Sabaton – Endless March to Glory

Tuesday, 30th August 2016

What introduction really needs to be written regarding the accolades and accomplishments of Sweden’s Sabaton? Rising up in a period where album sales have faltered, the band actually has seen significant upticks in that department. Implementing bigger stage show elements gives live audiences the feeling that the band aims to entertain, even with the heavier, worldwide military war and battle subject matter which is the core of their lyrical content.

The Last Stand as their eighth studio album represents another solid, quick moving effort that should receive solid fanfare – adding more set list staples to the ever increasing arsenal already at their disposal. Vocalist/songwriter Joakim Brodén conveys his thoughts on a whole host of topics with a good-natured, playful personal touch – so get ready to learn more about the new record, lineup changes, their long-time relationship with Peter Tägtgren, and smart business practices… and prepare to catch the band on another endless round of shows.

Dead Rhetoric: Guitarist Thobbe Englund recently stepped away from Sabaton – and you’ve added Tommy Johansson who you originally asked to join the band in 2012 but couldn’t due to his numerous other band activities. Did you part on good terms, and will Tommy’s skills as a guitarist/ vocalist / songwriter help the band down the line?

Joakim Brodén: Well, yes and yes I hope! (laughs). When it comes to Thobbe he came to us one or two months ago and he said that he wanted to quit. (He) pretty much told us how it was with what he wrote on the press release we did- for him to do 270 days away from home every year it’s not what he wanted in the long run, or what he thought he wanted. It turns out as he said it was fun for the first couple of years but as he said, slowly but surely it’s become…taxing on him. He always liked the shows- we didn’t see it at the time but kind of looking back at it we kind of saw it coming. It’s always easier to find out things and be smart afterwards. He was always happy for the shows and the rehearsals – but everything else like waiting in the airports, hanging out in the tour bus, he became more and more the solitary guy. He also wants to play more organic or natural hard rock where you decide to improvise the solos. For him it was the easiest decision to make but it took him a couple of years to get around it.

(He left on) very good terms, we played the last show with him and we added Tommy into the set on guitars- so we did triple guitars for that last show.

Dead Rhetoric: Was Sabaton Open Air 2016 a proper send off for Thobbe – and how do you feel the festival went overall? Any particular highlights or special moments?

Brodén: I guess in the moment it was saying goodbye to Thobbe in a friendly way. We made a video for him- pretty much humiliating for him, very much fun for the rest of us (laughs). Of all the stupid stuff that we filmed and took pictures of him doing over the years. To do it like that, for him to be able to say goodbye to people and announce it in advance, it was kind of sad but a bittersweet feeling as well. I have no doubts whatsoever that Thobbe’s shoes can be filled by Tommy very easily guitar-wise and vocal-wise. I just hope he doesn’t realize in four years this is not what he wanted because it’s always in that age. If you ask anyone between age 19 and pretty much 30 do you want to play heavy metal and be away from home 270 days per year, playing a minimum of 150 shows a year they will say ‘yes, I want it really bad!’. And then once you have done a couple of world tours it’s not the same anymore- it’s myself and Pär who are the freaks who have been doing this for 10 years by now.

It was our show, but that was the only thing that we actually caught. It was a 3-day festival from Thursday-Saturday, and we arrived in our hometown at 3 pm on the show day- and then we did a 2 ½ hour signing session. Then we changed and went on stage- so unfortunately I missed every band, I didn’t see a single one, because we were playing in Germany. So yeah, the highlight would have been our show because that’s the only show I saw! (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: The Last Stand is the new Sabaton album – stretching yourselves a bit more in terms of extra influences with the bagpipes and organ play in spots (“Blood of Bannockburn”). Did you know going in that it was time to maybe spice things up a bit from the standard power anthem expectations?

Brodén: Yes, we’ve always had a bit of variation, but we’ve never had so much variation on a single album. It’s another one of those things where you look at it from the other side of history, Heroes was the first album that we did with the new lineup. I think subconsciously myself and Pär, but also Hannes, Chris, and Thobbe who also played on that album, wanted to prove that Sabaton can still be Sabaton. So everything stayed within the Sabaton frame, pretty hard. Of course there were some side steps, but nothing major- so maybe some of that is a part of this experimentation that occurs on The Last Stand that really should have been on Heroes. It was a nice time in the studio to come in and feel like we didn’t have to prove so much, because we opened everyone’s eyes and we felt that we know we can do on stage and on disc that Sabaton is still Sabaton. So now, let’s see what we can do together still within the realm of Sabaton but see if we can push things a bit.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it a difficult process to decide what will be used for bonus material for other editions of a record? Especially given the choice for a Stan Ridgeway song like “Camouflage” and the Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Twisted Sister covers for other limited editions?

