If you are a heavy metal fan the name SABATON evokes a torrent of bombastic rhythms, hooks, and melodies coupled with lyrics singing about some of history’s most exciting conflicts. Unless you have spent the past two decades buried in a trench, there’s a high chance you’ve heard at least one of their instant-classic heavy metal anthems such as “Ghost Division” or “Primo Victoria”.
After headlining countless festivals and selling out shows throughout the world, Sabaton has retired to their bunker to compose their latest effort, “The Great War” to be released this July. In this interview, we spoke to the band’s frontman Joakim Brodén about the new release and the stories it covers, their growing popularity in Serbia, being a multimedia band and a better history teacher than most history teachers, as well as other topics.
Your new album titled „The Great War“ is coming out July 19, 2019, via Nuclear Blast Records. The topic of the album is obviously World War I, but I’m interested whether there’s a specific concept that the album covers or is it a collection of the biggest or most exciting battles and events during this period?
Joakim Brodén: It’s not even a collection of the most exciting battles. It’s a collection of the ones that were most exciting for us, the most fascinating stories or people. We tried to make a proper concept out of it, and that was tricky.
No matter how we turned it around, we ran into problems like how to get a good listener’s experience with the tracks and the stories you want to tell. And when you’re covering some longer events, like the Battle of Verdun for example which lasted for 303 days… Where in the timeline is that – is it when the battle starts or when it ends? If we sing about the Red Baron where do we start – when he entered the war or when the events happened.
So to get it as good as possible we actually had to come to the fact that we are going to have to treat the album as a collection of stories from The Great War.
I imagine most Serbians are interested to get an answer to this question, so I’m going to skip right to it. Given that Serbia has played a huge part in this war, even in a way started it, are there any stories or songs covering our part in the Great War?
Joakim: I better duck and run for cover, but no – there’s nothing specifically relating to Serbia. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we’re disregarding you, but there’s nothing very specific to your history.
For every song we ever make there are two songs that were musically not possible to do. Also, there are around ten stories that didn’t get told for every single Sabaton song we do tell. Sometimes the music decides the topic because it’s important to us that the music and the lyrics speak the same emotional language.
I’ll give you two examples, and I’m sure that if you would have asked a year ago we would have covered them but they are not even on the album. I was sure we would have covered the Brusilov Offensive or the Harlem Hellfighters. Because Harlem Hellfighers for fuck’s sake is the coolest metal song title ever. So, it’s like that all the time.
Going into “The Last Stand” we weren’t sure what we are going to do. And I know going into that we weren’t sure if we were going to do “Last Dying Breath”. On the other hand, other topics I was sure we were going to do didn’t end up on the album. So we do abandon a lot of stories, unfortunately.
Did you expect the feedback you’ve received in Serbia after recording “Last Dying Breath”? You were featured on most national frequency news, big newspapers and even some game shows which no bands except for Iron Maiden or Metallica have ever achieved.
Joakim: I heard about some of it. Trust me, we know you Serbians are patriotic people. We thought that this was an amazing story and had to be on the album. And we knew it was going to be awesome at the concerts in Serbia. But we couldn’t even dream of that reaction if I’m being honest.
The hype culminated at the last concert you held here in Serbia which was truly spectacular. One of the largest metal concerts I remember in Serbia. So what did you take away from the experience?
Joakim: Lots of fun, but I also remember being nervous. That was the first time we’ve played “Last Dying Breath” live. That’s always an unnerving thing, and especially that song in Serbia. I wouldn’t want to fuck that up if you know what I mean. It was great fun and really cool to have the speech at the beginning of the song, which isn’t on the album. I don’t understand the Serbian version, but I read the translation and it’s a pretty fucking inspiring speech.
Absolutely. So back to the new album. What can you tell me about the recording process, did you choose to do something different this time?
Joakim: Well, yes and no. We still used drums for drums and guitars for guitars (laughs). But we went with Jonas Kjellgren this time. He has been recording other stuff for us before, bonus material and some covers. And he helped us with some live albums. But he was also the guy who mastered the last couple of albums we did. So that gave a little bit different approach to the production. And I liked it. I like both Jonas and Peter (Tägtgren), so I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. But in the case of this album and the atmosphere, it was the right choice to use Jonas.
Two years ago you had a chance to perform with an orchestra at the Masters of Rock festival in the Czech Republic. Did that happen to influence the new album or make you want to work with a live orchestra in the studio?
Joakim: No. I mean we use orchestral elements in our music, but not really. I wanted to do something orchestral someday, but it’s a bit of a limitation when you slap an orchestra to a rock band. In certain cases, it’s going to turn out really good, but other songs just don’t really suit themselves to have an orchestra added to them.
