2019 is a huge year in the world of Sabaton. The band’s 20th anniversary sees their star shining brighter than the shiniest of polished military medals. They saved the day at Hellfest with the now infamous Manowar cancellation incident, will be headlining Bloodstock Open Air Festival in the UK next month, and have just released their brand new album, The Great War. There’s also the little manner of a Sabaton headline show at Wembley Arena early next year. This album is the first Sabaton album with a concept to focus exclusively on the First World War for its subject matter, so it was a real treat for Rock Sins to be invited to talk to Sabaton’s main man Joakim Broden at a press day for the album last month. Lets dive straight in!
RS: So I guess to kick off, why did you choose to do the First World War this time around?
JB: Well, it’s not really a concept album since it says we’re not following it, you know, chronologically, but at least it’s a theme album, in a way. So we’ve had the idea of recovering the Great War before. But the music wasn’t really right. Every time we go into, you know, songwriting mode, I guess there’s always that thing that we have two to five ideas that we could be about this and as songwriting progresses, it kind of crystallizes, you know, musically, where are we heading, and this one was a bit darker than the last stand so we ended up in the era of World War One, and there’s been so many stories over the years, we’ve collected. It is a fascinating conflict and, really, it’s been standing in the shadow (of our work) for too long. I’m not in any way saying that World War Two wasn’t important at all. But if you look at the amount of video games, documentaries or movies made about World War Two, it far far far outnumbers World War One. And I mean, the modern European map in a way, if you look at it, The aftermath of World War One is when you recognize the European map.
RS: So was the fact that there’s not as much media representation of the First World War, was that quite a big factor in deciding to go for it?
JB: Yes, and no. I mean, it wasn’t what made us choose to do about it (WW1). In a way it made us prouder to do it. Does that make sense?
But it wasn’t what got us into it because we thought there were so many fantastic stories there being forgotten, you know? Of course, doing the research is a you know, compared to World War Two, that’s a pain in the ass.
But at the same way, interesting, but it’s very dark. I don’t know if it’s, you know, public perception, which I also have been affected by, but it’s so much darkness over that era, right.
RS: You’ve written several songs about the First World War before now and you make reference to Price of a Mile and they’ve often had sort of more of a somber theme and mood. Did working on the theme of the Great War as a wider album theme, rather than just a single song change the way you thought about it?
JB: To be honest, you know, digging up heroic stories if you have an uplifting song, it’s much easier to find from World War Two, not because there wasn’t any heroic deeds in World War One, but it not being so well represented in popular culture didn’t make it any easier. But on the other hand, when I found the story of Francis Pedemagabo that we sing about in Ghost in the Trenches. I mean, there isn’t much to find about guy at all, and such a fantastic story.
That’s kind of a proud moment for us where we can bring something that’s maybe known to a few historians and a few people in his family, because there was basically a short YouTube video, one or two podcasts and a book that was about it. So we were very happy that we managed to get such a story that also got us excited, because we’re sort of in love with the discovery phase. Finding out about this, it’s so much fun, which is why we if we find something that is possibly interesting we don’t deep dive into it until we’re making the album. Because if I start discovering something I want to find out now and that’s when I’m passionate about it. It’s hard to get passionate a second time around, you know, six months or a year later. So we just kind of scratched the surface everywhere when we were, you know, touring or not making an album. But when it’s time, and we have the stories to actually dive down and do that. That’s pretty nice.
RS: You’ve had the historian Bengt Liljegren help out on the research for Carolus Rex. Do you do you do all the research yourself? Or is that something you sort of ask people to do for you?
