Latest release: The Great War (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.sabaton.net
Sabaton have hit many musical targets in their illustrious twenty year career. They’ve headlined numerous European metal festivals as well as won over huge crowds at other international festivals. Locally, they’ve invaded our shores in effectively co-headliner capacities, entertaining a growing fanbase with each visit. Their penchant for encapsulating core elements of military battles with broad themes to pinpointing tales of heroic acts from all sides of conflicts offers both energised performances and heartfelt tributes to human endurance during the crushing trials of warfare. Now with their ninth album, The Great War, just released and racing up the local and international charts, Loud Online had a chat with bassist and lyricist Pär Sundström about Sabaton’s fascinating and ambitious latest album based around World War I.
How are things on the other side of the world?
I’m currently doing a lot of interviews but am starting to get quite relaxed about things. When we have a new album out we don’t really know what sort of reactions we are going to get to it but starting to get better and better with feedback from a lot of people from all around the world. They’re saying things like, ‘Hey, you have actually done a really good album,’ so now we can sort of relax and just enjoy the trip a bit. It is a long PR tour but it is so cool that there is now so much interest in Sabaton these days. We are doing about 400 interviews in a row which is something I have never seen before and the label also hasn’t seen something like this happening before. I am happy that there is so much interest because a couple of years ago, the most we could get was a few days of interviews and now we have over a month of constant PR. Yeah, I am excited about that.
The new album, The Great War, is released in various editions. One of them is the history version which obviously is embellished with narration from actress Bethan Dixon Bate, providing the precluding background information to the songs. What was the impetus for pursuing that idea?
Okay, when we did sort of have some narrations on The Art of War album a few years ago, a lot of people liked that and so I thought that we could do it again. But, here is the idea; now there are so many people today that do not like to listen to a full album. They tend to choose one to several tracks or whatever and they put it into their favourite playlist then mix it with other bands. So then, I am sure that they don’t want a woman’s voice to come in when they are listening to their favourite party tracks or something. In that case, they can go for the standard edition but if you really want a deeper understanding and if you really want to have a good experience of listening to a full album, I strongly recommend the History Edition. It is sort a little bit like what we did with The Art of War.
It is informative and intriguing with insights of relevant theatres of war, various battles such as the Battle of Passchendaele or even just how snipers operated. Did the songs ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ and ‘The Red Baron’ take lot of work to put together?
Sure, that is true about the narrations. I think that the song, ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ has many interesting things about it. First of all, it is a story that we would never had heard about if it wasn’t for a lot of fans who requested it be covered for well over a year. Secondly, the song itself or rather, the topic, is a little bit mysterious and dark. Therefore, the music for the song is dark too. The music for that song was actually written for the album Heroes back in 2014 but if you listen to that song, it doesn’t sound heroic at all. So, that is why we just decided to put it aside from the Heroes album and save it for the future. Now, we knew we wanted to sing about ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ on The Great War album but we knew that we needed a music piece that was little bit more dark and mysterious. When we found that we had it, then it was just like, ‘Yay, it is a good match’.
Iron Maiden have also covered topics such as the Red Baron and Passchendaele in their music. Not taking anything away from Sabaton at all but just noting that it is massive, well known and in some cases, a lengthy topic. How do you filter that down into a song?
Hmmm, yes, I mean Sabaton is not the first to do historical things but I think that today we would be the band that takes it the furthest, I guess. Yes, again, it is almost impossible to compact anything like that into a song of three or four minutes. For that sort of story, it is almost impossible. So, what we do with the songs is that we just scratch something on the surface or we ignite maybe an idea. If people want to know what the song is about or the background story behind it, that is why we have launched the Sabaton History Channel [on YouTube] so that people can get a deeper understanding about it.
That is impressive and quite involved. For the song, ‘Fields of Verdun’, you recruited your previous guitarist, Thobbe Englund, to come in and play on that track.
Yes, we are in close contact with former members of the band and with Thobbe Englund being a really nice, good friend and in fact, one of my best friends in the world it was a case of just asking him, ‘hey, do you want to join me for trying to write a song?’ He was part of writing one of my favourite songs on the album before [The Last Stand] which is called ‘Shiroyama’ and he said, ‘yeah, sure, I will try to come up with something.’ He was sitting down with our singer, Joakim [Brodén] and they were seeing if they could come up with something whilst having a couple of beers. They really came up with something too, I think, that was a great one.
That goes back to the Sabaton History Channel because you also came up with the single only track, ‘Bismarck’. Something like your video channel will educate young fans about the gigantic German battleship in an entertaining way.
Yep, the ‘Bismarck’ was a bit different and is not part of the album. It was something that we decided to do as kind of a twenty year anniversary gift to our fans. We asked ourselves what we could give to our fans as a kind of a twenty years of Sabaton anniversary gift and we thought, ‘Okay, they all want us to write more songs’. I guess that is the main thing that people want from a band so we thought about what sort of topic that they would want us to write about. So were just looking through the different requests and what kind of different topics that our fans wanted us to write about. Except for Star Wars, the most highly asked for topic was ‘Bismarck’. So we decided to do that because we get all these kind of requests all the time and we save them and put them in libraries so that one day, we might write some song about suggested topics. We get the idea but now it is really funny because, again, even though Star Wars is the number one request from all of our fans to write about, it is hilarious now with what is the second most highest requested topic and that is he Emu War [a wildlife management campaign in the early 1930’s] in Australia. Things change but otherwise it will be scary for the thirtieth anniversary of Sabaton.
When World War I ended, there was a belief that was the end of global warfare but of course, clearly, it was not. I suppose different nations will vary on claiming which battle(s) provided a decisive conflict. Were those events in France at the time what ultimately turned the war?
