Sabaton – Marching Across North America

Tuesday, 2nd May 2017

No doubt one of the most highly anticipated spring tours among the metal community is that of Sabaton’s headlining trek with Leaves’ Eyes and Battle Beast. After numerous support tours in the last few years, the band has returned to match the growing clamors of the fanbase, hungry for more than a 40-minute set. The buzz has been rightly building.

Coming off the heels of 2016’s The Last Stand, an album based upon numerous final battles throughout history, Sabaton fandom in the US has been hitting a fever-pitch. Their fall support run with Trivium seemed to solidify that notion. Consistent and energetic albums that translate well into the live setting – it’s no surprise why the band is setting themselves up for success with their work ethic and touring mentality. Before the gig at Clifton Park, we were able to grab drummer Hannes Van Dahl for a few questions about the tour, the way they get kids involved in the live show, choosing cover albums, and what’s next for the perpetually busy band.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been doing a number of support tours over the past few years. What made it the right time for you to bring out the full headline set?

Hannes Van Dahl: I think the band, before my time, did a smaller headline tour in two parts back in 2012 and eventually it’s time to fly under your own wings. We’ve been supporting and supporting and have been playing in all sorts of places a few times. It’s such a huge country – you need to do support, that’s the way [to get bigger]. We’ve wanted to bring fans a full show that’s more than 40-minutes, and we have been hearing their voices continue to grow. Now we can actually do it and make it happen.

Dead Rhetoric: I know last Friday [in New York City] you even had a tank along with you. Is that what you’d like to aspire to be able to do as you get into bigger venues?

Van Dahl: Of course – in New York we played at the Playstation Theater so we could fit it. Today, it’s not really possible as the tank is bigger than the stage. Let’s do this tour now and see what happens. Our complete goal and ultimate dream is to do full-fucking-on like we do in Europe: one or two tanks, pyros, and have a huge war. This is a step in the right direction and now we need to maintain it and make sure that we can continue this on a constant, upwards [movement].

Dead Rhetoric: I know you are only a few shows in, but has it met your expectations of what you wanted so far for a bigger, headlining run?

Van Dahl: Definitely, yeah. I think it’s been even more than what we could have hoped for. The attendance has been really good. It’s always a bit shaky. Now you are on your own. Supporting is a really comfortable thing to do. For you [on support runs], more than just wanting to play for as many people as you can…because that’s why you are here anyway; if the tour goes to shit, it’s not on you. Now we are in charge and responsible for everything. It all comes down to bringing a good package. We have Battle Beast, who are one of my favorite bands, and Leaves’ Eyes, so it’s just great. We are bringing the maximum amount of music to the fans.

Dead Rhetoric: Being relegated to more support tours lately, was it a bit harder to pick a setlist knowing that a portion of the audience may have only heard of you within the last few years?

Van Dahl: It is, for sure. Agreeing on a setlist these days – which is totally a luxury problem to have – when you have ten studio albums, there is always going to be someone who is disappointed. When you are supporting, it’s more obvious which songs you have to play. But we tried to change it up, and also listen to what people actually want to hear – why shouldn’t we play that stuff too? Mix that with what we really enjoy playing, because it will make the show that much better in the end anyway.

Dead Rhetoric: With the last few albums, you’ve had a theme such as last battles or heroes. Does it make it easier to fill out an album when there is a theme attached to it?

Van Dahl: Unfortunately, and fortunately for us, there are so many stories. Let’s say, for Heroes, these are stories that you can’t even believe it actually happened. It makes Hollywood look pale [in comparison]. Why do you need Pacific Rim when there are stories that you can’t even imagine that they happened? Then you had The Last Stand – which I think was a very cool thing to do. So maybe it’s a bit easier like that. If you deliver an album where it’s really diverse – WWII, WWI, the Soviet-Afghan war…there will always been plenty of material because people are going to war all the time, unfortunately.

Dead Rhetoric: One thing I’ve noticed about seeing Sabaton on multiple occasions is that you are really good towards kids if they are there, and make them a part of the show. Obviously, you are doing it because you want to do it, but does it also help with your relationship with the metal audience in general?

Van Dahl: Yeah, for sure. We started talking about that a few years ago. When it comes to shows, you have to be 18 to get into some concerts, especially back home. It’s really tricky to do all-ages shows because the alcohol rules are so uptight. There has to be separate areas. But It also gives it a nicer feeling when people can actually show up with their families and know it’s going to be safe. The kids really like our music, which is great – they are the next generation of fans! We need as many people into heavy metal as possible – we feel like a dying breed at times. I think it makes a much better evening, and hopefully they will show up with their kids in the future.

