Sabaton

support Apocalyptica + Amaranthe
author AP date 12/02/20 venue Forum Black Box, Frederiksberg, DEN

Although I am not very well versed in the war-themed universe of Sabaton, rumours of the Swedish band’s spectacular live shows have not escaped me. And as I was yet to witness the full might of their stage production, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and venture toward Frederiksberg venue Forum in order to try to understand why the Falun-based power metallers are held in such a high regard. It helped of course that one of the support acts was revealed to be Apocalyptica, whose unique cello metal has had me in thrall of the quartet ever since I first heard “Plays Metallica by Four Cellos” in the late ‘90s. Forum has been set up in the Black Box configuration tonight, meaning that its capacity has been reduced to perhaps a third of its 10.000-person maximum, and it looks like the concert is thus very close to sold out in testimony to the headliner’s undeniable popularity.

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen


Amaranthe

As I waltz into the cubicle created with thick black curtains in the northeast corner of the arena, where Amaranthe have just kicked off with “Maximize” off their 2016 outing “Maximalism”, I am immediately struck by disbelief. Their name rings a bell, but I had never actually heard this Swedish outfit’s music before now, so you can imagine my bafflement at this strange fusion of Eurodance, power metal and metalcore that is emanating from the stage. With three singers at the helm following what looks like a meticulously choreographed routine, there is not a whole lot separating Amaranthe from participants of the annual Eurovision Song Contest; it is melodic, often infectious, and completely manufactured. It is thus no surprise that for every person jumping up and down in ecstasy during the following “Digital World” (taken from 2014’s “Massive Addictive”), there is another person standing still with their arms crossed and their face arranged into a skeptical frown — a stance that is exacerbated when growler Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson tries to compel us all to “get those horns in the fucking air!”. Call me grumpy, but I am hating every second of this nonsense, and were it not for the beautifully sung duet by Elize Ryd and Nils Molin in the power ballad “Hunger” that follows, chances are I would have made a retreat to the bar already. I wonder if this is an opinion shared by Amaranthe’s fanbase, but... I am surprised to find myself enjoying this aspect of the band much more than the shambolic rap-rock antics in a song like “Amaranthine” from the group’s self-titled 2011 album. Indeed, paradoxically this Gothenburg-based sextet are at their best — and best really is a relative term in this context — when they are at their most kitsch, delivering guilty pleasures galore in tracks like “Call Out My Name” and the closing “Drop Dead Cynical”. There is no question then, that Amaranthe are showmen and -women in the truest meaning of the word, and if you can accept the plasticity of it, it has the capacity to get quite entertaining at times. But at the same time, there are so many cringeworthy moments in both their music and their synchronised performance that they far outweigh the positive aspects in my book.

5


Apocalyptica

As the lights dim again and the familiar intro to “Ashes of the Modern World” engulfs the venue, things take a turn for the more dramatic and elegant, but it is the gut-punching heaviness of the sound mix that makes the greatest impression at first. It is quite ironic that a band armed with three cellos and a drumkit is able to trump not only Amaranthe, but also the upcoming headliner (as it later turns out) in terms of both oomph and volume, but this is nonetheless the reality when the song erupts into thrash metal of the Slayer school halfway. The conditions provided by Forum are of course nothing like the sublimity of DR Koncerthuset, where Apocalyptica played the last time they visited Denmark in 2018, and neither is the show itself. There is a lot more action to the performance, with lead cellist Eicca Toppinen even playing his instrument behind his head just before the crescendo of the opening track, and his compatriot Paavo Lötjönen incessantly flying around the stage with a gleeful expression on his face as “En Route to Mayhem” (another brand new song taken from this year’s “Cell-0”) is aired. It is hard to tell whether the music is having the desired effect on the audience, however, as Apocalyptica has never been the sort of band to rouse moshpits or the like, but when a rarely played cover of Rammstein’s “Seemann” (which was featured on the band’s iconic 2003 album “Reflections”) arrives, with Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd handling the singing, I, at least, am sold. Her parts were originally recorded with Nina Hagen, but to be honest, this track has never sounded better than it does tonight, with Ryd delivering a chilling and altogether spellbinding vocal performance to go with the resplendent purr of Toppinen, Lötjönen and rhythm cellist Perttu Kivilaakso’s cellos. Ryd stays on for the following ballad “I Don’t Care” (off 2007’s “Worlds Collide”), and like “Seemann”, she lifts it to a level that is not even comparable to the original version sung by Saint Asonia’s Adam Gontier.