Hmm, yeah, okay, you’re right and all kinds of sides have their different stories and that is something that we’ve learned while studying history and from talking to people from all around the world. Everybody has a different view on things. It is when we are writing songs that we are not trying to tell or to explain who is right and who is wrong, we are just retelling stories from one side or from another side. We know that we are not here to judge or to say who is right or wrong. We’re not telling people how to vote or things like that. Sabaton is not about spreading any political propaganda or anything like that. We just tell stories. It is a case of, ‘this happened and here is a story about.’
There is clearly a futility aspect with warfare and it doesn’t seem to achieve much because nations are continually going to war. A lot of metal focuses on warfare but it is about the gung-ho imagery whereas in reality, it is just a horrific mess of carnage and destruction.
War is of course horrible and in all cases. It mainly has losers and the only ones who might win the wars are the ones who sell the weapons to the people and maybe a few others who gain some land and become rich or whatever. Most people are suffering so war is a bad thing and I was that war never had happened even if that means we’d have to come up with a different topic to sing about. But, unfortunately war has been happening enough so that we can write songs about it for the rest of our lives. Even more unfortunately, war continues to happen and it doesn’t seem to stop. Even if I would like to be positive about it I am a bit negative about it in the ways that I believe that war will continue for as long as humans exist because it is in some people’s interest to keep it going and to push it. I think that we will not see the end of war, at least not in my lifetime.
Sabaton has played many huge metal and rock festivals with props such as tanks. You’ve also toured with Amon Amarth who’ve used a Viking ship in their stage set. What is the logistics like for touring with that sort of production?
It is a bit complicated when travelling with a tank. It makes for a little bit of fun when we are declaring it, ‘What is in the truck?’, ‘Oh, it’s a tank’, ‘What?’ so that is a little bit hilarious. It is especially so when we are travelling with some pyrotechnics as well. It is like, ‘Yeah, there is a tank and a lot of heavy explosives’ and so they’d be asking, ‘Really?’ and even then it was a really funny moment when we were crossing one border and the border guards were asking about it and they were soon about to draw their weapons and storm it, we said, ‘Oh, don’t worry, it is a fake tank,’ and they asked, ‘Why would anybody need a fake tank?’ Ha ha. But yes, there are a lot of complications involved and our tank is about 1.7 tonnes in total, when you transport it so it is a very heavy piece. We have two of them now and one of them has been upgraded to what we call a Mach II tank because it has been upgraded and refitted for the tour that we are now doing. It is a complicated one and we cannot bring this one to all shows, depending on the size of the clubs, the entrances and the stages plus it is quite expensive to travel around with it.
Recent personnel changes in the band means there are new-ish guitarists in the ranks. Both Chris Rörland and Tommy Johannson have provided some stellar guitar work on this album.
During the recording, Tommy and Chris were challenging each other. They both make solos for each song and sometimes they make more than one solo. Then we all sit together and almost put a sort of blindfold thing on so people can say, ‘I like this one’ or ‘I like that one’ and it is good that both guys are in a friendly competition so that nobody has an ego saying things like, ‘No, I really want to do this solo’. They can often agree saying, ‘Okay, you did the best one on this one so you can get it’, but it is a really nice thing instead of selecting one guy and forcing them to write the guitar solo. It is better to let both guys to go ahead and try it then whoever gets the best idea, we go with on the song.
As part of the rhythm section, was it fairly quick to click with your drummer, Hannes van Dahl?
I think that Hannes and I agree very well on a lot of things. But we are both two different things to the music. We try to find our ways to fit into the music as well as possible. So do all of us but I mean, Joakim is the main songwriter of the band and he has got a vision of the songs. We kind of try to not go too far away from the original idea and I am quite happy with how we work with each other and how we sound.
Production wise, you’ve worked with Peter Tägtgren, who is both a prolific metal producer and musician.
On this album, we didn’t use Peter but used Jonas [Kjellgren – producer, engineer & mixer] who sits in the same building [The Abyss Studios in Sweden]. Over the years we have worked a lot with Peter Tägtgren but at the same time we have worked with Jonas but not really doing albums. We’ve done single songs, live albums and it was actually when we published a song, ‘Kingdom Come’ which was a Manowar cover and a lot of people said that is sounded absolutely amazing. It was Jonas who made this track so we thought, ‘Okay, let’s see what happens if Jonas makes a full album. So we recorded the full album with him and I think that the fans will react well to it. For us in the band, we are happy to work with either Jonas or Peter but it won’t matter that much. They are both great guys and are both great sound engineers so whichever we choose, we believe there will be a good result. We’re excited to see fans having a different opinion to what we have though.
Having seen Sabaton live a couple of times, I noticed there was something written on the back of the neck of your bass.
Swedish War Machine, yeah, that was the name of my bass. I called it the Swedish War Machine. It is a custom ESP bass guitar based on the F-Series but it was built in the ESP custom shop.
Is there one particular track on this latest album that you’ve most proud of currently?
Hmm, let’s see if I will agree with this later but at the moment, it is ‘Great War’. I think that it was an interesting way to do that track. First of all, it sounds like a mixture of ‘Carolus Rex’ and ‘Primo Victoria’ which I think cannot go wrong in the Sabaton camp. Secondly, I think that it was quite interesting to do the lyrics because it is a little bit different. It doesn’t quite question war itself it just questions why somebody would refer to war as great.
Finally, any chance of a return tour to Australia with this album?
We definitely want to do that. We have now been to Australia a few times. We have been there first with Nightwish, then for Download and also we have performed together with Amon Amarth but we have not yet been there touring as a headliner, playing longer sets. So this is something we really would like to do.
Maybe you could bring the tanks.
It would be super cool to bring the tanks.