JB: We do the research ourselves where Bengt, for example, helped point us in the directions of check out these books, these events could be interesting. And in the case of this one, we have the we have a guy called Indie Nidel and the team from Sabaton History Channel, he used to do the Great War. Oh, right. Yeah, yeah. And that is the biggest documentary of World War One ever made. So it’s far more than the name would suggest is people think it’s a YouTube channel. Yes, it is. But it’s also the biggest documentary, or historical documents of World War One. So it’s pretty cool. We certainly had help to find out stuff. But it’s not like we have somebody else do the research for us. and boil it down to, you know, a few words, and then we write the lyrics. Well, I guess we have people help us point us in the right direction. It helps a lot, especially when you’re dealing with such massive topics.
RS: Especially like the themes of the songs is that all sort of dictated by passion? Or you mentioned it sort of a more themed album, did you try to go something for like something representative of the First World War?
JB: You know, there are some icons you can’t miss? You know, Red Baron. There’s also the want to throw that curveball in that like: “Oh, shit. I never heard about this, which will be Ghost in the Trenches.”
We don’t want to misrepresent it. But every album there is one or two stories, you know, we really wanted to do but we didn’t have the songs that would fit it, it wouldn’t go in the any of the songs we have or if we had taken it they wouldn’t have fit into a tracklist. So many things to consider there. So like, for example, the Brusilov offense, it was on the cards. But then oh, no, we can’t do it because oh shit we have only happy songs left? Oh, no.
RS: In terms of the narratives do you sort of prefer to focus more on individuals or the wider events? Is that is that something you think is more important and more fitting to something that’s art rather than history?
JB: I don’t know. I think that’s a matter of personal opinion. For me doing something like we did with heroes, when you focus on the individual, it’s somehow me, you, get a name, it’s not 2000 people, it’s a name, there’s a picture, there’s an intimacy and closeness that you can get when you talking about, you know, Paschendaele, which of course, had hundreds of thousands of names and families, but it’s hard to relate to. Anything you do with a bunch of people is gonna be relatively personal, but one person can be, you know, a whole different thing. So I like it actually, when we go down on a personal level, or actually smaller groups, that’s fine, too. But we can’t do what we do, and only do that course. Yeah. Because we’re controversial enough. And we the only did that album like heroes, will you be accused even more of glorifying military conflict?
RS: So I wanted to talk about this, especially with regards to the Sabaton History Channel. Doing songs about war, becomes a clash of history of art in that it’s a passive discipline and an emotional discipline. I wanted to ask about, where you / Sabaton stand in that relationship?
JB: Well, let’s start with writing the music. It’s a very, very emotional process, at least for me. It’s important for me that, you know, it isn’t as simple as happy story, happy song. The emotion that I had when I wrote that song must be represented in the lyrics, you know, or in the story being told, and sometimes that’s not really clear, not even to me, which makes it even harder. But where do we choose to go technical? And where do we choose to go emotional or even, you know, describing it through almost religious terms? And that I think it depends on the music a lot. I mean, the first song on the new album, the Future of Warfare is a very technical mechanical piece of music. So there, it fits to put in some facts, you know, and a bit more well, a more brutal vocabulary, for sure than would be common for us. So there’s a bit of a twist on that one, and the same in the last track, well, last song, I should say, because there’s another one coming after but the end of the war to end all wars. Brutal song. it’s a retrospect of, you know, I guess I don’t know what I thought I did. But it was felt like somebody looking back at the whole thing. At Armistice Day considering what happened? So it’s a fine line. But I mean, sometimes it’s really cool. For example, Carolus Rex, on the Carolean’s Prayer, we’re singing “and put down for the kingdom and fatherland.” Because Carolean tactics was achieved through strict well, religious conviction, you know, they thought that God has already decided there’s a bullet for me or not. So the legendary thing is that they wouldn’t fire until they saw the white in the enemy’s eyes.
What do you call it? If it’s contextual, it’s really nice to use those religious terms because they are very charged, you know, emotionally. Even though people who really aren’t, you know, religious persons and me being one of them, there’s still something about singing those words, especially putting a big choir in there, you know?
RS: You’ve got the last song on the album, Flanders Fields, but Apocalyptica also released the Fields of Verdun cover. Is that something that you felt reflected the First World War more?
