Right now, America has an odd relationship with heavy metal music.
Yes, we still pack ourselves into Allstate Arena whenever KISS comes around so we can watch men in their 60’s dance around like kabuki cheerleaders for two ear-shattering hours. But on the whole, metal music is in a bit of a crisis.
We’re stuck between listenable, aging giants like Def Leppard and Black Sabbath—who simply won’t be around much longer—and the new bands the kids are into—which tend to put on a good show but sound like chimpanzees trying and failing to sing through a Pringles tube.
In short, we are missing out. Because right now there’s a Swedish metal band that is tearing Europe to pieces. And they will be appearing on April 18th at the Concord Music Hall and if they weren’t sold out I would demand that you see them. Because Sabaton is the kind of metal band we have been waiting for through all these long years of System of a Korn and Linkin Bizkit.
Sabaton is fresh, charismatic, and loud. If you feel like headbanging yourself into a coma you couldn’t ask for a better band.
Sabaton defines criminally underrated. In Europe, they host their own music festival, Sabaton Open Air, and they run a “Sabaton Cruise” in November. They are best experienced in stadiums replete with fireworks and unsafe pyrotechnics, but in the United States the band usually has to scrape by as an opener or a headliner in a club.
Not that this slows the band down any. Joakim Broden is as good a frontman as any in rock, channeling Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson in terms of athleticism and rivaling Judas Priest’s Rob Halford for bombastic flair. In truth, the man doesn’t have a very good vocal range, which feels downright refreshing in a genre dominated by opera singers and Cookie Monster growlers all competing to see who can shred their vocal cords the fastest. When Broden layers that smoky Swedish croak over a couple billion decibels of power metal instrumentation, something magical happens: your hands involuntarily curl into devil horns and your head begins to nod up and down. It is for these reasons that experts recommend you do not listen to Sabaton while operating heavy machinery.
Sabaton songs have two subjects – war and metal music. The band is the best piece of edutainment since The Magic Schoolbus, effortlessly turning history lectures into hardcore rock. Unlike many metal bands, Sabaton’s work has a decidedly anti-war bend. Though the rollicking anthems of “Ghost Division” or “40-to-1” sing the praises of deadly soldiers overcoming the odds, ballads like “Cliffs of Gallipoli” remind us of the band’s pacifist heart. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s a surprising amount of social commentary to come out of the genre that made human/troll hybrid Ozzy Osbourne a cultural icon.
That’s not to say it’s all death and glory for Sabaton. These Swedes have churned out some of the best party anthems to come out of metal music since KISS was in their heyday. Take “Metal Crue” out for a spin sometime and see if that doesn’t get you moshing into the nearest pedestrian. Listen to “Metal Machine” and tell me you’re not a little bit turned on. Writing songs about songs is usually a recipe for disaster but Sabaton are historians first and foremost. You could ask for no better curators of metal’s history.
Sabaton will be opening for Nightwish on the 18th, another criminally overlooked band you should absolutely check out. But by far the most common sentence you’re going to hear anyone in the crowd say at that show is, “Wait, why is Sabaton opening again?”
I myself have been lucky enough to experience Sabaton twice in the past, once as a headliner at Reggie’s Rock Club and again as an opener for Amon Amarth down in Joliet, and I have to say these guys have a truly rare ability to connect with their audience on every level. Towards the end of their set, Joakim spotted a 12-year-old boy in the audience and asked the kid’s father if he could bring him on stage. “Is this your first concert?” he asked, and when the boy nodded he got the audience to chant his name. I’ll never forget being surrounded by sweaty, tattooed, long-haired ogres all shouting “Mike! Mike! Mike!” at a 12-year-old kid having the coolest night of his life. Afterward Joakim gave the kid a pair of his trademark shades, accompanied by uproarious applause from the audience. It was simply a magical piece of stagecraft that both I and young Mike will remember forever.
Sabaton makes small spaces feel huge. They make history feel real. They make metal feel fresh and new while also harkening back to the greats upon whose work they’ve built. They combine real emotion with firework bluster. Simply put, Sabaton is the best damn metal band you’ve never heard of.
Now please join me in raising a horn of mead to our fallen comrades, and let’s rock the hell out.
(Featured Image courtesy of Fevermind)