Joakim Brodén on 20 Years of SABATON & The Great War
On the morning Metal Injection spoke with Sabaton frontman Joakim Brodén, the band had just ran the gambit of European mega festivals. To say the Swedish war-metal buffs had an interesting time of it would be an understatement.
At the 11th hour, the band stepped up big time as they filled in for Manowar to headline a sold out night of France's Hellfest – doing so with Brodén taking a knee after blowing out his voice days before. No big deal, the show must go on.
A day later and Brodén is back, leading the troops into another sold out Euro fest at Belgium's Graspop. You would never know the group had thrown on their big boy pants – or in this case bulletproof vests – to step up and save the hearts of the metal masses. But Sabaton doesn't cancel.
"It would probably take a doctor's order, but we've ignored them before as well," jokes Brodén.
It's the stuff we've come to expect from the power metal lords for two decades now. Combining bombastic stage theatrics and set pieces with epic concept albums that mix real-life historical war events with classic ball-kicking metal inspired by the likes of Judas Priest and Blind Guardian, Sabaton, in short are fucking awesome.
2019 marks 20 years for Brodén and company, something he still shakes his head at in disbelief.
"Well if I'm honest with you we had no plan like that," he admits. "We were a bunch of guys who were drinking beer listening to Judas Priest's Painkiller on Friday nights and singing along. When we started the band we thought maybe one day we'll get to play Wacken, and now we're headlining 20 years later."
Brodén admits that the bands historical war-time approach wasn't always the plan. It was more an organic piece by piece building of an identity that would set the group apart from just about any metal band in the world today. Seriously, Sabaton are a unique beast.
"Well it kind of grew onto us organically," Brodén said. "I mean when we started in 99 we didn't sing about exclusively military topics. In 2004, we had the music for the song "Primo Victoria", me and Pär (Sundströmsat, founding member and bassist) sat down and said well we can't sing about drinking beer and drugs and rock n roll or whatever with this song. It sounds too big for it. So maybe we should make a song about D-Day? And we thought hey let's try it.
"We thought should we make an album about military history of warfare? Before that honestly we really felt like writing lyrics was a necessary evil, something you had to do. It was alright but not really that interesting. All of a sudden it became interesting for us. All of a sudden the few fans we had back then, their interest peaked. These days I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I mean, the more I learn about history the more I realize I know nothing. It's so nice to be in that discovery phase man, just finding these things out. There are so many fantastic stories in our past so why the fuck should we make up new ones? I mean there are some stories that if somebody made a Hollywood movie out of songs that we've come across people wouldn't believe it was real."
And the love of history isn't a gimmick. Brodén's interest in epic battles and wartime heroes extends beyond Sabaton.
"I was always into history. I came up with a band name. I had a book about weapons and armour throughout history, different kinds weapons. So I've always had that. But as we started doing this of course the interest has grown more and more. It's a much bigger part of my life these days than it used to be. It's not like I sit down and read a history book because we're making a new album. I watch documentaries and movies and books about that all the time because I'm passionate about it."
Sabaton drops their ninth studio album through Nuclear Blast on July 19th. The Great War is a deep dive into the First World War, with Brodén admitting that there's a darker energy that reflects the horrors of the four year conflict.
"It's a bit darker, a bit more atmospheric compared to the previous albums and I think it's because it's a tighter concept," he says. "The whole album is about the same conflict. We knew about that pretty early on in the songwriting. The choice of topic didn't only affect the lyrics, but it was all in there when we were writing music. For example the second to last song "The End of The War to End All Wars". When I wrote that I already knew, and I didn't have the lyrics, but I knew that I was writing a song as a retrospect, somebody standing on the 11th of November, looking back at the past four years. That took me into some strange places and strange turns. So it didn't end up like a normal Sabaton song, but sometimes you have to do something different as well."
Sabaton's live shows have become the stuff of legend. Grander with each passing tour – see for yourselves when the guys kick off 'The Great Tour' in North America with Hammerfall this October – recent performances have included pyro spitting tanks, barbed wire and come complete with 'The Great War Choir.' It's an ever-evolving operation and one that grows year after year, 20 years deep, for the battle-tested sons of Falun, Sweden.
"We do what feels right," says Brodén. "People are asking what we have planned and it's like yeah we have a lot of plans but we're always ready to change them if it doesn't work out or if it doesn't feel right. Over the years we've kind of been expanding on what we already have and gotten more and more and more. Now we decided to take pretty much all of that away and start again with a fresh start to get a more World War I themed stage set.
"It's still awkward for me because I have to throw away all the stupid shit that I say on autopilot, all the jokes you make," laughs the frontman. "We're not comedians, we can't write comedy jokes. Everything that I said on stage in the past years was something that came naturally or you know, just a spur of the moment thing. We decided to remove a lot of those things now to keep the show fresh. We're still finding our way."