(This article was first published on Montreal Rampage)
“This festival feels very European. From what I’ve seen so far, it would make the top 5 on the European circuit”, says Sabaton singer Joakim Brodén. We’re sitting, with drummer Hannes van Dahl, in the area called “Artist World”, set up by promoter Evenko for the musicians playing Heavy Montreal and IleSoniq, the electronic music festival next door. It’s obvious that artists are well treated by the organization: I passed by a mouth watering catering lounge (serving food from chef Chuck Hughes) to get to this secluded spot between two dressing rooms set aside for Skrillex, who’s headlining the other festival.
Brodén and van Dahl patiently answer my questions as the recurring screams from a nearby rollercoaster periodically derail our conversation slightly. Their new album “The Last Stand” comes out on August 19th, so the discussion turns to their new single ‘Blood of Bannockburn’, a song about an obscure but pivotal battle of the Wars of Independence between Scotland and England. “It’s the first Sabaton song in a major key!” proudly explains van Dahl. “Even if people don’t realize it, it’ll feel like ‘Woah, wait a minute, is this a feel good song?’” “It just happened,” recalls Brodén. “I started out with this guitar thing and went ‘It’s nice. Hey! It’s in major!’ There was no plan behind it.”
The singer says that about half of the album is a little different from what they’ve done in the past. Judging from the Youtube comments, not every fan is open to the band expanding its sonic palette. “You do what you do: 50 percent are gonna love it, 50 percent are gonna hate it,” says Joakim. “Half will say ‘ah it’s the old stuff again’ and the other half…” Van Dahl finishes for him. “…will go ‘What the fuck is this? Is this new shit?’” “For us it’s a lose/lose situation,” resignedly sighs Brodén. “It really is.” But van Dahl wants to reassure the hardcore Sabaton fans. “You won’t be disappointed,” he says. “It totally sounds like Sabaton, but with a fresh take on it.”
The single features Hammond organ, and bagpipes play a predominant part in the arrangement. It’s a Scottish song after all! “The bagpipes sound very harsh and nasal, and it’s a credit to our producer Peter (Tägtgren) who actually made them work in a mix,” explains Brodén. “Because, trust me, any time you bring bagpipes into a studio, every sound engineer in the world will scream ‘Take that away from me!’”
Sabaton’s songs are mostly epic tales of war, and military history. “I was not a history buff when I joined the band,” chimes in van Dahl. “I was never interested but more of the opinion that it’s important to know. Coming into the band, I really started to appreciate it more, especially hearing the stories that make 95% of Hollywood scripts look pale. And they are real stories that actually happened, but are unknown. It’s amazing stuff, you know. There are enough bands singing about dragons, cocaine and…whatever.” “Beer!” chimes in Brodén, and adds: “I think there are so many fantastic stories in our past that why make up new ones, you know?”
Does this means that, before starting to write, the guys need to hit the library in search of stories to tell? “All of this is taken care of by our interests, reading books and watching documentaries,” says the singer. “But a big part is from our fans giving us books, sending us stories. Every country has its own history and what’s common knowledge in let’s say Spain, might be totally unheard of for Swedish guys. The discovery phase is the most interesting. It feels new, it feels fresh, and that’s when you’re the most passionate about it.”
I wondered if war was such an intrinsic part of Sabaton’s sound that they couldn’t imagine writing about something else. “It would be great if there was no wars,” says van Dahl. “In a perfect world. But on the other hand, we probably have material for another 400 albums. Unfortunately. But no, I don’t think so.” “It feels natural to tell these stories,” chimes in Brodén enthusiastically. “Maybe we can do it in a new take or something, find another angle to it. But I think that sometimes reality is more fascinating than fiction. I want to tell stories. And in the case of heavy metal, you’ve got aggression, depression, but also feelings of joy and happiness. All of these emotions are found in military history, so it’s a good fit.”
With such heavy stories to tell, you’d expect the band to be sullen and intense on stage, but it’s the entire opposite. They attack the stage with an energy and joy that seems at first at odds with what they’re singing about. “We take the stories seriously, but not ourselves,” explains Brodén before letting out a hearty laugh. “I have fun on stage, why should I fucking hide it?” Good answer.
Next up for the band is the Sabaton Open Air, the band’s very own rock festival in their home town of Falun in Sweden. Having their own festival was “a solution to a problem” according to Brodén. “We wanted to do a release party for ‘Art of War’ back in 2008 and there was no venue that we wanted. All the places we could play were the regular rock pubs. We wanted to do something bigger. We rented a hall in an old military regimen area for 1500 people and we invited bands we toured with, friends, younger bands who we thought were working hard but had never gotten a chance. Pretty much that’s exactly what we do even now. This year it’ll be the release party for ‘The Last Stand’, and it’ll be again bands we toured with, friends, younger bands who have never gotten a chance.”
So how do the festivals differ on both sides of the Atlantic? “I always felt that Canada was much more European than the United States. Huge difference in how they approach things, the mentality and attitudes. We’ve played festivals in the US and they’re very different. A bit more mainstream, but, I mean, we have those too in Europe. We played one, 3 days ago, was it? On the other stage before us was Rhianna.” “Rhianna was supporting us,” explains van Dahl. “We asked her to come on our next tour. She said she’ll think about it.” <laughs>