Sabaton: No Retreat, No Surrender
Words: Paul Southwell
Latest Release: Carolus Rex (Riot! /Nuclear Blast)
Sabaton are a six piece power metal band from Falun, Sweden. Despite recent personnel changes due to touring planning commitments or availability they have pressed on making the band that much more focused. They will soon be touring Australia and New Zealand with Nightwish in January 2013. The tour also includes a headline show in Melbourne only. Loud managed a quick chat with bassist Pär Sundström to find out what we can expect from their first tour here and also gather some background on their war-themed albums.
You’re soon coming to Australia and it is getting warm here. You recently played to troops in Israel.
Oh wow, yeah, that was warm. It was a good crowd there for the first time we went there. Periodically dangerous I suppose but it was calm when we went there. As it is today we wouldn’t now go there, I should think.
Touring Australia and New Zealand with Nightwish at the start of January 2013. You’ve toured numerous places elsewhere with massive bands like Maiden, Scorpions and Priest. Have you toured with Nightwish before?
We’ve never toured with Nightwish before but we’ve played some festivals together and we’re good friends and such. But, we’ve never toured together before so this will be the first time.
Metal has so many different categories now from symphonic, folk, melodic death, pagan to power metal. Sabaton has been around for over ten years so do you laugh at the categories?
Ah, but mainly people categorise us as power metal. Personally I think it is cool to be called power metal but it is also kind of misleading because when most people think of power metal they think about dragons, swords and high pitched vocals with very fast bass drums. That is what people in general think of power metal and that is quite far away from Sabaton. So I think the power metal category is wrong.
The latest album Carolus Rex deviates from the concept of world war themes and instead you’ve covered the Swedish Empire. Was there a lot of pre-production required to get that concept right?
Yes, I mean, when we write about say World War II there is the possibility that we can find out about that information in quite easy to find history books. Also, there is a lot of fact that you can rely on that you cannot find on the Internet. So when you go back as far as three hundred years and write about the small country of Sweden, you’ll realise there isn’t so much to be found. Well, there is but it is buried deep within complicated history books. So, we knew that if we were going to do this concept we definitely needed some expertise. That is why we hired an historian [Bengt Liljegrenor] subject specialist and that was the first time that we worked with somebody that is an external person to guide us through the writing of the album and it turned out to work really well. The historian we worked with had a feeling for heavy metal as well because he used to be in a punk rock band and he knows the bits that we were looking for so instead of seeing through thousands of pages he directed us to the things we were trying to find. We understood the concept to start with and worked closely with him. That is a great thing because without him it wouldn’t have been possible to make the concept work.
Looking back on previous releases, were there any specific theatres of war that stood out as being the most inspirational? Events such as Normandy, Stalingrad, Dresden, the Pacific battles, the Somme or Tobruk?
Oh yeah, there have been several things but the whole theme started with the invasion of Normandy which was kind of when we first wrote the song about miracle battles and stuff like that. Now that was an inspiring thing but over the years we have found different ones and those that have been the most interesting lot have been the ones we haven’t heard of or that isn’t so well known around here [in Sweden] at least. Speaking to Australia now, for example, the conflict of Gallipoli is something we did not know of here. In Sweden you would never hear about it in history, it would be absolutely something that there is nothing much written about here.
Really? So was that was your Art of War inspiration?
Yes, for history lessons in Sweden you will read something about World War II but there is a disparity of information about World War I. You will not read anything about what happened at Gallipoli. So, when we first heard about it we thought, ‘yes, here we have the perfect thing for Sabaton’. It was very touching and inspiring. Later we also came to Gallipoli and saw the location of the place where many died. It was an inspiring and exciting experience to see the place that we sang about.
It is quite an important event for both Australians and New Zealanders. I’m sure you understand that. When you’ve got production duties on an album that involves historical concepts, how much external influence is allowed?
Well, we worked very closely with Peter Tatgren [Hypocrisy, Pain] on this album. He is an old friend who is very close to us. In the past he has been there mixing our albums or doing something little with our albums but this is the first time we could work with him from start to end. That was the smartest decision we had made in any decision of recording an album. So, we are really close friends and he is a dedicated producer. He really lifted the album, that’s for sure, and I’m kind of sure that we’ll be working with him again in the future.
