Hail Sabaton, the Kings of Metal
I will be the first to confess to being a devout fan of rock and metal, and any long time readers of my work here should know that. I have dedicated a lot of ink to the post-Nirvana decline of the American rock/metal scene, whether it be the sorry shape of the genre’s many former lead acts, its few indie bright spots, or the sorry transition to the nation’s dominant sound ranging between interchangeable bubblegum pop acts and nightmarish modem noise. Truly, this is the dark night of the soul of rock and roll.
At least is here in the USA – my more devout readers (or those of you who go back to read my older work – because of course, why wouldn’t you?) may also remember one of my earliest articles where I talk about Viking metal, one of the many thriving rock scenes across the pond in Europe. Indeed, while rock and metal may have flat-lined in the land that birthed them, the genres beating heart survives and thrives in Europe, with many now starting to make waves in an America starved for face-melting rock-and-roll. Perhaps none are leading the charge with more righteous sound and fury than Sweden’s self-proclaimed Kings of Metal, Sabaton.
Forming in 1999 in Falun, Sweden, Sabaton finally began to make waves with the release of their first studio album, Primo Victoria, in 2005. Releasing seven albums since then, and touring intensively, the band has endeared themselves to fans the world over, who have come to love Sabaton for their memorable melodies, rousing guitar riffs, pounding drums, and the signature deep, rich vocals of singer Joakim Broden.
In many ways, they are a return to the fundamentals of heavy metal’s golden age, with a clear emphasis in the band’s music put on tunes and lyrics defining their discography, not loudness or growling vocals, and the result is a band whose sound calls back to the likes of Iron Maiden or Manowar. One need only listen to their covers of classics from bands from Rammstien to Metallica, or to songs of their own like “Metal Ripper”, “Metal Machine” or “Metal Crue”, songs entirely made up of the names of famous metal bands or chosen lines from famous songs.
It is what sets them apart however, that both makes Sabaton so distinctive and that has no doubt helped them earn so many new fans. This can be seen, and more importantly, can be heard, in little details in their music, such as their unconventional instrumentality in many of their songs, using everything from church organs to Greek pan flutes to actual cannons in certain songs. However, Sabaton is most famous though for pioneering a metal subgenre they created – war metal.
Taking a page from fellow Scandinavian subgenre Viking metal, which uses Norse culture and mythology to base many of their songs and albums, Sabaton’s discography is a smorgasbord of songs that sample from famous wars, largely World War II, with songs covering everything from D-Day (“Primo Victoria”) to the Warsaw Uprising (“Uprising”). Each album covers a different theme or period, such as Carolus Rex, which covers the rise and fall of the Swedish Empire, and the rise and fall of the titular monarch Charles XII, to the recently released Heroes, that covers the individual exploits of war heroes from Witold Pilecki to Audie Murphy.
The band’s dedication to lyricism and attention to detail truly pays off here, as the songs are a history buff’s dream, with individual lines referencing everything from the order of battle to troop movements accurate enough to serve as study material. To give an example, “To Hell and Back”, from the album Heroes, doesn’t just use the same title of Audie Murphy’s memoir/most famous movie role, but uses lines from Murphy’s poem “The Crosses Grow on Anzio” in its chorus and bridge, and references everything from his Army Infantry Regiment to his struggle with PTSD.
This dedication to history and lyricism has done more than win them fans – two of their songs, “40:1” and “Uprising”, about the Battle of Wizna and the Warsaw Uprising respectively, have been adopted by units of the Polish military as marching anthems, and had the band honored by officials of the Polish Government. Sabaton is more than a band whose albums play stadium anthems; they sound battle cries.
When one considers this, the continued rising stature of Sabaton is all the more remarkable given that, save for lead singer Joakim Broden and bassist Pär Sundström, band’s original lineup split up in 2012, with the four departing members soon forming their own war metal band, Civil War. Many Sabaton fans, your humble narrator included, worried this might spell the end of Sabaton, or at the very least, a drastic change in tone or style as the band took new members. Happily, with the recent release of Heroes, it seems Sabaton, in a fashion befitting their musical style, has rallied for a triumphant return with their best album yet, and the band will be making their largest major of the USA yet later this year. One hopes that they will continue to rise to even greater heights in the years to come.
Can Sabaton be considered the Kings of Metal they proclaim to be? Perhaps, but there is little doubt they are one of the genre’s leading acts and rising champions, whose handle of the classics and own innovations promise to shape the genre and thrill their growing legions of fans for years to come. So my dear reader, if you need some metal in your life, or to sample a band whose grasp of history is as grand as their guitar solos, give Sabaton a listen. I guarantee their bombastic ballads of war and glory will have you marching to their tunes before the chorus.