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SABATON

 
 

SABATON "Coat Of Honor"

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

War...one of the constant facets of human existence. Fearful and detestable on one hand, but also capable of bringing forth the very best in men. It's been the subject of uncounted books, movies and quite a few metal bands. Names like Sodom and Bolt Thrower come to mind. Taking a different musical look at war is Sweden's Sabaton.

The band has been steadily growing in prominence for years, but their latest album "Coat Of Arms" is the first to be readily available in the States, courtesy of Nuclear Blast Records. Unlike most war metal bands, who focus on the brutality and nastiness of war, Sabaton focuses on the historical facts of combat itself and tries to find positive aspects inside the darkness of conflict. Their musical style is strident and melodic, falling into the power metal realm but not coming across like another clone of Hammerfall or Iron Maiden. And that, too, has worked in their favor.

Recently I made my way to the front lines of Sabaton's metal war and got in the trenches with bassist Par Sundstrom, who provided me with much valuable intelligence on "Coat of Arms" and the rise of Sabaton. Following is a transcript of the chat, which your correspondent Dr. Mality obtained at great personal risk!

Onward into battle...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Thanks for taking the time to call!

PAR SUNDSTROM: I am the one who should be thankful for someone showing interest in the band from America...something we haven't had before.

WC: I see "Coat of Arms" got into the American charts. That had to be a great feeling when you saw that.

PS: Every little piece of news from America is very appreciated at the moment. The past 10 years we've always had trouble with getting any shows or concerts or CD sales in America. Nobody could ever buy CDs from us before, but now things are changing and we are very happy about this! When we got the news, we were in the airport in Frankfurt going to the festivals this weekend and we were like "What?! What?!" when we heard. We were totally shocked. Today I've got several interviews with the American press so something is going on. Something is going on!

WC: Now you have a very powerful label behind you. How did the relationship with Nuclear Blast come about?

PS: The last four albums we've been on a Swedish record label called Black Lodge who really had no power outside of Sweden. The CDs were almost impossible to get, even in Germany, which is Europe's biggest market for heavy metal. We never hit the Top 200 of the heavy metal charts. Still, we toured like hell but the CDs were impossible to get anywhere,especially outside of Europe. So we had a big problem. But two years ago Nuclear Blast approached us and they asked if they could release our next album. We said, yeah, that sounds interesting, let's talk about it. We talked about it for a year!(chuckles) And we talked with several other labels as well. Finally, Nuclear Blast were the ones who said, forget all the other offers, we will beat the rest and give you the best fucking deal you'll ever get! That was when we decided, let's go for it. And we're very happy about it. We've now charted in ten European countries and also in America. It's amazing!

WC: Sabaton does have a very European feel to it. Do you think American listeners will relate to it as well as the Europeans do?

PS: I have no idea. People say that our music will have a big problem in America because only a few people are into our style of music. I don't know...we never give up on anything. You have to beat the door down not just one time but a hundred times. If a few people tell us it's going to be impossible, we don't listen to them. We're gonna try for ourselves and we're going to give it a REAL try. In the past, we've done only two concerts in the States and they were very successful but there was no way to follow up on them. Everything turned to sand afterwards, There was no backup with interviews or CD sales. We came to the US and we didn't leave much of a mark after us. But I think now that we have a little bit of a springboard, we might be able to tour and the buzz will last a little bit longer.

WC: Your music has a very positive sound to it. It's more uplifting, not as negative as most metal. I think people are looking for something like that. Would you agree?

PS: Our previous album "The Art of War" was much darker, more epic and more concept based. The new one is more simple cheerful heavy metal. I hope that the people are looking for this. IN Europe, we know what people want, we have seen it over the last ten years. But we haven't seen anything from the States, we have no idea what people want. But we know there are a lot of people emailing us all the time and saying, hey, why don't you come over for a show, we are dying for your kind of music over here and there are no bands that play good music like you do! We get a lot of emails like that, they come in every week. That shows there is definitely people who want it and we are dying to come and give it!

WC: "Coat of Arms" seems mostly centered on World War II. What kind of research do you guys do? Do you visit the battle sites or talk to survivors?