Brodén: No, not really. I always have this love/hate relationship with extra material. People say you can just record more songs. Yeah- but it takes me just as long to do a really good cover, if you are going to take the time to remake it. Hannes is the one who decided to re-do “Camouflage”- and that took as long to make such a big change to a song as to write a whole new song. The thing is though, I don’t want to be an asshole and say this song is only for the Japanese people, this song is only for the Americans- and this song is only for the rich people that can afford the super-duper mega edition. Over the years more or less we’ve gone into doing covers for that reason- or other stuff for extra material. I want to focus on the main album to be the same for everybody, and we want it to be listened to as a unit.

Dead Rhetoric: How much research do you do in preparation for all of the lyrical content of each record? At this point do you find fans reaching out to give you material to consider, as there is plenty to tackle?

Brodén: Oh yes, yes, yes. We started asking people in 2009 before we recorded Coat of Arms, that’s when we started to ask people if they heard about something that could be interesting for us, send us the info by e-mail, give us a book and that stream has never stopped. We opened Pandora’s Box, but in a good way! For example, a couple of years ago an American friend gave us a book, The Lost Battalion. I think you should read this, here we are 4-5 years later and there’s a song called “The Lost Battalion”, about the 77th edition from World War 1. Every country has its own history and it really helps, because whatever is common knowledge for you is probably unheard of for an average Swedish person, and vice versa.

Dead Rhetoric: Are there any times where you’ve heard of people who have actually been in the battles or time periods you speak of, and get to meet them or their extended family at the shows?

Brodén: Yes, twice we’ve had people who were actually there. One of them was in South America. Cool, José Maria Nicodemos was his name. He was one of the “Smoking Snakes” that we sing about in the song from Heroes. He is 93 or 94 years old, he came up before the show and wanted to say hello. He stares at our drummer Hannes and says, ‘oh – you’ll die first’. We were like ‘what?’. He said, ‘no – you are very tall, so I’ll kill you first.’ (laughs). We didn’t know what to expect, we talked a bit before the show- we told him ‘we had to go on stage and that it was really nice for him to come here. I guess we will see you another time.’ He said, ‘no- you will see me later, I’m going to join you for a beer after the show.’ We thought you are here for a show in Brazil, the people are going to be crazy, they were going to tear the place apart. He told us if he could handle battling the Nazis, surely he could handle this (laughs).

One of the cool things is also we had the son of (World War II veteran) Audie Murphy, in Los Angeles come out to see us when we played with Nightwish. I think it’s kind of nice that we have so much attention because when we started doing this, nobody cared about this tiny Swedish band singing about military history so now we actually get to meet the people or the children of the people who made a difference in history.

Dead Rhetoric: Working with Peter Tägtgren at Abyss Studios all these years, what sort of expertise does he add to give Sabaton that extra kick necessary to produce the best albums possible for the band? And how did it feel to give him a vocal assist for the upcoming Pain album?

Brodén: Yes, well the Pain stuff was just Peter and I just talking and having fun, and of course I was going to do it. He sang with us on Carolus Rex so as a friend I do this for bands. I never actually charge anyone for singing – every guest appearance is because I wanted to do it and it’s fun while doing it. In Peter’s case I really love the song and the man behind it so it was a pretty easy choice there.

When it comes to the production it’s in a sense he’s influenced us since the very early days. When we were making our first demos and albums it was his brother recording us, Peter’s studio was next door. Peter’s brother of course had learned from Peter, and he would come over and give us hints and tips. Especially now if you listen to The Last Stand, there’s always a danger when you use so many channels. There’s orchestrations at the same time as synthesizers, all the layers of guitar, four-part harmonies vocal male, four-part harmony vocal female, then myself on top of that- when you start stacking the instruments and to make sure everything is heard, there’s a huge risk of things sounding thin. You would be able to hear everything but there’s no balls left. Somehow Peter manages to eat the cookie and keep it at the same time, because he can maintain the power and the punch in the sound even though it’s a very, very busy mix. And that is something that even though I’ve seen him work for many, many years now, I can’t see how he does it.

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