Metal bands writing songs about historical events is nothing new — Iron Maiden and others have been doing it for decades. But few bands take as much pride as Sabaton do in exclusively exploring these subjects throughout entire albums
The Swedish band — named after a type of body armor utilized to cover one’s foot — is comprised of singer Joakim Brodén, guitarists Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson, bassist Pär Sundström, and drummer Hannes van Dahl. On their new album, The Great War, due July 19th, the band thoroughly explores the subject of World War I.
Along with the upcoming album, Sabaton have launched their own YouTube channel, Sabaton History, which offers historical info to all of the band’s songs. And, back in April, the band announced a monthlong fall North American tour with Hammerfall that kicks off in early October.
Brodén recently checked in with Heavy Consequence to discuss The Great War, how Sabaton is able to work historical storylines into their albums, the lead-off single/video “Fields of Verdun,” and why he is one of the few original Sabaton members left in the band.
ON THE GREAT WAR BEING A CONCEPT ALBUM ABOUT WORLD WAR I
We tried to get it into chronological order, but then we realized it’s not possible, because some songs are talking about individuals, who were present for most of the war, and not at a certain point. So, we figured we had to let the chronological idea go, totally. We wanted it to be chronological at first — like we did with Carolus Rex, following the hundred years of the Swedish empire. But as we came closer and closer to this and discussed the different topics, we were dealing with guys like Francis Pegahmagabow or the Red Baron, we didn’t really want to sing about one single event that happened, because they were active for several years during the war. Where do we put them in the timeline?
And also, the Battle of Verdun lasted for 303 days, and there were other things that happened during that time, so how would we arrange them in the order? So, at that point, we also realized getting that right is less important than giving the listener a good experience. So we decided we would do “The End of the War to End All Wars” and “In Flanders Fields” — that is the end of the album.
It’s not just, “OK, let’s do an album, let’s do research,” because we are genuinely interested in history. So, we come across these things on a daily basis, and history is such an… individual thing I was about to say, but not really individual, because every country has its own history. Today, what’s common knowledge for school kids in Poland is totally unheard of in Brazil. So, we have a lot of input from our fans, who send us mail. And then when we decided we were going to do The Great War, we went through my personal notes, because every time I come across a story that I find interesting, I jot it down in a note somewhere.
And Pär does the same, and then we went through all of our ideas that were World War I related, and looked at what kind of story is this, and if there is anything else we should be looking for that might be out there. And the guys from the Sabaton History Channel have been doing a great war documentary series on YouTube, so we asked them for some tips and info. I think we ended up with around 100 stories in the initial pile, which was then sorted down pretty fast to 40 and 60, before we started to get serious.
ON WHY SOME HEAVY METAL BANDS PREFER TO WRITE ABOUT HISTORICAL EVENTS
I have no idea. For me, it makes so much sense. We sang earlier in our career about random heavy metal topics, and writing lyrics for us was a necessary evil. It wasn’t like we hated it, but the music was the main thing, and, “OK, we’ve got to write some lyrics now, because we’re going to record in a couple of days.” It wasn’t really that fun. All of a sudden, we decided one song, which was “Primo Victoria”, I had written the music already, and me and Pär sat down to do the lyrics, and we figured, “We can’t do this about drinking beer and killing dragons. This song has got a huge sound to it, so we need something huge.” So we thought, “How about D-Day?”
As soon as we started writing that song, it all came into place. It started to make sense for us. It was interesting. We were already into history before, but our history interest has been growing with the band in a way, and I genuinely think there are so many fantastic stories in our past that are being forgotten, so why the f**k should we make up new ones? There are other people who can do that better.
ON THE ALBUM’S FIRST SINGLE/VIDEO, “FIELDS OF VERDUN”
Well, musically it was quite fun, because I was going back to our home base, for a songwriting run. I talked around with the boys in the band, and we were going to write something together. Since I had already been writing a lot on my own, I wasn’t really looking forward to writing on my own again. However, both our guitarists, Tommy and Chris, were unavailable. So, I called Thobbe [Englund], our old guitar player, and said, “We have written some catchy tracks. Would you want to have a few beers and write a song for the forthcoming Sabaton album, even though you’re not in the band anymore?” And he said, “F**k yeah! Let’s do it!” So, that was kind of nice — seeing him again and writing some music, since I don’t have time to see him that often.
And the video recording, I was happy, because it was pretty fast. I hate video recordings — it’s useless. I know we have to do them, but me, personally, I don’t like it, because we’re not playing live. So, it feels like pretending. And I’m a shitty actor, y’know? It was done in Poland, and it was very professional, very well-disciplined soldiers and everything. So, I can’t complain about anything like that. It’s just me — I feel stupid when I’m miming.
ON WHY HE AND PÄR ARE THE ONLY ORIGINAL MEMBERS LEFT
Well, we’re the craziest ones! I think most people who have been in the music business for a few years… after a few years, it crystalizes who’s in it for life, and who’s not. Of course, there are some people who will fall early and some people who realize that they want something else later — there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, everybody’s got to do what’s right for them. But we can see it in the other bands, as well.
Every band has a tough period or a rough patch that they go through, where it’s too many shows to keep a steady job, unless you’re super lucky — if you’re working and your best friend is the boss, or whatever, so you can take all the time off you want. But you have too many shows to keep a regular job under normal circumstances. You might be married or about to get married, having kids. And at the same time, the band is not pulling in enough money for you to cover the bills — by only doing the band. That is a breaking point for most bands. You usually see a lot of bands changing members around that time.
ON TOURING PLANS
Massive, as usual! It’s European festival summer now, the next proper tour that is coming up is the United States and Canada in October/November, which is going to be good, because we haven’t toured in a proper Nightliner (tour bus) tour doing 20 or 30 shows in a month or more in over a year now. So, I’m really looking forward to it. Then, Russia has already been announced, as well. I think it’s 17 or 18 shows from east to west, and everything in between – which is going to be really nice, because we’ve never done all of Russia before. And then, more tours are about to be announced, as well. So, we’ve got a pretty tight schedule ahead of us.
ON WHETHER THERE ARE PLANS TO PERFORM THE GREAT WAR IN ITS ENTIRETY
That’s up for the fans to decide. Not to begin with — maybe not for the festivals, because the album hasn’t been released yet, so it wouldn’t make much sense at all now. But for the headline sets, we usually play about half the new album at the concerts. If it becomes popular, I’d be happy to do it — play it all. But that’s up to the fans to decide if they want it. Because we did that with Carolus Rex — a concept album about the Swedish Empire. And we did one with The Art of War, as well, in its entirety. If people really, really like it, towards the end of the touring cycle, I would happily do a last run of a few shows a little bit of everywhere in the world, where we play all of The Great War. It’s not long enough to be the only thing we play, but we could play that in its entirety, and then we do a “best of” thing.