PS: First of all, in Sweden, we don't know so much about World War II, we have a few stories we've heard and of course movies we've seen. But we asked our world wide fans to send in ideas. They sent in about a hundred ideas on the last album and some we actually made into songs. This time, it was quite different, because ten thousand ideas came in or maybe even more and they still come in every day! Our friends were really helpful in coming up with ideas for song themes. We'd get together and say, this sounds interesting. We'd do some research and find out that this would be the right subject. Then we would look into books, movies and documentaries. What you find on the Internet may not always be the correct information. The fans have been really helpful with this as well. They'd find documentaries that weren't in a language we could understand, but they would translate them for us. They would send us DVDs with home-made subtitles so we could understand what's going on. The fans are really dedicated in helping us and also staying as true as possible to the story. Usually there are two sides to a story...the winner and the loser...and they both have their own books. We try to find things from a more objective point of view. What are the real facts and what is propaganda?

So it's not so easy doing the research and it takes a lot of time. Sometimes we have been to the actual places. On the new album, there is a song called "Uprising" and the idea for that came when we were invited to the uprising scene in Warsaw, Poland. They called us and said you should come here to check it out and we can tell you about what happened. It can be the theme of a new song. We also did a song on "The Art of War" called "The Cliffs of Gallipoli" and we were invited to Gallipoli in Turkey. The governor invited us himself, so we could see the actual battlefields. This means something special.

WC: It's quite an honor to get invitations like that. "Uprising" and "The Final Solution" deal with pretty heavy subjects...the Holocaust. Did you get overwhelmed by the subject?

PS: We were invited to the Uprising Museum and were told the story by real historians. That means something. Regarding "The Final Solution", it was one of the major events, one of the major things that happened in World War II. A couple of years ago, Sabaton got some sort of reputation that we were neo-Nazis somehow. This rumor stretched all the way into our last album. So to nail the rumor completely, we decided to write this song. That will definitely show that we are not participating in such political nonsense.

WC: There's always a certain group of people that will take offense. It seems impossible to write anything about World War II without someone accusing you of being a Nazi.

PS: Yeah, that happens! At one point, in 2005 when we released the CD "Primo Victoria", our T-shirts were banned in some schools because the album opens with

"Through Nazi Lines". People in Germany didn't want to distribute the CD, they said "we aint' gonna release this shit". Then we sent them the lyrics and they read it and say, "whoa, this is actually cool!" It changed their minds but originally all they heard was the first five seconds of the album! But now we've changed a lot of minds and we've become well-known, the metal fans all acknowledge us. We have very dedicated fans now and that's cool.

WC: Going way back to your early days, you've become known as the "historians of metal". (Par chuckles). When did you make the decision that history was the subject you were going to write about?

PS: In 2004, when we were recording the album "Primo Victoria", we already had a song about the Panzer battalion. We were thinking about what we should to do? We wanted to write lyrics about something that was real, not fake, not made-up, not bullshit. Let's find something from the real world. Battles in the medieval world were already written about thousands of times. It wasn't really for us. But then me and Joakim, the main songwriters, we both like history, particularly military history. OK, what are the best times to write about? We focused more on the 20th century, particularly World War II, which we were strongly interested about. There's a lot of potential song material in World War II. That's why we focused the entire album "Coat of Arms" about World War II, because there's an unlimited source of information about it.

WC: It was the first war to be really well documented on film. Would you ever consider anything about World War I or Vietnam, maybe?

PS: We've just been sniffing about those subjects. We have done single songs about World War I, Vietnam. We also have done songs about the Gulf War. But we don't want to do songs about what's going on at the moment, because that makes things political. History is always history and it can't be changed. It's a fact and people have to realize that, even if they were beaten down like hell.

WC: When you guys write songs, do you all collaborate together?

PS: The musical part is almost Joakin alone. He comes up with songs in the middle of the night and then let's the rest of us listen. "OK, sounds cool, maybe I'll keep writing on this one", he says, and then comes back a day later and says "I'm done with it". We'll work on it in the rehearsal room and play around with it, but the songs are basically written by Joakim. Once the actual music is done, we start on the lyrics and that's usually me and Joakim. We sit down and for a long time we discuss and talk about what we should write and what ideas from our fans we should work with. We go through all the research, which is quite involved, and a lot of times we are working on lyrics right up to the last minute.

WC: Even though you guys write about epic subjects like war, the songs themselves tend to be pretty compact. On the new album, they're mostly three to four minutes, hardly anything over five. Have you ever considered long epics with a lot of different movements in them?

PS: Yeah, I think we already have, but they are mostly on the "Art of War" album. But on "Coat of Arms", you're right, the songs are quite short and we were really surprised. We don't plan that we should have this kind of song or this kind of song, we work with the best songs that are written at that moment. When a song is good enough to written all the way, it will be on the album. If it's not good enough to finish writing, it won't be on the album. When we have enough songs for an album, we decide to go to the studio and start recording. We don't think about whether they are fast songs or slow songs. What's important is that they are GOOD songs. On "Coat of Arms", they turned out to be short songs. On "The Art of War", there are more longer songs.

WC: Would you ever think about adding elements like choirs or working with an orchestra?

PS: Yeah, yeah, absolutely! We have a lot of symphonic elements in our music at the moment, but they are all done with synthesizers by ourselves. The choirs on our albums are most us and our friends who come into the studio to help us out. Our mothers actually sing on parts of the album as well! (chuckles) That's how we do it but it will be fun one day to work with a big orchestra or choir. I think it's going to happen on stage because we know our songs would work quite well with an orchestra and we've always talked about it. A lot of our fans want to see us play live with an orchestra. If we're going to do that, we're going to write some songs specially made to be performed with an orchestra. Normally when you do a combination of heavy metal and orchestra, the orchestra has to follow the music written for the band. But this time, it will be the orchestra first and we will follow along with their music. I think it will be really interesting.

WC: When you headline a show, what's a Sabaton live show like?

PS: Sabaton live is like an explosion of energy. You can easily tell. We sing about terrible things but everybody says they go away from our concert with a smile because they see us smiling on stage. Simply put, we love what we do. We cannot lie! It would make absolutely no sense for us to stand around and act angry on stage or to hide our true feelings. We have so much fun, the crowd can always see this. It goes back to the crowd and they have fun and we have fun together. That's the most important part of a Sabaton show, the connection between the fans and the band. We both work together for a good evening. It's not just us playing for ourselves and hoping somebody is going to like. We play together with the crowd, that's very important for us.

WC: Has there been any serious talk of coming over to the States?

PS: Yeah, yeah! We have been talking to several bands that want to tour with us. These are bigger bands that are more known in America. They're looking for the right timeline, which would be around January or February. We are fully booked in Europe for this year. There's not a single day open for this year. There are some bands that are going to tour North America early next year and we have been in negotation with several of them. Before, they'd say, "we don't think Sabaton means much over there, why should we bring you?, but now the talks are going different. Within a short time, a week or two, we'll have details ironed our for our first real tour of the US.

WC: What was the last CD you got just because you wanted to listen to it?

PS: Yesterday, I got the latest from Sebastian Bach. I was always a big fan of Skid Row and yesterday was the first I got to see Sebastian Bach on stage. After the show, he said I should check out his new CD. He gave me a copy but I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. I'm pretty happy that I got it direct from him and that he actually knew about us!

WC: Was that "Angel Down"?

PS: Yeah. He's such a nice person, too. I was totally shocked that he came out to meet me after his concert, he said "Come on, let's take some pictures together!" It was really funny, he gave us a lot of beers and we had a good party that night!

WC: In the history of Sabaton, have you ever had any kind of Spinal Tap moment?

PS: Of course! We're 11 years together as a band. I'm a bad luck person myself, all sorts of shit happens to me. (chuckles) We were going on a six week European tour and two days before, we had a burglar in our studio. I was coming down in the middle of the night because our keyboard player needed to sleep there. So I opened the room up and this guy was still there! He assaulted me with a crowbar and slammed my arm with it.

WC: Oh God!

PS: Yeah, just before tour, it's not nice to have a completely broken arm. On the first night of our concert, our doctor told me "You play heavy metal but you better be fucking tough! It is possible to play, but it's gonna hurt like hell. Take these pills, but if you mix them with alcohol, you're gonna fly all over the stage!" I took them the day before the first show. In this condition, I won't be able to stay focused, I'll fly away from the stage. On the day of the show, I decided I should NOT use any painkillers. I went on stage and after about 20 seconds, I passed out completely and I woke up during our last song. That was my Spinal Tap moment! That was our first show for a UK crowd...the media, the booking agents all saw me run on the stage, yell "Come on, you motherfuckers!" and then pass out! (laughter)

WC: Did they get the guy who hit you with the crowbar?

PS: They got him for another burglary but they couldn't get him for this one because I couldn't make a correct statement that it was him. It was an old classmate of mine, an old friend.

WC: Any last words for fans in the States?

PS: I'd just give a big thanks. Thanks for supporting us and buying the new CD. That was really something, we were totally shocked and weren't expecting that success at all. We will return the favor! We will come on tour for sure. We hope we can announce such a tour very shortly.