There are few heavy metal bands you’d want on your side in a war, but Sabaton are one of them. Not least because the Swedes’ stage show features an actual tank as their drum riser.
It’s a reflection of their enduring fascination with wars and conflict throughout history, a theme central to all but one of their nine albums to date. Like Manowar imagined by Steven Spielberg, Sabaton’s epic subject matter is matched by the kind of bracing music that could easily soundtrack a military invasion. It’s all delivered with a knowingness that never descends into parody.
“We’re singing about serious subjects,” says mohawked singer Joakim Broden. “But in the end we’re a heavy metal band.”
They haven’t always been heavy metal Action Men
Sabaton started life in 1999 as standard-issue Euro metallers, writing songs about demonic bikers and Lord Of The Rings. That changed when Broden wrote the song that would become the title track of their 2003 debut album, Primo Victoria. “We realised we couldn’t have lyrics about drinking beer and slaying dragons, we needed a larger subject,” says the singer.
Instead they drew inspiration from Steven Spielberg’s WWII epic Saving Private Ryan. “And then we thought: ‘Hey, we should do a whole album about military history.’ Then we wore camo in a video, and accidentally became ‘the war band’.”
They’ve plenty of source material to mine
Broden admits the band “weren’t huge military buffs in the beginning”, but have dived deep into the subject over the years. Everything from the ancient Battle Of Thermopylae to the Battle Of Britain in World War II have provided ammo for their songs.
“Wars have heroism, darkness, everything in between,” says Broden. “They sum up the best and worst of humanity.” Their latest album The War To End All Wars is a direct follow-up to 2019’s The Great War – both are centred on the events of World War I. “It’s the darkest period in the history of modern warfare, just in terms of how people were needlessly sacrificed.”
Their career has courted controversy
Sabaton’s subject matter has caused them a few problems, not least in Germany where the spectre of WW2 and Nazism are sensitive subjects. “Initially it was difficult to get shows in Germany, where the whole ‘Don’t mention the war’ thing is still quite strong,” says bassist Pär Sundström.
Closer to home, 2012’s Carolus Rex – a concept album about the rise and fall of the medieval Swedish Empire – was criticised for perceived nationalist leanings. “People have this idea that we are right-wing Nazis because we sing about war,” says Broden, rolling his eyes. “We’re not. We’re just singing about war.”
Every band should have a tank
Sundström first talked about having a tank on stage in 2009. The riser – complete with turrets and gun – made its debut in 2015. “People said I was crazy,” he says. And now the tank is almost the sixth member of Sabaton. “It belongs to our identity,” says Sunström. “It fits in with what we do.”
The Sabaton Empire extends way beyond the music
Like Gene Simmons in combat trousers, Sundström knows the value of the Sabaton name. As de facto band manager, he’s behind various ‘brand extensions’ that include board games, underwear and even Lego-style build-your-own-tank kits. And then there’s the Sabaton Cruise, the Sabaton Open Air Festival (held in their home town of Falun), and even the Sabaton History Channel (opens in new tab) – a YouTube channel dedicated to exploring the subjects behind their songs.
“These are all things I would have wanted as a fifteen-year-old metal fan,” he says. “But everything we do is designed to get people to listen to our music.”
They’ve got grand plans for the future
Neither Broden nor Sundström see a day when Sabaton will write an album that isn’t about war. “Humanity has been very cruel as long as we have been on earth,” says the bassist. “We could carry on for another hundred years writing songs about battles and wars.”
In the shorter term they harbour an ambition to play a show on the beach in Normandy on June 6 – the anniversary of the D-Day landings there. “That would be the most Sabaton thing we could do,” Broden says with a laugh. “Though I’m not sure anybody would want a heavy metal band there that day.”
The War To End All Wars is out now via Nuclear Blast.