December 13, 2009 at the Garage in London, England
by Alissa Ordabai
Watching the fist-pumping, sweaty and riotously jubilant crowd chanting along to the band’s bravure lyrics at London’s Garage last week, you’d never guess that all this exhilaration was taking place right bang in the middle of a dark, gloomy city hit not only by freezing temperatures, but by the worst recession it has known in the past 50 years. But then again it was Sabaton on the stage – a band capable of transforming any reality, no matter how mundane, into a fantasy of epic proportions. A band that believes in its own artistic realities so passionately, it’s difficult not to be swept over by the sheer intensity and conviction of the message they transmit.
A vision of WWII as unsophisticated as it is idiosyncratic, their act over the last five years has managed to win legions of fans the world over from their native Sweden to as far as South America, all undoubtedly due to the sheer power of Sabaton’s zeal and sincerity. Their material may be not the most complex or deepest of songs ever written about war, and having a fantastically good time while singing about one bloodbath of a battle after another may seem a bit odd to those who always look for things to moralise about, but this band has never been about introspection or attempting to analyse difficult issues. Sabaton were in London to entertain, and entertain they did.
Singer Joakim Broden, the focal point of the band, connected with the crowd from the word go, and “Ghost Division” from their latest album followed by “Art of War” were all that the audience needed to get fully involved in the proceedings. Clapping along, chanting and responding with vigorous shouts every time Broden addressed them, the crowd throughout the set presented a textbook lesson to any artist wishing know how to engage with their audience while remaining spot-on on their chops.
Despite Sabaton’s relentless emphasis on positivity, on bravado and on bringing together people of different convictions in an act of partaking in the good times, it would be wrong to dismiss them as just another clichéd act relying on fist-pumping tunes and a well-honed knack for working the crowd. Behind simple melodies and a clear “let me entertain you” message there is exceptional musicianship, a shed lot of charisma from Broden and virtuosic chops by lead guitarist Oskar Montelius whose leads are at once so exalted and so muscular, you sometimes wonder how he hasn’t been pinched by Ozzy for the post recently vacated by Zakk Wylde.
Not immediately obvious in his brilliance, Montelius could indeed well be the main force behind this outfit, capable of extending Sabaton’s message beyond the simple formula and giving it an undercurrent of poetic but at the same time powerful, dynamic musicality which is essential to turning a good band into a great band.
With the new album currently in the works, we are now probably one step closer to finding out if this Swedish quintet is capable of the transformation. Their 2001 hit “Primo Victoria” which finished the set to a riotous applause certainly showed that for years there have been seeds of future greatness germinating within this band waiting to fully sprout given the right chance and the right set of mind.