Heavy Metal is the music of rage and triumph. War is the customary theater for both these emotions, so it is no surprise that combat and destruction often is the subject of metal lyricists. The epitome of this marriage of mayhem and guitars is the Swedish power metal band Sabaton.
For those unfamiliar with them, the band's lyrics are around 75% centered on war, battle and soldiers. They have songs about specific battles ("Midway", "Warsaw Uprising"), songs about individual soldiers ("White Death"), and even about particular sorts of warfare ("Panzer Battalion"). They do touch on other topics, including Heavy Metal itself (the song "Metal Crue" is largely made up of the names of other metal bands), but by and large they are the band to go to if you need to incorporate the words "artillery", "mortars" or "retaliation" into a song.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a show put on by the band. It was in one of the sketchier parts of Richmond, VA. The venue was a hole in the wall place called the Kingdom, situated in an alley. When I went looking for it on Google maps, I was pretty sure this was all an elaborate setup to lure people into said alley and shank them, but the place turned out to be pretty perfect for the music to come.
The tour apparently wasn't supposed to happen; Sabaton had been scheduled to tour with another band and something fell through. Furthermore, Sabaton went through a massive shift, losing 4 of it's six members a few weeks ahead of the first show. They'd replaced 3 of them, two guitarists and the drummer. The keyboardist had not been replaced, but had recorded tracks to be used on stage. This was their first US headlining tour and the first time they'd played this town.
There was so much that could have gone wrong here.
I was with a few people who had worked their way up to the stage. The crowd was sparse; maybe 70 people in the hall. But still, when the lights went down, every one of us started chanting the band's name in rhythm, as if we had to summon the guys to the stage with our adoration alone.
The drummer took his place, then the bassist and guitarists fired the first aural volley. Moments later, dressed in his customary uniform, including mirrored shades, mohawk and armor plated vest, the lead singer continued the assault, growling out the lyrics to "Ghost Division". The crowd sang back and the whole hall was full of sound and fury.
Because the new guys had only a few weeks to rehearse and the issue with the keyboards, they could not take requests from the crowd, though they did hit many of their highlights, including the title tracks to the albums Primo Victoria and Attero Dominatus, as well as the title track to their upcoming Album Carolus Rex. Every song was adrenaline made audible, an explosion of the spirit of victory.
The newness of the lineup did not show through, as far as I could tell. Had I not been aware of their situation, I would have assumed they'd been performing together for years. They joked with one another and the audience. They encouraged to crowd to bounce, to pump fists in the air and to sing along. The size of the hall did not limit the size of the performance, not one bit.
After the show, a few ticket holders got to do a meet and greet and it was rapidly apparent that the band members were, to the man, pretty awesome guys. Their was no real pretense in their manner as you might expect with headlining musicians, even ones traveling in a place where they are virtually unknown. They signed autographs, received compliments graciously and seemed very happy to hear the pretty unanimous opinion that it was an awesome show, one of the best most of us had seen.
May 23rd is the release date of Carolus Rex, their seventh album, which might be enough to hold back the withdrawals until the storm our shores again, hopefully, one day in the future.