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Primo Dominatus - Sabaton is conquering Europe

I lot of water has passed under the metal bridge since I made an interview with Sabaton's singer Joakim Brodén at Sweden Rock Festival 2005. Then they had just made their first larger gig at the same festival and were about to become known among fellow hard rock fans. Primo Victoria had been out for a while but now it suddenly started to sell more. Since then they have played two times at Gates of Metal; the first time at the smallest stage (Stora Dans) and a year later on the main stage. They've made several tours around both Sweden and Europe and been warm up act for Lordi, Edguy and Dragonforce. This summer their follow up album Attero Dominatus has meant renewed success. At every metal concert you can se a lot of Sabaton-t-shirts walking around. A greater break through is in the air. Recently at Växjö Metal Festival, I met the band again to check out how they look at the latest events. As usual most of the talking were handled by bass player Pär Sundström and singer Joakim Brodén, with guitarist Rikard Sundén and keyboard player Daniel Mÿhr making comments here and there. (If I have confused the latter two somewhere when interpreting the conversation on my mp3-file I apologize beforehand.)

After some time of negotiations Sabaton has finally got the rights to their first two albums.

Pär: - Right now we are planning a double release of Metalizer and Fist For Fight in early 2007.
Joakim: - It will probably be a digibox or something, two records for the price of one, with some old demo versions as bonus tracks.
Pär: - It will be an exclusive release with nice artwork and everything very well made in its finest detail…
Mÿhr: - Except for the music of course…

The band has made a lot of gigs the latest year. First as support for Edguy and Dragonforce and then as a headline act. That step is not always easy.

Pär: - It has both pros and cons. There are higher demands, we have to deliver more. But if you look at the support we've got it has worked well to headline. Although we have made quite a lot of gigs we have managed to attract people to all of them, which we are happy about.
Joakim: - But the warm up bands drink up our beer.
Pär: - That is one problem. Another is that we like to go out and meet people after the gigs, sign things at the merchandise and so on. As a headline there is no time for that. After you have played people go home. Maybe there is some lonely alcoholic left…

But besides from this the band members are grateful for this opportunity of course. They hope that the future will bring larger tours, both by their own and as special guests.

Pär: - We would like to tour with some bigger bands. They attract more people, and make it possible for many more to discover us. But if we are about to play twenty gigs in Sweden, it can not be a too large band, but one that are a little above ourselves. Maybe The Poodles or something like that.

Next they are going out on a European tour with Therion and Grave Digger. A package that they hope will attract a lot of diverse people.

Pär: - That will be fun, since Grave Digger is one of my personal favorites. It also means that we will meet a new audience in Europe. Probably not the same as on the tour with Edguy and Dragonforce. Unfortunately there will be no gigs in Sweden with this package. Grave Digger don't think that they have a market for a tour here.
Joakim: - Sadly enough, I think that combination would have worked in Sweden as well.
Pär: - But we have already played a lot in Sweden, so for that matter it's not necessary for us.

Their third album (not counting unreleased Metalizer) Attero Dominatus was released in July, following up the great success with Primo Victoria. The albums should be seen as twins, with their similar theme and disposition.

Pär: - Attero Dominatus has done pretty well. It made the charts and stayed for five weeks or so. Then it returned after another few weeks when we played with Lordi. Our record company says that this is not supposed to happen, that our records sell over such a long time. Usually metal albums sell at once or not at all. Primo Victoria made the heavy metal charts one and a half year after its release, for example. There are interests coming in from new countries all the time to distribute our records.
Joakim: - We have not yet reached out to all potential fans. People are still 'discovering' us. That is one explanation for why Primo Victoria still sells as well.

One of the reasons that Sabaton has done so well is hard work through tours, gigs… and tours.

Pär: - It's our ambition to be out playing as much as possible. After all that is the fun thing about all this.
Joakim: - There are also different people in different places. Some of you travel around and see us everywhere, but not all are 'Sweden Rock people'. Some just discover us when we visit their town. They might have seen us with Lordi, heard about us from a friend's friend who has downloaded the record… They might travel at most fifty kilometers or so for a gig. There is a different music culture in Germany for example. Here in Sweden you only go to a gig if you know you like the band. There they go just to check out, simply because something is happening in the town.

But there is a dark side of everything of course. With all new fans also follow a lot of anti-fans, who like to heckle and dismiss the band.

Pär: - We see it as a fun thing. That people can be so annoyed of what you do, that they are engaging themselves in hate mails and threats. It's bizarre to want to beat someone up because they play music. I would never spend my time writing a two-page letter to declare how much I hate a band.
Joakim: - I'm grateful. I think it's great. It creates a debate about us. All publicity is good publicity. If someone yells that we stink, well someone else might decide to check us up and comes to another conclusion. So, just hate us! It's not fun to hear that we are cocksucking dickheads perhaps, but in the end they do us a favor. I come to think about a letter to a local paper in Stockholm, where a mother was upset about how we were allowed to play before a universal band like Lordi. She thought it awful that we sang about horrible stuff like wars… That Lordi had bazookas and chainsaws and made out with a dead figure on stage obviously did not matter.
Mÿhr: - But you poured water on stage…
Rikard: - You actually hit me, and it was awfully cold.
Pär: - I think you have to go pretty far to make a majority hate you. Then you have failed. But one out of hundred is just good for you.

Sabaton is about to become a band that 'everyone' can like. (Actually the only metal band I have been able to make my girlfriend watch a live show with.) That may be one reason why 'true' metal fans start to dislike the band.

