Taking a brief hop over to Wales for my second concert experience there (the first being Wormrot earlier this year), I was excited to catch power/heavy metallers Sabaton for the first time in 3 years, and to revisit folky-melodeathers Eluveitie for the second time this year. Not letting delays phase them in the slightest, the organizers and bands in the festival quickly set to work so the crowd weren’t left in the cold for too long, and the first act were quick to take to the stage once the Great Hall had been suitably filled with crazy Welsh metalheads.
As the opening gang chorus of “Falling Away From Grace” kicked in, it was fairly obvious from the start what Hungarian quintet Wisdom were going to be offering. Familiar strains of galloping Swede-inspired power metal, taken from the hallowed halls of Hammerfall and the like, filled the speaker system. With the tour entitled Swedish Empire tour, it seemed appropriate for these guys to warm up the stage. Theirs was a brief 6 song set, mostly taken from their sophomore Judas to showcase the new vocalist’s pipes. The guitarists, from what I could hear of them, were laying down strong riffs and solos, although a couple of more technical moments were lost in the mix. It was a shame that technical issues meant a lack of double-bass, but the songs still sounded good. The personal highlight, however, was their surprise cover of Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years”, well-executed both musically and vocally. A strong if safe starting band for the evening.
Due to my interview with Pär Sundström of Sabaton, I missed the first half of Eluveitie’s set, although I’m reliably informed that it was of strong quality, if completely taken from new album Helvetios. I arrived as the folksters were launching into the single “A Rose For Epona” from said album, with Anna Murphy taking lead vocals. I still found it miraculous that the folk instruments were perfectly audible over the metal instruments, even the wind-based instruments such as harsh-vocalist Chrigel’s tin whistles. His hoarse roar was powerful as ever, particularly on older live staple “Inis Mona”, and then the band rounded out with three new tracks, with plenty of opportunity for the crowd to either headbang or jig as preferred. Perhaps not so much a set there for older fans, but Eluveitie’s set was an excellent introduction to their new album.
And finally, the time arrived for Sabaton to do battle with the crowd. After a fairly superfluous if amusing crowd-singalong over the speakers to “The Final Countdown” and the lights went down as “The March To War” blared out as the proper intro music. The band emerge triumphant onto the stage, launching into “Ghost Division” as vocalist Joakim ensures everyone is either fist-pumping or headbanging while singing without running out of breath. It quickly becomes apparent where his muscular physique stems from: the man is relentless as he bounces around the stage or punches the air. That said, the axemen are no slackers either, providing much entertainment as they interact onstage. The new members are clearly well-integrated into the band, as Joakim gave guitarists Thobbe Englund and Chris Rörland friendly kicks up the ass and was subsequently chased around the stage. A Swedish lesson occurs as the band break out “Karolinens Bön” (“The Carolean’s Prayer” for non-Swedes), and all the band members practice their singing as they recite the Lord’s Prayer in Swedish*.
6 songs down, and the band had plenty of fire to go. Sabaton surprised us all by holding a very Swedish democratic crowd vote for which track to play between three Coat Of Arms numbers, and later two older numbers (“Attero Dominatus” and “Into The Fire”). “Uprising” and “Into The Fire” were chosen, the latter a surprise to Joakim himself as it was the first time on the tour. And that wasn’t the last ace the band had up their sleeves…
Those well-versed in older Sabaton got a real treat as a keyboard was brought out for Joakim, and he displayed a fine Swedish sense of musical humor with intros from Van Halen’s “Jump” and ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme”, before actually launching into a lengthy pseudo-ballad entitled “The Hammer Has Fallen” from their début Fist For Fight. It seems odd to see a man with armor-plates sitting at a keyboard, but you know the Swedes are full of surprises. So too were the Welsh, who tossed both a Union Jack and a Welsh dragon flag onstage, and Joakim made the near-fatal error of picking up the ‘wrong’ one. I will let you figure out which one was wrong.
One last surprise was left from Sabaton: a surge of energy as the band and crowd bounce along to the encore of “The Art Of War” and “Primo Victoria”, before rounding out a lengthy 15-song set with the cheesy “Metal Crüe” dedicated to the crowd. A touching moment where the man gave his sunglasses to a kid in the front row, and the band, with Joakim wrapped in the Welsh flag, took their final bow. This show has proven to me along with many others that Sabaton are part of a new wave of excellent melodic metal bands, and while the lyrical topic may not be for everyone, you cannot deny that they put on a captivating show.
* For those curious: “Fader Vår, som är i himmelen
Helgat varde ditt namn
Tillkomme ditt rike
Ske din vilja,
Såsom i himmelen så ock på jorden
Giv oss idag vårt dagliga bröd
Och förlåt oss våran skuld”
Check out our photo report of this gig in Glasgow!