There are a couple of bass parts that give you highlight spots in the breakdown parts of songs like “Lion From the North” and “Saboteurs” on the previous album of Coat of Arms. Are there any solos that you do?
Not really, no, there is no need for it in the music. Why bring something to music that is not needed to be there. I don’t care (laughs).
For songwriting now, is it something that you now present to your singer Joakim Brodén and then the rest of the band? How does it work?
Generally it is thing were Joakim writes and records something like a demo for the whole song where he has everything including melodies and vocals to make it like a complete song. So when we hear that, we decide if the song will be on the album but usually once it gets that far it is already a good enough song to end up on the album. Later, in the studio, we narrow it down to write the lyrics for the song. Mainly it is already there when we get to the studio.
Do you have to add extra tracks to albums for say the Japanese market?
Ah, we didn’t add anything for the Japanese market because we don’t really have a bit market there at the moment. We’ve never been there and our albums are not that popular in Japan. Maybe that is somewhere we will go in the future but for the moment our focus is for other territories.
Alright, what has it been like playing massive European festivals like Sonisphere or Graspop?
Oh, I love to play festivals and they are a very important step in the marketing of the band as well. It is nice to play in front of a big crowd at a festival and that is very important. I would prefer to play a headline show for our fans because there is nothing that beats our fans at an inside venue where we can feel the crowd at their best.
For the album Coat of Arms the promotional video of “Uprising” was a massive production that would have been costly. Another video was also done for “Screaming Eagles”. Is it worth doing these things these days or is touring a better option?
Well, the video doesn’t really get the appreciation that some bands require. For videos today you have to be really lucky. The tools are there to get the video out but then it is mainly about luck. There is a chance that people discover you once you put it out as some thousands of people will see it which is great but does it generate something? I mean, mainly the people who are seeing our videos are already our fans and are already following us on our YouTube channels. So, we are not really winning or ourselves to a new crowd however if the video somehow gets Internet spreading like wildfire then it is good but you can never count on it. We were expecting the “Uprising” video to be a really big hit and we put so much effort into it but it really wasn’t the big success that we were hoping for – the only country where it was really good was Poland. It took a lot of effort and a lot money to put out that video.
So with the benefit of hindsight, will you do more videos at all?
Oh, we’ll definitely do more videos. It is fun but we also have to think about how to do it. The record label always demands that you provide them with a video and we really like to do good videos. It is just a question of how we will finance them.
For the touring setlist you’re bringing to Australia, what can we expect?
We have not decided on all of the songs yet but we have been trying to include what the fans want to hear. Australia is a new place to us as we haven’t played there before. In one way, anything we play will be new to everybody. That is kind of cool because it means that we can play whatever we want, basically. I’m not sure but I believe it will be what the main people believe to be the best option for our set list. When we tour in Sweden, for example, we focus a lot on the new album. In Australia, we do not need to focus so much on the new album.
What is the more challenging era of Sabaton material?
Well, challenging, hmm, whenever we put in an old song to play, there are always people that say, ‘what is this song?’ As we grow older, especially since we changed record labels to Nuclear Blast [NB] for the Coat of Arms album, a lot of things have changed and we’ve gotten some new fans. When we signed to NB and put out Coat of Arms I think we kind of doubled our popularity worldwide or more. That means that over 50% of fans have not heard previous albums and they think that our debut album was Coat of Arms.
So when we put out a song from and older one like Primo Victoria or Art of War that means that a lot of people will look like, ‘I never heard this’, and sure there is a song or two from those that are really popular but the last year was the last to include those on every show. There are a lot of those songs that we are no longer including on the setlist because people don’t for them and because we don’t know them anymore.
Speaking of Coat of Arms, the song “Metal Ripper” is clearly a tongue in cheek with the numerous metal references in it including the obvious mimic of an early eighties Ozzy laugh.
That song, along with “Metal Crue” and “Metal Machine” was made because we want to show people that we are not die hard, military lyrical freaks. Mainly we are firstly a heavy metal band and then secondarily we write lyrics about history. That is why we are doing that sort of song. It is to show that Sabaton is a party band and not just war mad.
We hope to see you soon.
Sabaton do two shows with Nightwish in January:
11/1: Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW (A/A)
14/1: Palace Theatre, Melbourne VIC
They are also headlining their own show:
13/1: Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC (+ Eyefear + Black Majesty)