It’s cool, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s never any fighting or stupid shit going on at a Sabaton show. Maybe in the future – there’s always a rotten egg in every basket. But we don’t have that. I guess that’s just the fans. They come for a good time, and there’s no bullshit. Which I think is great.

Dead Rhetoric: I think that people do understand that when Sabaton plays – there’s that atmosphere and expectation since you’ve been building yourselves up over the years. A Sabaton show is a good time – it’s supposed to be a fun thing.

Van Dahl: Absolutely – entertaining and a good time. And if you’re a history buff…jackpot! Maybe you can even learn something from the lyrics. But a good time for sure, and that’s where the support bands come in. A lot of bands bring support bands that they don’t like or treat like shit. I think they really misunderstand the concept of it. Let’s say that we as headliner limit the support band’s sound, so that it sounds bad. When the fan goes home after seeing the next support band and the headliner, they will have one bad memory. But they might not even know what it was – just something that wasn’t good. You want to have people walk out of the venue saying, “Fuck, that was a great night! Battle Beast kicked ass – I never saw them before. Leaves’ Eyes was great.” And hopefully the same for Sabaton [laughs]!

Dead Rhetoric: So how much say did you have in picking the support bands for this tour?

Van Dahl: 100%. We never bring any bands that we don’t like personally or musically. Because we have to listen to it for 5 weeks. It would be stupid to have something we didn’t like. Whenever we bring a support band, we pick them. We are fans of their music. We had Accept with us recently on a European tour. How fucking cool is that? For me, it was a dream come true – I was out there every night singing their set for 50-something shows. It was great, and it gets you pumped up yourself. If they are great, then we need to step it up. It’s really positive how it works in that way.

Dead Rhetoric: This seems a bit silly but I’ve read about it so much that I have to ask. With this being billed as “The Last Tour,” how many times have you had to correct people who think that it is actually the band’s last tour [forever]?

Van Dahl: Too many times. More than enough times to realize that it was a stupid idea [laughs]. I was not the one in favor to call it that…some people thought it was really funny. But everything is called “The Last.” We have “The Last Drumstick,” “The Last Guitar pick,” “The Last Bus,” “The Last Crew.” It’s like a word-game basically.

Dead Rhetoric: I know you go outside the norms in terms of doing cover songs – is there any method that you use [in choosing them]? When you do a cover song, it doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the historical angle…

Van Dahl: It usually is related in one way or another – however we did the Battle Beast song “Out of Control,” just because it was a great song. It was like, screw it, let’s do it…hopefully people hear it and then they check out a great new band. We did “Afraid to Shoot Strangers,” by Iron Maiden on this one. It’s about war basically…so there is usually something. Or if not, it’s because it’s a good song. It’s really great to do that in the studio – you record your own stuff and it’s very serious and you are very focused. Then you throw in a cover – say, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which was the first heavy metal song I ever heard. It’s good fun – fun to record and figure things out and then put it out on an album.

Dead Rhetoric: We are pushing closer to being a year out from The Last Stand – have you started thinking about new material or have you been too busy touring?

Van Dahl: We are feeling it out a bit. You need to start on time so you don’t end up in the studio like, “fuck!” So slowly but surely. We don’t want to stress it or force it. Joakim [Brodén] writes the majority of the songs, so he’s always like, “oh, this is a cool idea.” And puts it into a folder and forgets about it for a few months and picks it back up. It’s a library of ideas and half-songs, and it’s gluing time after that.

Dead Rhetoric: I’m a middle school teacher and sometimes social studies/history isn’t the most well-liked subject in school. Do you think, in terms of the historical aspects of the band, you are trying to help promote a more interesting way of looking at history?

Van Dahl: I hope so. I’ve heard of a lot of teachers who use it in school. It’s not our goal – like I said, we aren’t professors – we are amateurs who are really into it [history]. We try to make it as correct as possible. Sometimes we bring in professionals to make sure we don’t fuck it up since we are heavy metal musicians. Having a teacher use your music to teach kids – that’s like the most un-metal thing ever…but at the same time, probably the coolest shit ever! It’s really great.

It’s the same thing with me when I joined the band – you need to do your research. Or you end up in an interview somewhere and they ask you what a song is about and you’re like, “uhhhhh, I have no idea.” I wasn’t really into history that much, but when I joined the band, I had to know my shit. And that eventually made me really interested in it.

Dead Rhetoric: So you are here in the US for this tour, what’s next for Sabaton after that?

Van Dahl: We will do this for 5-weeks and then we will go home for a brief change of undergarments and then we will start summer festivals. That will go until the fall and then we have a few things up in the air, but we need to decide what to do and when to do it. With this band, it’s always planned well in advance. We have plans for years – when to do things, where we want to do things. There’s a lot of cool stuff in the pipeline.

Sabaton official website