Sabaton – Gig Review

Artist and photographer Debbie Attwell reviews Sabaton’s The Tour to End All Tours.

It’s a Saturday night, and the 11,000 strong crowd at the OVO Arena in Wembley are about to be transported into three very different worlds.

We’re here to see Sabaton, a Swedish band in a niche genre of their own creation: heavy metal about history and wars. History Metal? Battle Metal? Whatever it’s called, the fans are out in force, most of them already donning Sabaton tees. But first, we’ve got two very different bands to enjoy.

Finnish band Lordi aren’t a household name in this country, but cast your mind back to the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest, when a bunch of monsters showed up and kicked the butts of all the glittery pop acts. They’ve been going strong since, and their own shows are usually packed with special effects and horror props, like an ‘80s Video Nasty come to life.

Sabaton – Photo by Tim Tronckoe.

Here we see a stripped down version, with just a backdrop and the larger-than-life monsters themselves, but that’s plenty. They intersperse a few tracks from their new album (the brilliantly titled Screem Writers Guild) with favourites such as ‘Blood Red Sandman’, ‘Would You Love a Monsterman?’, ‘Devil is a Loser’, and of course, ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’. Singer Mr Lordi is on good form with his usual chatter between songs, and newcomer guitarist Kone shows he can shred with the best of them. Those monsters sure can rock.

Switching gears, next up is Japanese band BABYMETAL, who also pioneered a genre: kawaii metal. Always backed by talented session musicians, the focus of BABYMETAL is fully on lead singer Su-metal, along with backing vocalists/dancers Moametal, and fresh new member (joined just two weeks ago!) Momometal. We are quickly blinded by LED lights from behind the band and frantic lighting, as the girls, exploding onto stage donning matching shiny costumes, dazzle the crowd with their perfectly-synchronised dancing and fast tunes, beginning with ‘BABYMETAL DEATH’, and hardly letting up for the whole set, which includes ‘PA PA YA!!’ and of course, the viral hit ‘Gimme Chocolate!!’. There’s always something otherworldly about BABYMETAL: between their unusual choreography, doll-like matching looks, and catchy hard tunes, the crowd are entranced.

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At this point, I could have gone home happy, but it wasn’t long before the stage was prepared for our headliners, Sabaton. And what a stage it was. The name of the tour, The Tour To End All Tours, emblazoned on a big arch of colour-changing lights over the stage, and the set themed with sandbags, barbed wire, watchtowers, and – naturally – a military tank, with drum kit perched atop.

We begin with a ton of pyrotechnics, and singer Joakim Brodén patrols the stage with energy, starting strong with songs ‘Ghost Division’, and then ‘Bismarck’, the latter of which shows off the slick video production, the screen superimposing shots of the audience and band (including a bird’s-eye view of drummer Hannes Van Dahl) with visuals of war ships. Then onto ‘The Last Stand’, where thousands of fists pump the air along to the heavy hook. Later in the packed set we get to hear fresh new track ‘1916’, a Motörhead cover about the bloody Battle of the Somme. Fans seem genuinely moved.

Sabaton – Photo by Tim Tronckoe.

For a band who sing primarily about war, members of Sabaton sure seem like personable chaps. Stopping for a chat, singer Joakim Brodén asks the audience if they’ve been practicing their Swedish. At times guitarists Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson appear atop the watchtowers and treat us to some some satisfyingly synchronised hair-swishing. There’s no attitude about the band, they’re energetic and likeable.

The theatricals are clearly a big part of the appeal of Sabaton’s live shows. There are flamethrowers, various uniforms, and at one point Joakim sports a bazooka. During ‘The Red Baron’, the man himself appears, playing keyboards set into half of the famous red triplane. The song ‘Father’ takes us into the world of controversial scientist Fritz Haber, who both won the Nobel Prize for chemistry (for his inventions still used in a third of global food production), but who is also considered the ‘father of chemical warfare’ for developing and weaponising gases used in WW1. A white-coated portrayal of him appears on stage, making calculations on his blackboard and checking his gas tanks. Who says metal can’t be educational. This leads us into ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’. The band don gas masks as smoke slowly engulfs the stage, and skull soldiers appear on screen. Reminding us of the reality of deadly gas attacks, it makes for a genuinely chilling sight.

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We take a much-needed break for bassist Pär Sundström to talk about how humbled the band are to be here, recalling their 2007 no-frills 90-people shows. The audience begins chanting the band’s name in support, and this leads us into ‘Christmas Truce’ – phone torches swaying along, red confetti, and a guitar solo surrounded with flames. For the encore, we’re treated to ‘Primo Victoria’, the entire audience pogoing along; ‘Swedish Pagans’; and finally ‘To Hell and Back’, which ends with the ever-present tank finally firing, sending sparks raining down.

For a band I had never really listened to before, I leave a Sabaton convert. The stage production was top-notch: the lighting kept things exciting, and video imagery helped tell the songs’ stories even when the lyrics couldn’t be deciphered. I might not be spending £70 on a hoodie just yet, but was I thoroughly entertained? Absolutely. Did I head-bob along to every song? Yup. And will I be learning some world history now? Well, since Sabaton have their own YouTube channel dedicated to it, I feel it would be rude not to.

Sabaton’s The Tour To End All Tours continues through June 2023. EP Stories from the Western Front is out now.

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