Everything moves faster in America. People get bored more easily. There's so many more bands to see. We like to change the setlist, depending upon where we're playing. It keeps everyone on their toes. If we're in Germany, we play a lot of songs about German history. You need to keep a lot of songs fresh, in your head. The Boss (Springsteen) did a tour where he wrote out the setlist two hours before the gig. That's cool. 'Into The Fire', we haven't played that in five years, just once, in Finland.”

Handpicked by Iron Maiden to open a string of shows, in the last few years Sabaton has played with some of the biggest names in metal: Nightwish, Accept and now, Kreator will be alongside. “Two bands who dig each other, musically and personally,” says van Dahl, on the genesis of the package. “For us, it's important to have a band that you like. If you don't like them, or the fans don't like them, it's not going to be a great night. I think many bands misunderstand that. Who cares who's headlining? We can play support or headline, do 30 minutes, whatever. I still think today we are a better support band than a headliner. The underdog, it triggers something. All of us are super competitive. When you're headlining, if you're super comfortable, the support band isn't that great, you need to have something. We had Battle Beast out with us and they were killing it, so you have to step it up.”

The band are no strangers to metal cruises, having run their own, for a while now. Surmise it's more enjoyable to just be a performer, rather than organize/promote the whole event. Unlike a land based festival, there's no escape, as everyone has a virtual All Access pass to the performers, unless they lock themselves in their stateroom. For the last three days, they've enjoyed themselves on 70K Tons. Johansson details the differences, “On the Sabaton cruise, it's only Sabaton fans. Here there are so many bands and people from all over the world. On Sabaton cruise, it's most Scandinavian people. Here's it like one big family. You can sit down and talk to anyone. That's kind of important, since this is a five day cruise.” The drummer adds, “From a fan's perspective, this is great, because there are so many different bands, from the most extreme, underground death metal, to a bunch of Swedish guys in camo pants, jumping around. I think it's a real treat for people to go to something like this. We can try to take inspiration from here, back home (to Sabaton cruise), which is just one night, our show, with some friends.”  

Know they like their camo and Sabaton lyrics seem to glorify the actions of the Army and/or Air Force, but apart from “Wolfpack” and “Primo Victoria” rarely the Navy. Being on a boat got me to thinking. Is it just more difficult to find stirring exploits with ships or submarines as a potential song topic? Would think the Kursk or recent Argentine sub disaster would seem like good fodder for a moody Sabaton ballad. Tommy picks up the thread, “There are so many historical events to sing about. We haven't been singing so much about South American history, nor the uprising in the Balkan countries. There are a lot of things we've been missing. That we haven't sung about, yet. There are more albums coming, more historical events to be sung about.” Whatever topic they breech, they do so from a factual, non-judgmental reference point. As Hannes says, “It must be a closed chapter. This is what happened, then we can write about it.” Adds Tommy, “We're never taking sides. We sing about D-Day (in 'Primo Victoria'). We're not (saying) Germans killed the Americans. We sing 'The first wave on shore. The first ones to fall'. We're not saying who's on what side.”  

Speaking of writing new material, for a decade now, Sabaton have released at least one studio album every two years. Commitments and the amount of touring have increased, now to include global locations, not just Europe. What are the plans for the next CD? “That is one of those topics we can't talk about. If I tell you, I'll have to kill you,” jokes the secretive drummer, before continuing. “We are writing as much as we can.” Which includes on the road. “When inspiration hits, you want to be able to capture it. (Tommy) brings his portable studio what-not.” Tommy confirms, “We have to do it. We're on the road so much and have so much (free) time, waiting. If we have two hours, we can't go anywhere, open up the computer and see if inspiration comes and record. Everything is so easy these days. It takes two minutes to have a complete working portable recording studio, with a computer.”

While the song topics are serious, even reverential, the live show has always had an element of humor in it: mocking the matching outfits as the Village People, singer Joakim Brodén's fake opposition to playing Swedish Pagans, the “noch ein bier” chant (or variations in other languages) and the guitar challenge between Jokim & Chris Rörland. Especially the die-hard German metalheads have said it's too much, but it's definitely a part of who they are, as a band, so the discussion focused on the importance of humor. “I think it's because he are very relaxed together,” says Johansson, the newest member of Sabaton. “We can joke around, as long as it's a certain level. (Onstage) I may kick Joakim in the butt and he pretends to scream, 'What the fuck?' and twists my nipple. Sometime he really does and it hurts. It's fine.” “Until someone giggles and shits,” deadpans van Dahl. “It's a bit fucked up, if you think about it. Those (song) subjects are so serious. If you'd let in too much of that, it would be a really boring show. Maybe we keep the really important subjects on the album, because we don't fuck with the album. In the end, you're here to have a good time. There are band who would do the darkness better than we would. It's an important combination, for us, to be able to have fun and play heavy metal.”  

Isn't that what it's all about? Check them out, when they come to a town near you and watch for announcements about that elusive album.

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