For us, for example, we noticed this since the “Carolus Rex” songs which we did with an orchestra. And it is already a really orchestral, epic and cinematic album, so there were already a lot of strings and orchestral elements on it. And of course, it’s going to work. But for “Ghost Division” I’m not sure benefited that much from an orchestra.
So in Plzeň in the Czech Republic just a few weeks ago we brought in a choir on stage, 20-piece choir. And that – that made total sense considering there aren’t that many bands that have so many choirs as we do (laughs). It’s not like you don’t have to come up with an explanation why you’re doing it. It’s a natural thing – Sabaton has many choirs. We can get a big army choir in uniform to join in and sing and it will only make the experience bigger and better for everyone.
Prior to the release of the album earlier this year you’ve started your own YouTube channel, Sabaton History. What can you tell me about that experience of moving your music to the next level and becoming basically a multimedia band?
Joakim: A multimedia band (laughs)…
Well, you are expanding to more than music now.
Joakim: Absolutely. To be honest, it’s just a dream and making a dream come true. Many years ago I and Pär thought it would be a really cool idea to have a documentary about our songs or something like that. During our last tour rotation, Pär was invited to the YouTube channel The Great War, surprise surprise, to talk about some songs we had done about the Great War. This is the first album we’ve done on the Great War, but we’ve touched on those topics before.
So Pär went to visit the boys in Vienna and Berlin where they recorded that and we saw how really good they were at it and how much better than us at the historical parts. That’s when we started suspecting that we can make this dream a reality. And lo and behold, a year and a half later we managed to do it.
I have to say, of all the crazy side projects we do like the Sabaton Cruise or the Sabaton Open Air festival, this is the most fun I’ve had outside of making music and standing on stage. I learn something every day and every time we do that. We thought we have our shit under control, but man these guys are good. Every episode I learn three or four things that I did not know.
It’s definitely educational and a good takeaway for the fans. It’s great to introduce your fans and fans of heavy metal to history and vice versa, for people who discover your music through the channel which I’m sure happens.
Joakim: Yes, we are trying to go both ways. I agree with what you said. It’s a great way to get our heavy metal fans a bit more into history and at the same time try and get some more historical fans that we suspect could like Sabaton because of our historical approach and trap them in our web of lies (laughs).
You’ve probably seen the memes saying that Sabaton is a better history teacher than the average history teacher.
Joakim: Here’s the thing; We get to choose which part of history we teach and talk about. The poor teacher has to follow what the schoolbooks say. And that’s a lot of the problem. History is nothing else than stories, and stories are interesting. So how the fuck can you make history uninteresting?! But somehow many school systems have managed to.
As long as kids are getting into history, that’s the most important thing. We can learn a lot from history about the mistakes we make today.
Joakim: I agree. But looking at things, I can see there’s only one thing we can learn from history, and that is that mankind cannot learn from history.
Sadly, that is true. Back to the new album – are there any highlights on the album you would like to highlight (laughs).
Joakim: I am probably the worst person on the planet to judge the album, having worked on it for almost a year. Hearing everything and looking for all the problems, which is what you do when you mix. You listen if something is wrong and you try to fix it. So, I have analyzed and over-analyzed it. But, from a pure gut feeling, I really love the second track, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”.
I’m pretty fucking sure it’s the best guitar playing and drumming ever on a Sabaton album or a Sabaton song actually. When I hear that song I want to drink beer and sing along. If that is my instinct after working on that stuff for nine months, hearing it over and over again, it has to at least not be crap (laughs).
You’ve also teamed up with Wargaming, a popular gaming studio behind World Of Tanks, for your latest video “Bismark”. Have you considered ever doing a game based on your music?
Joakim: That would be so fun, but we can’t take on too many projects. You noticed that we’re really ambitious people, everybody in the band. But we still have to think of what we’re really good at. If we made a game, it would be so cool. But we couldn’t be starting a development studio, it would have to be in cooperation with somebody. But you could probably do awesome games, but it’s not like the gaming industry doesn’t have creative minds of their own if you know what I mean.
Too bad, because I would be the first to play a real-time strategy by Sabaton.
Joakim: I like that stuff too. I would do it turn-based, like X-Com. At least some of the battles.
As a huge X-Com fan, I’m also definitely behind that. Now, the new album will be followed by a tour. Can we expect to see you in Serbia again soon?
Joakim: I don’t know actually, but I fucking hope so. I’ve been in this music thing for a while now, so Pär could probably give you a better answer if you were to talk to him. It’s not like we’re never coming back to Serbia. I just don’t know when simply because I’ve been focusing on the music, and after that, we went directly into music videos and then went directly into doing the PR. So I haven’t been that involved in the planning except for the summer festivals.
Thank you for your time and talking to us. Any final messages for your fans in Serbia?
Joakim: I’m going to keep it simple: thank you for all the good times and good memories. Always a pleasure to be there. I’m looking forward to the next time!