Review by Rick Ossian
Ah, the glory of war. Or, rather, the Art of War! Sabaton, for the uninitiated, are purveyors of tales of epic battles. They hail from Falun, Sweden, and were founded in 1999. Joakim Brodèn is their lead vocalist (he wanted to be the keyboard player, but evidently one was already in the ranks) – now he does both! He is accompanied by lead guitarists Thobbe Englund and Chris Rorland, Par Sundstrom on bass and Hannes Van Dahl on drums. They are favorites of the Wacken Open Air Festival (where this recording was made), and were featured there in 2009, 2013 and 2015. They also have their own festival in their hometown of Falun in Sweden (Sabaton Open Air), their own cruise (Sabaton Cruise, in November), and their own radio station! This is their third live album, and their tenth LP overall.
The recording we are about to peruse, Heroes on Tour, is also available as a DVD/CD combo, and we get things started with The March to War, which is very much a show intro number; that is, something to warm up the crowd with. From there, they launch headlong into Ghost Division. Joakim alerts the crowd that “we are Sabaton, and we play heavy metal!”. Four minutes of heavy duty double-bass drum fury later, the first number is, sadly, already over. There was a lead guitar bit at 2:40, and some introductory crowd participation – by the way, the drums are definitely of the trip-hammer variety throughout. Great stuff.
Next up is To Hell and Back, which is evidently more about the horrors of war (P.T.S.D., in particular) than anything, and features some whistle/flute noises that are most likely keyboards. My buddy Kurt likened it to ‘some Queensrÿche and Rammstein playing a Celtic battle hymn‘! There is another screaming, shredding guitar piece at the two-and-a-half minute mark.
Carolus Rex is the number that follows, and it is a magnificent piece of pomp and circumstance rock, if you will. The vocals take centre stage (pun fully intended), but there is also a sweet main riff on guitar. Some stingingly shredding leadwork interrupts at 3:50, and before we know it everything has concluded again. There is a BIG drum sound, and also what sounds like monks on background vocals with some stirring keyboard work as well.
No Bullets Fly finds Joakim musing “I think it’s time for a little less beer, and a lot more heavy metal!” This number features a nice chugging tempo, and some nifty lead work at the two minute mark. A slight tempo shift later, along with keys and vocals, and again we are done. No one could accuse these blokes of belaboring a point, that is for certain!
Resist and Bite has a cool guitar intro, and Joakim bellowing “Who wants another song?” There is a brief drum and vocal breakdown before the obligatory lead solo (2:30), and then again, proceedings come to a screeching halt. No prog awards here, I’m afraid!
Far From the Fame is another blistering, bombastic tirade, with lead guitar(s) fiendishly frantic right out of the gate. There are twin leads (2:25,2:40) later in the tune, and at three minutes we do another breakdown. At 3:40, we come to a full stop, wherein Joakim berates Jamie, the tank and prop builder (“Fix that shit, man!“), all in good fun, from the sounds of it, and we have another track in the racks.
Panzerkampf is a lovely little ditty about tanks. It takes place in 1943, and finds us following the Nazis; “into the Fatherland the German army marched“. There is some brief lead guitar work at the outset, and again at the 3:50 mark. Some serious shredding, by the way. This sounds kind of like a heavy metal march, for lack of a better description.
Gott mit uns (God With Us) is up next, and is on a veritable myriad of German belt buckles. Should anyone out there wish to purchase one, they are all over the internet. Joakim asks the crowd, “should we sing it in English or Swedish?” Well, normally he would, he explains, but this is going to be sang in German beer style, judging from his extolling/bantering with the crowd!
The Art of War finds us listening to some vocal FX at the intro, something about “if you know the enemy…if you know yourself…if you know neither, than you will succumb!” (it’s from Sun Tzu‘s military textbook, The Art Of War, which Sabaton based their fourth album on – Literary Ed) Some nice heavy riffing going on here, and an excellent chugging tempo throughout. It is, again, more of a marching vibe than anything else. Lead guitar solo at 3:10!
Soldier of Three Armies is a track from the latest studio LP, Heroes. It is an uptempo slammer with heavy riffing and some nice lead guitar work (2:40). At four minutes in we hear some guitar teasing the crowd-type of stuff, and Joakim berates his fellows again (not sure which one) with “you fucking asshole!” Evidently one of the band members has enticed the crowd with the vocal refrain from a favourite number, and Joakim laments “if we don’t play that song now, I look like an asshole!”
He is, of course, referring to Swedish Pagans, the next number on the setlist (or perhaps not). It is here wherein we are regaled with tales of Vikings and Valhalla and Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. There is another instrumental breakdown of sorts, with a downshift and some vocalization. There is also a lead guitar solo (surprise!). At the end, we hear Joakim again; “I’ve had enough beer. I’ve had enough of Swedish Pagans. This is a fucking heavy metal show!”
This goes right into the intro for Screaming Eagles, prefaced by Joakim extolling the crowd with “do you want something HARD?” This is a double-bass drum thumping heavy, upbeat tempo monster. There is a shift and another breakdown and another lead guitar bit (2:45), but it all sounds very good, particularly considering that it is a live recording, and live recordings are notorious for not sounding anywhere near the quality of the original studio recordings. Exception noted here!
Night Witches, a tale of the all-female Russian bomber squadron, finds us on the follow-up, and features what sounds like sirens at the intro, with some very fine violin (and other strings) sounds on the keys. This is a slamming, chugging number with a nice guitar bit at the two-and-a-half minute mark. I found this lyrical couplet particularly intriguing: ‘Unprotected/undetected/radiation/deviation’. It just SOUNDS cool, doesn’t it?
Primo Victoria is up next, and concerns itself with the Normandy landings. Again, we find Joakim firing up the crowd; “Will you sing with us? Will you JUMP with us?” Off to the gates of hell we go, and there is another lead guitar bit at the two-and-a-half minute mark (formula? oh, well!). Towards the end we hear the bass player feigning the Mission Impossible theme, and then Joakim gives us a bit of band history, telling the tale of when they first met,” listening to Judas Priest’s Painkiller, and drinking beer!”, and, of course, musing over the possibility of them “playing Wacken someday.” Then we get the good news and the bad news bit – the show is almost over, but they are making a DVD, so you “can watch it over and over again!”
Metal Crue is the closing track, and from what I thought I heard, it sounded as if Priest, Maiden and Slayer were being ‘name-dropped’, if you will – so, a tribute to their forebears. Joakim tells the crowd “I don’t want to say goodbye, so I’ll say until we meet again”. Until we meet again, indeed – thank you Sabaton for a memorable show!