Pär: - It is fun that we have reached a broader crowd. We never thought that our average fan would be about 30 years old, but rater 16-20. But when we are booked to a place with an age limit of 21 and we still sell out, you see that it works in all ages.
Joakim: - Today we play a bit different music. I the beginning it was heavier, today it is more of sing-along metal. It is a bit easier to take in. Maybe that's what's bothering some people as well. Some don't like when a guy in his 30s in a regular shirt is standing beside the teenager in Iron Maiden-shirt and listening to a band. It's like it's not fun anymore to see a band that 'everyone' can like. Hammerfall experienced the same thing a couple of years ago. Other bands hate you because they are jealous, other people hate just… because it's a trend to hate a certain band.

There is a story that tells about a teacher who banned Sabaton-t-shirts in her class because she connected them to neo-nazism.

Pär: - That is quite fun, since if you read the lyrics you understand that we definitely not propagate fore anything like that, quite the contrary. We are a non-political band who just writes about historical events. So it's a bit funny that you can go so far without really checking for correct information.
Joakim: - The kids will just want to wear the shirts even more, so I guess it's just good for us. But it is worse in Germany, for obvious reasons. When they hear the word 'nazi' they go crazy. But it is promoters and arrangers that care, not the kids in the crowd. They sing along… "the Reich will rise"…
Pär: - When we were about to release Primo Victoria the distributor listened for one minute and then called and said that he could not release this neo nazi music. "What?", our record company replied. "Yes, I listened to this song Primo Victoria…" "Eh… yes?" He might not been so good at English, I don't know, but when we had sent him the lyrics he understood and it was ok.
Rikard: - We got that as an order for the next album, "try to avoid the word 'Nazi' at least the first fifteen seconds"…
Joakim: - Tobias Sammet wondered why we hated the Germans, but it was more of a joke.
Pär: - Actually it works quite well in Germany. But it is quite funny to sing "Berlin is burning" in Berlin… and the people are singing along. We like irony like that.
Rikard: - Those songs are actually the most popular there.
Joakim: - It was a Syrian man who was totally crazy about the line "Israelis rule the heaven" (Counterstrike). I tried to explain that it was about them controlling the air during the war, not some kind of religious metaphor.
Pär: - But Syria may not be our first market anyway…

And the conversation goes over to misheard lyrics…

Joakim: - The guys in Bullet heard us sing "bollen i mål" instead of "fallen in war".
Mÿhr: - When we recorded Purple Heart the choir could not get the lyrics. They sang "falling in love" over and over again.
Joakim: - So we gave up, and thought that we can use it somewhere low in the background anyway.

Sabaton has reached quite far the past year. But they have even higher goals than this.

Joakim: - We will aim really high. If you fight for a higher goal than you actually can reach you will most probably get a few steps further than you thought. If we do our best and have some luck, we might be able to go on a European tour and attract a couple of thousands every night.
Pär: - That is not unrealistic. But to reach arena status today is almost impossible. There will be no room for a new band to do that in another twenty years or so. Anyway, we have a good foundation to stand on when we release the new album in 2008. Early next year we will release the Metalizer/Fist For Fight album and tour on that over the summer. Then we will focus on the new recordings. We are booked until over a year ahead from now…
Joakim: - Unfortunately we don't get paid.
Pär: - Because the support gigs cost so much, we have to spend our money there rather than to pay ourselves. It's an investment. We live scarce right now, but hopefully it will pay off.

After the Latin twins, Primo Victoria and Attero Dominatus, the band must take their concept to the next level. Joakim has already some stuff written for the next album.

Joakim: - I never know how it will turn out before it is done. When I started with Attero Dominatus I thought it was going to be a much faster, heavier, rawer record. But I always end up messing with details into the last minute. As for now the next one seems to be heavier again, more aggressive. But also more varied. The hardest songs will be the hardest ever, and the soft ones the softest. There will not be another 'copy' with title in Latin and so on.
Pär: - We have not really set our concept yet. The war theme will be there, but maybe not in the same form as today. We have some different plans. Maybe a cooperation with one of our sources of inspiration. I cannot tell more before we have made a final deal, but that would be a great thing.

Nowadays you can see Sabaton-shirts here and everywhere around in Sweden. At concerts, in schools, in the city streets…

Pär: - The t-shirts sell very well. They make the whole thing going actually. Without them we should not be able to cover up all the costs of our tours. We are very thankful for this. There are bigger bands than us who do not sell as many t-shirts. Thanks to the fans!
Joakim: - But we invest half of the incomes on tours and the other half on new shirts.

The band has just returned from a European tour with Bullet as support act. They have traveled in the same bus together, which could be a source of conflict sometimes. But this time it seems to have worked splendid.

Pär: - We had a great time touring with Bullet. We made a perfect match as touring bands. We were at an amusement park in Germany on a day off. All attractions, food and beer for about three hundred SEK. Challenges between the bands and a lot of beer…
Mÿhr: - We are bad at resting on our days off…
Pär: - All the bands we have shared bus with on tour have been on our level, young and easy to deal with. We have heard some horror stories of bands who don't want to have parties in the bus, only want to take it easy, have it quiet and go to bed right after the gig. We have also heard stories about bands that don't speak to each other during the tour but just sit in their own lounges and give each other angry looks.

Finally, some anecdote from the last tour?

Pär: - The last night in Germany Joakim had such bad cold that he could not sing at all. Instead of canceling the gig, we let our background singer, Idol-Christian, do all the leads. That will be a unique gig, the only one without Joakim. Everyone was actually pleased with the solution. It was a fun place by the way. A sort of hippie collective in Lübeck.

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