Many power metal bands prefer to linger in the fantastic world of Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons when they write battle songs, but Sweden's Sabaton prefers to focus on actual, historical warfare. Vocalist Joakim Brodén took a break at last weekend's Rock on The Range Festval to discuss his band's focus on history and the backlash that comes with it...not to mention his thoughts on the American microbrewery scene.
Music Times: Sabaton draws most of its lyrical themes from historic battles, so I'm curious if you were all history buffs back in school?
Joachim Brodén (vocalist): Well, I was always interested in history. My history teacher would strongly disagree I guess (laughs). I think it's probably the same thing in the U.S. as in Europe-most people I've spoken to experience the same thing: What teachers think is important in history might be something that's easy to correct on a test. Which year did this king or president die? When was he elected? It's a lot easier to say "yes/no," correct the wrong, than say what effect did this president have on this country. That's what I find interesting. What actually happened? How did this person influence history? When he actually died...I mean, come on. If you know the ballpark—within ten years or so—if you know this president was elected in the '50s, that would be good enough for me.
You obviously think about history more academically...so let's say we made up a term for Sabaton's music and called it "historycore." Between that and mathcore you could start Heavy Metal High School.
(laughs) We've actually had examples from several teachers who actually use our music in their education. Even up to university levels sometimes.
That's amazing. Last time you guys were in Columbus you were touring with Amon Amarth...
Another band interested in warfare. Albeit more fantastic and Norwegian. Did you guys have any interesting conversations on that tour?
We had lots of interesting conversations—they're really nice guys and also I think we are. So we had a good time together. But I can assure you 99 percent of the talk would not be related to history at all actually. For some strange reason. Well, they like craft beer and—I never thought I'd say this—America is really good for beer. If you look further than Miller and Bud and Coors. Because sorry...that's sh*t. But when it comes to craft beer and microbrews, it's brilliant here. So that's what we did. After shows we went to different bars, tried different beers. We love getting sh*tfaced. I'm getting old (laughs).
While we're on the topic of things that may or may not be better in Europe...most of the bands here are talking about new records, while you guys released a new digital radio station last week, is that right?
Actually it's just an idea we had and it came out perfect with Sweden's largest rock station. We do in cooperation with them. So they're pretty much handling it for us. The thing is we wanted to do it different so we actually came down there and we filled it up with stories from the road and stuff like that. So we're going to keep refilling it. The talk between the songs, it's prerecorded most of the time, it's about good memories we have from the tour. Any memory recording-wise or tour-wise, connected to a song. Stuff like that. Me and Pär have been there already with Krista, our manager, for our festival back in Sweden, and when we get back home in a couple of days we'll fill it with more.
Now I know it's a digital radio station...
Scandinavia has been particularly progressive in terms of transferring to digital radio from AM/FM...I believe Norway is looking to go 100 percent digital. Is the United States missing out on that front?
I'm not sure that you're missing out...I mean, how it's delivered-the carrier-really isn't as interesting as the content for me. It's the same. I like music. I couldn't give a f*ck if it's on CD or LP. LPs are nice because I like that the artwork gets bigger, you know. So in that sense, but for me...actually, CDs are useless. I'd rather have the LP because it's bigger, the booklets get bigger, maybe the audio format's nice. But if I want to listen to music...I'm on the road all the time! I can't bring LPs or CDs. They'll take up this lounge we're sitting in, it would be filled. I love to buy it on digital. It could be Spotify, it could be iTunes.
LPs are good for you guys, as you've got some pretty epic artwork on your album covers. To be honest all of your music in general is pretty epic. Any reason why power metal in general is especially good for discussing that type of subject matter?
I don't know. But boil it down to our music...I mean, the type of metal we play has a bit of adrenaline to it for sure. Adrenaline pumping. It's got all of these emotions: hatred, pride...happiness is there sometimes as well. All of these emotions can be found in warfare, in the soldiers. In that sense, I think it's a perfect match. And I don't feel limited by it because, unfortunately, even if no one else from today until time's end, if nobody dies in battle ever again, we'd still have enough material for 200 albums. We can't live that long so...
On a more serious note, is there ever any concern that you're glorifying war and violence with your music?
Yeah, we've been accused of doing that. We've been accused of being nazis. We've been accused of being communists. It boils down to we tell stories and we tell them from the point-of-view we find most interesting. Sometimes it could be the individual soldier fighting for communist Russia in Stalingrad. Sometimes it could be the Germans, or an American, or British. Of course there are places where you can take a line or the chorus totally out of context. Make us sound like we're glorifying war or actually taking sides. But a story is more interesting if it's told from a personal point-of-view rather than a neutral observer's point-of-view. I guess it's something we have to live with. It's a double-edged sword, doing this. Sometimes we get extra attention because we sing about, for example, the Brazilian expeditionary force. Not many people knew they even had people involved in World War II, which gave us a little bit of extra attention in Brazil that we wouldn't have had otherwise. On the other hand, we've had shows stopped because people have the wrong idea.
Can you give me an example of somewhere that you've had a show stopped?
Two of them actually that could be quite relevant and quite recent...one would be the 70th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad. Somebody heard on song in Russia and said "these guys must be nazis." Which is kind of strange (laughs). So we were stopped. They even stopped our entry into Russia. That has been lifted now and we've been touring there since...I have no problem with touring in Russia or with Russians for that matter. I usually have a problem with low-level or high-level politicians making stupid f*cking decisions. But that goes for any country. So that one wads stopped and we've been back to Russia since. And then we had a perfect idea for a festival at the tank museum in Munster, in Germany. Brilliant venue for us to do it in, and the crowd would be among the tanks and everything. The stage would be on the field where they have all this old memorabilia. But it was stopped-not because the commander of the museum thought we were nazis-he was afraid other people would get the wrong message. He said "I can't scream loud enough if rumors start circulating that a nazi band is playing." He said he knew we had nothing to do with that stuff but in Germany it's enough to have the word "nazi" in your lyrics, or mention world War II. So we said "we better not."
Having seen you before, you've got quite a friendly disposition onstage, so if you are a nazi, you're most certainly the most friendly nazi I've ever met.
(laughs) Thank you. That's probably the most f*cked up but still funny thing I've ever been called.