Concert review: SABATON & KREATOR co-headlining in Calibornia, February 2018
On the evening of February 10th my son Benjamin and I were lucky enough to attend a very odd pairing of a couple of metal acts at the UC Theater in Berkeley, California. The sold out co-headlining tour that rolled into town this night was Sabaton and Kreator, with direct opening support from Exmortus out of Whittier, CA. To say that this night held something for everyone would be a huge understatement, even though at first glance it looked completely one-sided.
As we approached the venue one thing became crystal clear: Sabaton wanted everyone to know they were in town. The enormous tour buses (plural) parked out front were decorated with the typical Sabaton themes, tanks, and fire and, of course, their name in big lettering. It made me wonder why? I mean, I have seen other tour buses decked out with band logos, or some cool decal artwork, but never to this extent. Is Sabaton this big? Or do they think that they are this big? The answers would come to me as the night progressed.
After grabbing some delicious pupusas at Platano Salvadoran Cuisine conveniently located right next to the theater, my son and I walked outside to see the line to get into the show stretched clear down University Ave and around the corner. The best way I can describe the crowd will make sense for those who have seen Iron Maiden’s Flight 666. Imagine, if you will, the people of South America attending a Maiden show, all wearing the Maiden gear, waving flags, even dressed like the lovable mascot Eddie, mask and all. The two of us found ourselves in a sea of grey camouflage, WW2 soldier uniforms, and even several spot-on impersonators of Sabaton lead singer Joakim Broden.
Now don’t get me wrong, there was a fair amount of thrashers represented in line with their patch vests, Kreator and Exmortus shirts on, but if I had to put a percentage on this crowd it would have been 70% power metal and only 30% thrashers. Perhaps I underestimated Sabaton and their draw, maybe they are that big.
Opening the show was Exmortus. I have seen this particular group a bunch over the last few years and have even been fortunate enough to become friends with them. These hard-working young men from Southern California are incredibly talented and have found a unique niche within the metal community. For folks that have not had the opportunity to see them I always explain their style as follows: imagine Beethoven and Mozart had a baby with Exodus and Conan the Barbarian. That would be about as close as I could get to describing them. Exmortus’s music as a whole is full of incredible shredding riffs, unbelievable soloing, great tales of the Dark Ages and sword battles, all the while keeping in touch with that classical music style they are known for. These guys are fantastic musicians, storytellers and down to earth dudes; keep an eye out for their new record in late spring early summer.
Moving on to the mighty Kreator… I had only seen Kreator once prior to this tour stop and remember being pleasantly surprised by what I had heard. On that particular night I was really there to see Obituary and got Kreator as a bonus. So I’m not going to sit here and blow smoke up your ass and pretend I have been a Kreator fan since 1982; that isn’t going to happen. But what I will tell you is I will make more of an effort now to search out their older material because what I witnessed at the UC Theater in Berkeley on this night was pure satanic goodness.
Kreator hit the stage and right out the gate hit us in the crowd with “Phantom Antichrist” – the tone had been set. There was a killer fanatic energy making its way through the crowd and with every passing moment and song the mosh pit picked up participants and speed. What helped lend to the “dark” vibes of this show was that at no point were there lights in any of the musicians’ faces except the drummer. My 14-year-old kept asking me, “I wonder what they look like?” I imagine in his mind they looked like demons or perhaps the devil himself… Well played, Kreator, way to stay in the shadows adding to the creepy factor. With a full set reaching out to what seemed like every time period of the band’s catalog, the thrasher element got what they came for. With a blistering pace Kreator pulled out crowd favorites such as “Flag of Hate”, “Satan is Real”, “Enemy of God” and of course “Pleasure to Kill”.
With Mille Petrozza’s vocals on point and the band performing like a well-oiled machine, Kreator was a force to be reckoned with. I walked away thinking, “shit, why have I never got into these guys before? They are like a German version of Slayer,” and I say that with all due respect to all parties. The music was clean, evil, and induced some breakneck speed mosh pits. Benjamin asked right after their set, “Dad, can you buy me a Kreator shirt?” To which I quickly replied, “Yes son, we are both getting one.” What a great live band!
Now, remember that 30% thrasher element in the crowd I spoke of earlier… Well, the vast majority of them cut out right after Kreator’s set, which left yours truly feeling like a fish out of water.
And now a few words on Sabaton. The Swedish Power Metal Titans have a dedicated fan base, are very enthusiastic showmen, and have a solid stage presence. Their music is heavily influenced by historical tales of war, soldiering, and heroes. Those topics usually translate for good metal songs, but not to this writer. I find the group just way too campy and the triumphant sing-along choruses only make it worse for my personal taste. Now I’m not here to rip on anybody’s favorite band or the artist themselves, because that isn’t my style. This is just a band I don’t get, or quite frankly want to get. But this much I can tell you: the crowd that night was in full throat and enjoyed every second of their set (at least from what I saw while there – I too cut out early). Sabaton had the “Sabaton Army” eating out of their hands.
When I opened this write-up I referred to this bill as an “odd pairing” and it was just that. Sabaton may have had the numbers, been the “true” headliner, and had the big pretty buses parked out front that night. But for my money, Kreator and Exmortus had a better product all the way around.
Remaining dates: SABATON & KREATOR North American co-headlining tour
02/08/2018 The Van Buren – Phoenix, AZ
02/09/2018 The Wiltern – Los Angeles, CA
02/10/2018 The UC Theater – San Francisco, CA
02/12/2018 Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR
02/13/2018 Showbox – Seattle, WA
02/14/2018 The Vogue Theater – Vancouver, BC CANADA
02/16/2018 Union Hall – Edmonton, AB CANADA
02/17/2018 The Palace – Calgary, AB CANADA
02/19/2018 Revolution – Boise, ID
02/21/2018 The Gothic Theater – Denver, CO
02/22/2018 The Truman – Kansas City, MO
02/23/2018 The Myth – Minneapolis, MN
02/24/2018 Orpheum – Madison, WI
02/26/2018 20 Monroe – Grand Rapids, MI
02/27/2018 House of Blues – Chicago, IL
03/01/2018 The Phoenix – Toronto, ON CANADA
03/02/2018 Metropolis – Montreal, QC CANADA
03/03/2018 House of Blues – Boston, MA
03/04/2018 The Paramount Theater – Huntington, NY
03/06/2018 The Fillmore – Philadelphia, PA
03/07/2018 The Fillmore – Silver Spring, MD
03/08/2018 The Ritz – Raleigh, NC
03/09/2018 Buckhead Theatre – Atlanta, GA
03/10/2018 Jannus Landing – Tampa, FL
Exmortus and Kreator live in Berkeley
All photos and video by Gene Gaona.