Words by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
It’s always nice when your mates drop in occasionally, and with four visits in just over five years, tonight’s Sabaton show in Vicar Street gives another shot to fans who may have missed out previously. The Trojan warriors of touring return to invade Dublin once more.
When we arrive, the stage is already laden with concealed props and huge faux-steel panels leaving a tiny fraction of the space for a band that many have solely bought tickets to see. Their backdrop barely visible behind the canvas-covered mystery mound, German heavy metal trailblazers Accept are a very welcome addition to the bill.
As the house lights are dimmed, a member of the road crew unveils an elaborate drum kit on a high platform left of stage and Drummer Christopher Williams quickly takes his throne and is promptly joined onstage by his bandmates for the intro to ‘Stampede’. Vocalist Mark Tornillo, who has been in the band since its reformation in 2009, emerges last to join long-time guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes who have both been members since the late 1970’s. Despite significant line-up changes over the decades, including the departure of founding frontman Udo Dirkschneider, Accept has proven that it’s never too late to write great new material. And the opening track from their 2014 album Blind Rage is a testament to that.
And while the four tracks taken from this decade go down well with the audience, the remaining six tracks, all taken from the eighties, are equally crowd-pleasing, with tracks like ‘London Leather Boys’ and finale ‘Balls to the Wall’ prompting spirited sing-alongs. Blistering solos and shoulder-to-shoulder choreographed shredding from the guitarists feature regularly during the show, notably during ‘Restless and Wild’ and ‘Princess of the Dawn’. The band is jovial and fraternal throughout their performance, focusing more on their music than banter between tracks and demonstrate that you don’t have to be young to put on a great metal show.
Setup for tonight’s headliners is more arduous than most, having loaded in earlier in the day from not one, but two articulated trucks, into one of the larger live music venues in Dublin. Road crew wearing army helmets put the final touches on the elaborate set including a near-life-size tank acting as a drum riser and microphone stands made to look like machine guns, topped with more army helmets and dog tags. If you haven’t guessed, Sabaton like to write songs about war. And battles. And heroes. And what better way to do so than with their epic power metal style.
It’s not long before their cover version of the classic eighties track ‘In the Army Now’, made famous by Status Quo, plays over the PA heralding the imminent invasion of the Swedes. The excitement in the crowd grows as the anthem is followed by Sabaton’s own familiar tape intro ‘The March to War’, and the quintet storm the stage, exploding with energy for the opening live number ‘Ghost Division’ from their 2008 album The Art of War. It’s quickly followed by ‘Sparta’, with its triumphant sounding intro and ‘Blood of Bannockburn’, two tracks from their latest release The Last Stand, a concept album inspired by famous defensive last stand battles.
Impeccably groomed and kitted out in his trademark armour-plated vest, mirrored aviator shades and combat fatigue trousers matching those of his axe-wielding brethren, vocalist Joakim Brodén leaps around the stage bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Unlike the band preceding them, Brodén is more than happy to address the audience frequently, and as anyone who has seen Sabaton before will know, regularly turns into attempts at feigned improvised comedy.
Brodén takes an early opportunity to introduce their newest cadet, fresh-faced Tommy Johansson who joined during the ten months since Sabaton last played in Dublin, and allows him to choose the next song. Egged-on by the crowd chanting the iconic chorus melody of ‘Swedish Pagans’ he surrenders. and plays the riff, much to the annoyance of Brodén who claims to hate the song which was originally released as a bonus track on a reissue of The Art of War.
The rest of the setlist draws heavily from their two most recent albums, The Last Stand (2016) and Heroes (2014). After ‘Far from the Fame’, someone launches a Kinder egg at Brodén, prompting chants of “eat it, eat it” from the crowd. Bemused, Brodén admits they do appreciate gifts, such as drinks after the show or bras thrown onstage, but not so much chocolate eggs featuring his favorite princess from Disney’s Frozen. Not to offend anyone, he does indeed share the treat with Tommy, who opens the capsule to reveal the aforementioned princess toy, once again prompting chants of “eat it, eat it” from the taunting audience.
When fans shout requests during the lull, Brodén scoffs “You’re shouting out the names of songs? My poor friends. You have no idea how this works! You think you live in a democracy but you are so wrong. No… This ship is run Stalin-style”, before appropriately continuing with ‘The Winged Hussars’. Next up is something a bit different from previous shows in Dublin in the form of a fully acoustic rendition of ‘Final Solution’, featuring Tommy on keyboard (despite Brodén’s best efforts to outrank him, before being relegated to rattle duty). The effort gets a mixed reaction from the audience, with some obviously unimpressed and others really enjoying the novelty.
After almost 90 minutes, it’s time or the finale of ‘To Hell and Back’, and Brodén finally removes his aviators. There’s no doubt that he has enjoyed performing for the Irish crowd, and he and his bandmates have once again served their country well. Disappointingly, yet again, Ireland are deprived of the pyrotechnic display delivered elsewhere on the tour. However, the performance proved to be entertaining enough for the hundreds of fans who keep paying to see Sabaton in Dublin. The battle may have ended, but the war has only just begun.