It is surprising that almost no one is singing along to a song many consider to be one of Apocalyptica’s most mainstream, but it does not seem to rub the band the wrong way. When the energy picks up for “Grace”, it has Toppinen windmilling with the madness of a speed metal guitarist and drummer Mikko Siren playing with a stick-snapping intensity, oblivious (or indifferent?) to the lack of a proper response from the audience to anything other than the staple cover of Metallica’s “Seek & Destroy” that follows. The crowd dutifully, though somewhat unenthusiastically fills in the vocals in the chorus in particular, a feat repeated during the closing piece “Nothing Else Matters”. Indeed, it seems like tonight’s audience is either blissfully ignorant of, or unimpressed by the eight albums released by Apocalyptica after their famous “Plays Metallica by Four Cellos”, as despite the charm of Toppinen in between the songs, let alone the quartet’s high expenditure of energy while they are playing, people here seem to be treating it like an intermezzo before their heroes arrive, rather than a concert in its own right. It is a decent gig — but nonetheless a far cry from the majesty of the aforementioned 2018 show.

7


Sabaton

Sabaton’s performance starts with a big, blinding bang, fireworks crackling and plumes of fire shooting upward from the stage, which is set up like a defensive fortification in keeping with the Swedish band’s concept. There is even a turret sticking out from Hannes Van Dahl’s drumkit, and needless to say, the musicians themselves are dressed for war, with camouflage pants and, in the case of vocalist Joakim Brodén, a tactical vest completing the visual aesthetic. But at the risk of pissing on everyone else’s party, I have to say that this image of heroic warriors has a bit of a smoke and mirrors feeling about it, considering how inoffensive songs like the opener “Ghost Division” (which appears on 2008’s “Art of War”) actually are. Sabaton project themselves as a heavy metal band, but songs like “Great War” (off its namesake 2019 album) seem to be geared toward the kind of big, arena-encompassing sing-songs that Volbeat also favours, but in order for that approach to be a success, you need a voice with power. Brodén is certainly a capable singer, but his voice could use a steroid injection in order to sharpen its edges and increase its reach in otherwise memorable tracks like the “The Last Stand” (the title track to the band’s 2016 album). But while both the sound and dynamics of the set strike me as flat, and even a little bit boring, there is no denying that Sabaton have the support of their audience, which engages in booming sing-alongs to virtually every track.

Ignoring the fact that many of the tracks Sabaton present for us tonight sound so alike it is sometimes impossible to tell whether a song was paused or another was initiated, people are said to flock to this band’s concerts in droves to witness their fabled showmanship. But again, I have to be honest: while the production value of the show is high, the generous deployment of pyrotechnics, including Brodén’s firing a prop rocket launcher at the backdrop in which a large explosion is then seen, seems to only be there as a distraction from the fact that, with the exception of the lively and present frontman, there is nothing extraordinary about the group’s antics on stage. The performance only really gets interesting when the three cellists of Apocalyptica join Brodén & co. on stage for some of the collaborative singles the two bands have released together, such as “Angels Calling” and “Fields of Verdun”, as well as a number of symphonic renditions of classic Sabaton material. Toppinen in particular is in a jovial mood, often leaving his post to stroke the guitars of Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson with his cello bow and generally adding a touch of mischievousness to an otherwise pretty melodramatic performance.

The main issue I have with Sabaton’s show tonight is that it makes me feel… nothing. True, the music is played tightly and it seems to capture most of the audience effectively, and the visuals are humbling. But the performance itself creates the impression of musicians just going through the motions, which would bore the living s**t out of me even if it was one of my favourite bands on stage. I cannot dismiss the possibility that it is because my knowledge of Sabaton’s repertoire is extremely limited, but for me, there are also very few musical highlights despite the fact that no less than 20 tracks are aired — it all sounds the same, and no amount of explosions, sing-alongs or Frodén grabbing one of the guitars and jamming a part of “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest can mitigate that. I am thus left with very mixed feelings about my first real Sabaton experience; I like how their vision is realised, but I am missing the bombast and danger in their music and performance to afford the war theme credibility.

6

Setlist:

  • 01. Ghost Division
  • 02. Great War
  • 03. The Attack of the Dead Men
  • 04. Seven Pillars of Wisdom
  • 05. The Lost Battalion
  • 06. The Red Baron
  • 07. The Last Stand
  • 08. 82nd All the Way
  • 09. Bismarck
  • 10. Night Witches

— with Apocalyptica

  • 11. Angels Calling
  • 12. Fields of Verdun
  • 13. The Price of a Mile
  • 14. Dominium Maris Baltici
  • 15. The Lion from the North
  • 16. Carolus Rex

— Encore —

  • 17. Primo Victoria
  • 18. Livstid i krig
  • 19. Swedish Pagans
  • 20. To Hell and Back

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