With Swedish meatballs on the menu in the SSE Arena, multiple fans clad in chequer-plate vests filing their way inside, and enough canisters of pyro fluid to give Guy Fawkes a serious hard on, tonight could only mean one thing – Sabaton had brought their Great Tour to town. After a successful summer that included a huge Bloodstock headline set, this was their first return to British shores for a show of their own since 2017, and with all tickets sold out for the massive space, a clear indicator that they have transcended to a whole new level since then.
The first sonic attack of the evening though was to come from Amaranthe (8), a band with 3 lead vocalists and a sometimes disco edge to their particular brand of power metal. With hits including Nexus, Helix and Maximise all getting airings which got the crowd moving, it was a set that opened nicely for an evening of epic and unashamedly theatric performances, the kind of which Northern European acts have rightly earned a reputation for. Blending clean (almost pop) vocals, with classic metal wails and harsh screams, it’s an infectious mix that is sure to piss off the purists as much as please those with a more open mind. With my head swinging away to tracks I’d never heard of while taking photos, I guess you’d put me in the latter category – deal with it.
Then it was the turn of symphonic metal band Apocalyptica (8) to take the stage. Comprised of a trio of classically trained cellists and a drummer, for over 20 years they’ve been proving that you don’t need to have a guitar in-hand to rock peoples faces off. With synchronised hair swinging, and power stances aplenty, their set sped though tracks of their own including Ashes of the Modern World, Path and Grace, as well as the huge sounding covers they’re known for of classics including Rammstein’s Seeman, Metallica’s Seek and Destroy, and Nothing Else Matters. If you’ve never seen them before catching Apocalaptica live will redefine what you think comprises ‘Metal’, if you have, you already know their treat you’re in for…
Finally, as the curtain dropped and the stage exploded with flash bangs and fire, it was time for our heroes of the hour to give their victorious performance. Rivalling the likes of metal legends such as Iron Maiden in terms of their staging with barbed wire strewing the front of the stage, mic stands made from guns, and drummer Hannes van Dahl set atop a full-size tank, they burst into opener and fan favourite Ghost Division.
With grins spread ear to ear, it’s clear that Sabaton (10) enjoy performing as much as the crowd enjoy watching as Great War, Attack of the Dead Men and Seven Pillars of Wisdom are hit with as much energy and pyrotechnics in the first twenty minutes, as some bands manage in a two hour set. If you’re unfamiliar with Sabaton, most of their songs are based on either figures from history or battles that took place. It’s a concept that could oh so easily turn into something farcical, but that albeit a little tongue in cheek at times, works so well for epic sounding power metal. Before the Red Baron, charismatic frontman Joakim Brodén shows off his keyboard built into a small bi-plane adorned with the German fighter pilot’s livery. It’s this kind of endless spectacle, with theming, fire, huge visuals running behind the band, and more fire, that make this tour truly a show to be seen! The Last Stand and 82nd All the Way follow, with Joakim’s banter filled patter encouraging the 12,500 amassed metalhead to join him on a chant of the only Swedish that most brits remember….. “IKEA, IKEA, IKEA, IKEA”.
As Night Witches ends, Apocalyptica are reintroduced, joining Sabaton on stage for six tracks that reach a new height of magnificence with their now orchestral backing, including Fields of Verdun, The Price of a Mile and Carolus Rex. It’s a huge live sound, that matches the staging to prove that not only can Sabaton step up to arena stages with ease, they can thrive on them. This is metal at its finest, and for me, pushes them into a realm of performance that among new acts to reach these heights in the last decade, I’ve only seen Parkway Drive do quite as convincingly – albeit with a polar opposite sound. Following a brief encore it’s time for a final draft of fan favourites bathed in jets of fire, ticker tape and smoke: Primo Victoria, Bismarck, Swedish Pagans and To Hell And Back. I don’t know where the band will go next to better this, but one thing is for sure, it’s going to be staggering. Tank battles raging around them in a field somewhere as they play atop a B32 bomber? A festival held on an aircraft carrier they sail across Europe? I wouldn’t put either past them, and I’ll definitely be joining them to enjoy every moment.
As a quick aside, if you’re yet to discover the band’s genuinely insightful Sabaton History channel on YouTube that breaks down the inspiration and events behind the tracks, as well as touching on the writing process for them, you’re missing out! Take a look here, you can thank us later!