JB: That was just, you know, a funny thing to fuck around with people. How about we release the cover before the real song? I really liked them. I’d like to do some more stuff with them. Yeah. Because also, you think about World War One. It’s that kind of cellos is one of the things that I would consider. You know, because those instrument stations were around at that time, electric guitars, not so much. Yeah.
RS: I remember reading a few years ago, you weren’t really fans of history. Has that changed, as you started doing a lot more of the research?
JB: I mean, to begin when we weren’t, we weren’t for sure. I mean, I was interested in history. Yeah. But I would say yes, slightly above normal. You know, I would watch history documentaries, while friends would watch a new movie. But it wasn’t anything more than that. I prefer documentaries to superhero movies, for example. Which is just, yeah, the way I work, I guess. But interest in military history and this goes for Pat, as well, has grown as we’re doing this. The more we find out, the more we realize that we don’t know nothing, you know? We ain’t got shit. So, you know, ask us few years ago, we thought we were we were getting pretty good at this. Now we realized no, we got nothing. We’re at most happy amateurs. But the thing is, you can’t be an expert on everything. I mean, there’s a lot of people know way more about history than us. But people seem to expect us to have expert knowledge on all kinds of military history and its like, No, no, I’m sorry. Even that stuff that this person is talking about, maybe I didn’t even hear about that battle. Because every nation has their own history. So something that’s in every school book here in the UK is basically unheard of in Sweden, and vice versa. I mean, there’s a lot of crosstalk here, because Swedes are, at least adept at English. We don’t dub our TV American and British movies will be seen by Swedish people. But if it’s hidden behind a language barrier, these movie about Portuguese history, or Brazilian, or Mexican at that point, we are not as exposed to that. Because you won’t find that many movies on Swedish Netflix on the Mexican Revolution or something like that.
RS: Talking about these sort of different country stories Fields of Verdun feels very, if not quite triumphant, but it’s quite celebratory of that sort of French myth about standing and you know, standing and fighting. You’ve got the, especially on the last album, you’ve got the song about Serbia.
JB: Last Dying Breath
RS: You’ve got several songs about Polish history. Is this sort of something that you try to get in on each album, something that different nations can sort of get behind? Or is it just something that really happens organically live?
JB: Yes, and no, it is happening organically, you can’t avoid that will dealing with the military history. The only way of avoiding it is to go at it from the bad guys or the wrong guys point of view from that nations point. So we’ve done that a few times as well. We covered the Balkans from Milosevic’s perspective in ‘We Burn’ back in Attero Dominatus. And, but we sometimes, I mean, Carolus Rex, the Swedish King was a crazy ass guy. We did that song in first person perspective. I am kind of Carolus Rex? That was the most interesting way to tell that story. It’s hard to piss on heroes, you know, I mean, and if somebody did something really heroic or impressive, that is the best way to tell the story most interesting and engaging for us, and also for the listener. So yeah, I guess it’s natural to choose something from that point of view. If you’re talking about a tragedy you could go both ways.
Are we going? You know, bad guy side? Well, I guess if you’re talking about the Holocaust, like when we did the final solution, we’re not doing the bad guys side. But we’ve done a song about how Hitler came to power to dominate called Rise of Evil which people got upset about because we saying the Reich will rise, but then like, you know what the song is called? It’s called the Reich will Rise. Look again.
RS: Is that something you’ve had a lot of trouble with? With people trying to, put messages into the band? Especially given you’ve often got quite a passionate viewpoint.
JB: Yeah, I mean, I think we’re storytellers. Given we write songs about military history you know, we’re bound to do a song about Nazis once in a while. People are always asking us, are you Nazis? Like, no, is Steven Spielberg a Nazi, because he did Schindler’s List. Are you fucking retarded?
