Words & Pictures: Adrian Hextall / (C) MindHex Media
For the second time, proving just how big a draw the Swedes are these days, Sabaton sold out the OVO Arena in Wembley once again. Last time ‘The Great War’ was the focus and this time… continuing the theme, ‘The War To End All Wars’ now translates to ‘The Tour To End All Tours’ and in terms of pure spectacle, there’s no doubting at all that Sabaton know how to leave an audience in a state of shock and awe.
Before we go through the fire and the flame though, we have support from Finland’s monsterican dream, the stuff of nightmares, Lordi and Japan’s pioneers of Kawaii metal, Babymetal. Yet more proof, if it was in fact needed, that a great bill will draw in the crowds and judging by the enthusiastic cheers for all bands on stage, the choices for this show were solid ones.
I won’t deny that I was as excited to see Lordi on a large arena stage as I was seeing Sabaton once more. Lordi offer up, to me, everything I like about modern hard rock and horror movies. Everyone says that a love of horror movies comes from being exposed to a Stephen King novel at too early and age, often courtesy of an older brother. Well, for me, the book was ‘Carrie’ and my cousin introduced me to King perhaps a tad early but it cemented my love of the master storyteller and encouraged a desire to seek out more of the same in either written or visual form.
Lordi therefor pander to my tastes perfectly. