Epic Swedish Metal for the History Books
Nothing can prepare you for the epic sound of Swedish metal band Sabaton. Except maybe, a shield, sword and battle gear.
Sabaton, which translates into “a knight’s foot armor”, draws their musical inspiration directly from the great wars and battles throughout history. Their ninth album entitled “The Last Stand” was released in 2016 to rave reviews. Drawing inspiration from famous “last stands” in great historic battles, the songs in this concept album march from the triumphant echoes of victorious anthems to chanting battle cries in minor keys, each track masterfully depicting the spirit of heroic last efforts of soldiers of yore. The album’s first track entitled “Sparta” intensely recaptures the heroic yet tragic last stand of the famous “300” Spartans in the battle of Thermopylae. And the fast and furious driving sound of “Shiroyama” rigorously illustrates the last stand of the Samurai in the 1877 Samurai rebellion on Japan’s Mount Shiroyama.
Sabaton bassist and co-founder Pär Sundström talked with me about Sabaton’s partnership with international game developer and publisher Wargaming, a once-in-a lifetime fan experience and why he’s one of the few metal musicians who love sitting behind a desk doing office work:
Maximum Ink: How did you start playing the bass?
Pär Sundström: I didn’t really want to be a great musician; I just wanted to be in a heavy metal band. I loved heavy metal so much. So there was a band forming in my school and there was only one position left and it was the bass, and I really wanted to be in a band and that was the only place for me to be in a band, even though I couldn’t play. So one of my best friends he said “I will teach you to play” and you will be in a metal band. I never was really interested in becoming one of the best bass players in the world, I just wanted to play heavy metal, not learning to play bass so I could be a professional musician jump into things be a studio musician, jamming along with some other artists, I just wanted to do one thing: Create my own heavy metal band and be on the stage with something I did myself and play songs that I love. This was what I wanted to do. I wasn’t interested in playing something I didn’t like. That didn’t appeal to me at all. I’d rather find something else to do. There is a lot of music created in the world but that doesn’t mean that because I’m a musician that I want to play all of that. I think there are a lot of absolutely uninteresting music genres that I would not even bother to care about, so in terms of that, this is how I have developed myself and here I am today. I stayed focused on one thing. When I was 15 I said “I’m going to be in a heavy metal band, I’m going to be touring the world, and I didn’t fail myself. I stayed true to my dream and now I am traveling the world most of the year playing in 40 different countries per year and I’m doing exactly what I set out to do.
MI: Who were some of your biggest musical influences?
PS: The main guy that I was always looking up to that I think has the right mentality to be one of the strongest front persons for heavy metal is Dee Snider. He gave everything to heavy metal. I find him very inspiring. The way he approaches things, he way he does things, he is a great source of inspiration for me.
MI: I read that your band is self-managed. Do you each have specific areas that you are responsible for in the band, or do you all work together to self-manage?
PS: I am personally doing most of the management part myself and I have people below me who I work with who have different areas to do things. The main focus of the band members should be to be band members because it’s a full time thing to develop the music, to write it and record it, to be better at this, so I’m happy that I was interested in doing the other part of the band’s stuff, the stuff that normally band members hate to do. Because most people don’t start a heavy metal band because they want to do accounting or marketing or they want to administrative work, but I love that part, so I find it very good. I wouldn’t say that all musicians are, but a lot of them are not so structured in their life, they don’t wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning and work at an office desk. They say “I don’t have any feelings to do anything today so maybe tonight I can work on some song or something”. I am not like that and I am the opposite of that. I am very interested in sitting in an office and have a project that I would love to see happen, and this structural thing is needed for the other side to make the music part work too. Together we form a great team.
MI: You have a section on your website called “Meet the Band”. It looks like fans can fill out an online form with an idea for meeting you.
PS: We know how exciting it is to go to concerts, hoping for the chance to meet the band and there have been a few times when it has actually worked for people to go. It’s not really possible all the time to do meet and greets and things like that so we also try to get some different kinds of ideas to meet people. Sometimes we get people that want us to sign their CD, and that is fun. But sometimes we get people saying, “oh you sang about my grandfather in one of your songs” and those are stories we would never have the chance to experience so it’s a good way to connect with our fans.
There have been a few moments in our career which have led to very exciting things.
MI: Would you want to share one of those experiences?
PS: For example, we have a song called “no bullets fly” about an American pilot and a German pilot during WW2 where the German pilot spared the American one and there by putting themselves into danger and instead of shooting it down he escorted the plane into safety. The two pilots didn’t’ talk to each other after this event of course, and of course they were from different sides of the war, but in the 1980s they met, and the two pilots are now dead. The daughter of one of the pilots in Vancouver contacted me before we were coming to Vancouver to play and she told a story that we had been singing about her father, and the whole family were big fans and they came to our show and they showed us pictures and it was very interesting and to connect to somebody that is so close to someone we are singing about. It puts a lot of meaning to our songs.
MI: One of the things I am fascinated about is your relationship with Wargaming and your band’s collaboration with them in the video game World of Tanks. Do you have any new projects coming out with Wargaming that you could share?
PS: I’m very close with the people at Wargaming who develop the World of Tanks game. They are one of the main partners for the North American tour coming up so through Wargaming there will be possibilities to win tickets, meet and greets and things like this, so we are doing cooperation there. And, we’re going to Japan and a lot of that is thanks to them. We have ideas for the future, but I can’t really tell because it’s their internal secrets. I can only tell that we are very closely working. And the tank Prima Victoria that we did in the game, it was a good start to a great relationship that I think will last for many years to come and many games to come. One way that it worked was many people that developed World of Tanks were Sabaton fans and also we are gaming fans. I play World of Tanks myself, so the connection was really good. It became a successful story that led us to reach a lot of new fans that didn’t follow Sabaton before and a lot of our fans discovered the game. Some people say “oh but they are gamers and you are metalheads, but metalheads play games”.
MI: We sure do!
PS: So it’s a very close connection.
MI: Have you ever been approached to do soundtracks for films, because your music is so excellent for battle scenes?
PS: We haven’t done anything like that. We have been involved in games and released soundtracks for games, but I think the heavy metal scenes don’t fit in a lot of movies. The movie people are very specific about what they want and how it should be, so they don’t really want the traditional setup of a metal song, where you have choruses and verses and bridges. They need to write the music specifically for their purpose so it’s very complicated to adapt a heavy metal song into movies. However, there is a YouTube full of fan made videos where they connect movies with our music, and I think there are a lot of very great fan made videos that are out there that I really enjoy, and it’s spreading and seen by millions of people.
MI: I noticed that a fan made video of one of your songs “Swedish Pagans” is set to a video clip of the show Vikings. Do you watch that show?
PS: (laughing) No, I don’t watch TV series. I am afraid of them. They take too much time.
MI: What is next for Sabaton after this tour is over?
PS: After we are done in America, we have a tour in Asia and Australia. It’s not a long one, but it’s exciting and interesting, and things are really starting to get going over there as well for us. Sabaton had a plan that we would first take on Europe because it is near to us and then after that take on America, and when we were feeling kind of confident in America we would expand. Now we feel kind of confident in America so we are expanding and Asia, Australia has been so to say our focus for a while and it seems to be now to a level where we can go there and tour. I’m very excited about it.
Sabaton is playing the Orpheum in Madison, Wisconsin with Kreator on February 24th.
Joakim Brodén – lead vocals, keyboards
Pär Sundström — bass, backing vocals
Chris Rörland — guitars, backing vocals
Hannes van Dahl — drums, backing vocals
Tommy Johansson — guitars, backing vocals
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