But I guess, historically, musicians have many times used their music to get political messages or social messages across. People look at music or any work of art, any movie through their own lens and if you are a very politically engaged or interested person, I could see how they would look at it through their lens, which is because they wouldn’t do music about military history without themselves having getting their message across, you know? So that is the whole, err, the backside of it all. Because we’ve been called everything that ends with ‘ist’: Communist, Nazi… ists, Zionists.
We don’t really do political statements or religious propaganda at all. We’re happy to be living in a part of the world where you at least have freedom of speech, which we are using quite to the extent of it sometime.
RS: Do you try to avoid talking about your own politics to avoid it being put onto the music?
JB: I’m not actually I’m not really politically interested myself, and the more I look into the history books, I mean, if you look into military history, it’s impossible not to touch on to politics and it is scary how much history rhymes you know. Doesn’t really repeat itself. But it rhymes. A smart guy much smarter than me, said that mankind has ever only learned one thing from history: that mankind cannot learn from history.
It is always interesting then when you meet people who are really thinking that we are living in: “these times, the troubles we’re seeing, we’ve never seen anything like this on planet earth before.” I’m like: yeah, same shit, new technology what are you talking about?
RS: Have you ever had your music used in a way you’re uncomfortable with?
JB: Yeah, we take it down. I mean, if somebody else if, I mean, if somebody plays video games to our music, that’s fine. Unless you’re trying to monetize it.but if someone makes a fan video then we’re happy. But if somebody makes a political video left, right, up or down or religious? You’re talking to our lawyers.
That is our policy on it. If somebody is making it out of love, if somebody made their own Sabaton t shirt because they love the band, and they couldn’t get a hold of any t shirt. Cool! If they try to sell it? No, no
That’s a whole different thing. But in the same way we don’t want to be involved in anything directly politically or religiously connected. So if we are asked to play a festival, we’re not going to ask the promoter what’s his political opinion? But if the purpose of the festival is to spread a political message, then no.
We have done a few things for charity. I think it’s pretty apolitical to play for free on a Polish Festival, which raises money for homeless children and children’s hospitals.
RS: I just want to ask one last question about the song Bismarck, which you released recently. You stated in the video, it’s about the Battle of the Atlantic. Did that song that coincide thematically with the Great War because of course Bismark is also the name of one of the German Chancellors pre-First World War.
JB: Yes. And no. That’s a lucky thing, though. The thing is, we wanted to do something as the 20th anniversary of the band, and something for the fans.
That is one of the most requested stories we ever had. You should make a song about the Bismarck. Okay, so let’s do a song for free. Let’s give it away for free and not on any album. Yeah, we thought we were just going to do a YouTube video for it. Which we did, which was really good.
But it was kind of a gift from us to our fans for the 20th anniversary. And we thought it would be nice to have a song out for free but then it backfired on us. People are complaining, it’s not on Spotify and not on Apple Music! It’s like “hey! That was not the intention of the song!. It was supposed to be a gift!”
So you know, it takes some time to Apple to approve it. Spotify systems, the stuff. So now we’re trying to push it, push it through those channels now, because people are requesting it so badly.
It was a really cool video and the song to do. But it sort of backfired on us. It was supposed to be released a little bit earlier than it actually came out as well. Because now it’s almost like neck and neck with Fields of Verdun. Ideally, we would have released that Bismarck thing in maybe February, well, we had to push it out because otherwise, we would have had to wait until way, way after the 20th Anniversary of the band.
RS: I suppose it’s the same thing with centenary of the First World War being last year. You couldn’t push the album back.
JB: Yes. We actually started the recording of the album on Armistice Day. Well, so exactly one hundred years after it started we were like, let’s do this. It was also a lucky coincidence. We were planning to record the next album at the end of this year or last year anyway. And then we found out that well, should we push the recording one week earlier? Yeah, sure! Let’s do it.
The new Sabaton album, The Great War, is out now on Nuclear Blast Records. Sabaton headline the opening night of Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2019 next month. They headline the SSE Arena Wembley in London on the 8th of February 2020 – for which you can get your tickets here.