Review and Photos by Justin Richardson
With Art of War being released a few years ago, Sabaton gained a lot of recognition despite power metal not being as popular as it was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Since then, they’ve released Coat of Arms and are just about to release their latest, Carolus Rex. Although they had released albums before Art of War, things just didn’t really pan out for them. Art of War certainly changed that. They went from an opening band to a North American headliner within a year of its release. I was lucky enough to see them at the prestigious ProgPower USA festival in Atlanta, GA, back in 2009. They made me a fan for life with that performance, and on April 25 I was able to see them for the second time at the Tremont Music Hall in Charlotte, NC.
Opening the show were locals Nemesis and The Poontanglers. Nemesis is a young three-piece “thrash-revivalist” band akin to more popular names such as Warbringer or Evile. The band had a lot of energy, but the sound wasn’t mixed that well which made it difficult to really listen to the music. I had planned on checking some songs out online but currently, the band only has a demo out, and none of the songs appear to be on any of their social pages. The live show was enjoyable enough, and I’ll check them out once they have some stuff properly recorded.
The Poontanglers brought a bit of a classic metal sound to the show. Their vocalist, at times at least, was very reminiscent of Dave Mustaine but with more of the energy and gusto one would expect of a hardcore/punk singer. The guys come off as a band that just wants to have a lot of fun with what they do and not take things too seriously. Their merch features themes from very popular metal albums but with their own spin — almost parody — on them. If you’re in the area and they’re playing, check them out if you like some DIY-style traditional metal. Their online presence is pretty limited, but they do have a few tunes on their Myspace page.
Charlotte can surprise you sometimes. I didn’t know what the turnout would be like for a power metal show on a Wednesday night in the Bible belt. But it wasn’t bad at all. I’d say somewhere around 75 people were in attendance and most were pumped during soundcheck. Camo-netting adorned the set along with helmeted skull banners flanking both sides of the stage. As we waited, I was a little nervous about how well the show would go. The band recently lost the majority of its members, replaced them, and within a month were on the USA tour. This didn’t really give the three new guys much time to learn the material. The band even missed the first few dates because there was not enough time to get the proper visas set up before the first date of the tour. The video released by the band seemed to inspire confidence in remaining members Joakim Brodén and Pär Sundström. Fingers were crossed multiple times.
Finally Europe’s “The Final Countdown” was piped through the speakers, signaling metal glory was about to commence. Some laughed at it, many sang along, but I really wanted to hear some of the other songs. I feel that I may have been alone on that one.
The band opened with “Ghost Division” and immediately my worries were laid to rest. Despite not having the biggest crowd, they played as if it were a headline show in Europe. Joakim is possibly the most energetic and infectiously happy frontman in metal right now (though I’ve got to say that Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity is a smiling machine which is totally unexpected given the sound of the band). Immediately the crowd was singing with the band. Joakim lowered his aviators and looked out into the crowd and smiled before launching into “Uprising” and “40:1”. The theme of war permeates all aspects of the show. From the set pieces to the armored kevlar-esque flak jacket that Joakim wears to the camouflage painted bass that Pär carries, this band is all about war stories of glory and loss. While the songs themselves have happy tones to them, Joakim made note that war is obviously a terrible thing and that Sabaton is actually a pretty depressing band when you really think about it. I agree, but the music is too damn great to make me depressed while listening. The guys played the title track for their new album, jokingly referred to as “Carolus Sex” on their setlist. I yelled “now do it in Swedish!” and Joakim pointed out that originally he thought doing an all Swedish album would be a great idea, but then realized much later that it wasn’t such a great idea since it will be much more difficult for everyone to sing along and that is one of the key ingredients to Sabaton’s live show. Also on the setlist was “Price of a : )”. I’ll wait for that one to sink in.
So what about the new guys? Filling in the ranks left by the members who left recently are Thobbe Englund and Chris Rörland (also of Nocturnal Rites) on guitar as well as Robban Bäck on drums. These guys were top notch. They knew all the songs and they nailed all of them. They all had big shoes to fill in a very short time and managed to do it perfectly and humbly. The band came out for a roaring encore with two fan favourites — “Primo Victoria” and “Metal Crüe”. The band was all smiles and thanked the crowd for coming out to what they expected to be a much smaller showing.
While I really love seeing these guys in a headline situation in the states, I believe that it might be better to tour with a band that’s more popular in the states until they can grow a larger fanbase here. The Iced Earth/Symphony X show a few months ago would have been perfect for them. Either way I hope they come back around again after their new album.
Carolus Rex hit the streets on May 25, 2012 via Nuclear Blast.