It’s been 21 years since Sabaton formed, and around 13 since their first headline dates in the UK where they did pretty well to fill 200-capacity venues. Tonight was their first arena show on British soil and – bloody hell – they only managed to sell it out! With support from fellow Swedes Amaranthe and Apocalyptica from neighbouring Finland, this was a northern European assault on London which arrived a few hours before Winter Storm Ciara brought a more weathery kind of chaos…
I saw Amaranthe last year as main support for Powerwolf in Glasgow. I wasn’t too impressed on that occasion, but tonight’s show seemed that bit fuller, more powerful and as a result more enjoyable. They’re still not quite my kind of thing and the songs varied from pretty good to pretty bland, but the response they received from the majority of the audience was far from unfavourable. The more upbeat numbers definitely had heads nodding, and there’s no denying the vocal talents of the three singers.
Their set passed quite quickly, and they handled it as if they were headliners. Chat with the audience was good, and they got the responses they asked for – clapping, cheers, “How are you, London?!” and all that. I also have to say that the sound for their set was superb. In fact, all three acts benefited from some of the best sound I’ve ever heard at a venue. Well done to the techs for nailing it for all involved.
Apocalyptica are a band I’ve been wanting to see for some time, more so on the strength of their latest album, Cell-0 which I really enjoyed. I can’t recall the last time I watched a (mainly) instrumental act and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Opening with a track from the new album was a brave move on that basis, but it paid off. “Ashes of the Modern World” is a hell of a piece of music, and the band nailed the choreography with the accompanying video playing on a big screen behind them.
I was up in the seated area, so had a good view of the crowd and I was a little worried that they were a bit disengaged. Certainly there was little movement, but my fears were put to rest with the roar that greeted the end of the opening tracks when the Finns paused for breath. They opted for a couple of vocal numbers and to cover the singing duties. Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd was welcomed back to the stage. And, bloody hell, if she didn’t blow me away with a performance that dwarfed what she’d done with her own band!
After she departed, Apocalyptica stepped back to the Worlds Collide album for “Grace” before hitting the crowd with a trio of covers. “Seek and Destroy” got the place rocking with the audience covering vocals for the chorus, before Perttu announced that they were going to play some classical music. Which is fair, given that they’re cellists. I expected the crowd to be a bit half-hearted about this. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Maybe they knew the band better than I do, maybe they were just forgiving, maybe they were just wrapped up in the moment… but the cheer for a bit of Handel of Tchaikovsky was unbelievable.
What we got was a bit of Grieg, “The Hall of the Mountain King”, a piece of music I originally became familiar with through Manic Miner of all things! Apocalpytica’s version was rather… heavier. Honestly, I was having a hell of a time by this point, but things only got better with a closing cover of “Nothing Else Matters”. Strange to close on a slow number after the Grieg build-up, but it was a master stroke as everyone in the arena seemed to know the words and belted them out as backing to the four musicians on stage.
To ensure they got every minute they could before the curfew, Sabaton dropped the curtain and bounded on stage barely 20 minutes after Apocalyptica left it. Of course, “Ghost Division” was the first song (after the recorded intro of “In Flanders Fields” and an overture). And, of course, by the end of it we’d seen more pyro and fireworks than most bands other than Rammstein have in their entire set. My son’s slack-jawed look as the smoke cleared was worth the trip down from Glasgow all by itself!
The setlist that followed was let down only by not being two hours longer. With so many albums now out, there was no way the band could include all of the good tracks. Especially given that I don’t think they’ve ever recorded a shit one. Nineteen songs were played in all, including six with Apocalyptica. These weren’t just “let’s shove four more people on stage” efforts. The songs had been rearranged, and the temporary extra members were very much part of the Sabaton lineup for those half dozen. “The Price of a Mile” should be re-recorded with that plaintive opening, by the way. Pär, I hope you’re reading. Do it.
As the arena tour is coming close to an end (and all the dates were to some extent live-streamed anyway) I’ll include a few spoilers, so skip this paragraph if you wish. The dinky tri-plane keyboard for “Red Baron” was wonderfully silly. The gas mask get-up for “The Attack of the Dead Men” looked pretty authentic (and bloody warm). The bazooka shell blew the sensors on my point and click camera. The confetti cannon ended the show with the explosion it deserved.
And there were the regulars. Thousands bouncing to “Primo Victoria”. Joakim pretending to hate “Swedish Pagans” while a section of the crowd sat down and “rowed” during it. Joakim saying “fuck” a lot with that wonderful Swedish accent. Fireworks. Flames. Pyro. Scorched chemicals. Fire. The rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion.
Did I mention the fire?
I’ve seen Sabaton maybe ten times now, from Glasgow’s Garage to their own festival in Falun, at Bloodstock, at Wacken… and this is honestly the best show I think I’ve seen. It was at least up there with Wacken, if not slightly bettering it. Which is saying something. They are hands down one of the most entertaining bands out there, as well as one of the most caring and sociable. Hell, they even made sure the lighting for the first couple of tracks was “plain white” so that the photographers could get decent shots! Who else even bothers to think of stuff like this?
If you missed this tour, shame. But save those pennies. The band apparently already have plans and bookings in place for the next arena run in about two years time. And if you think we’ll be missing that one, you’ve obviously lost the bloody plot. I think I have my gig of the year nailed down and it’s not even half way through February. To the world of metal – the gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down!
Pics by Katie Frost Photography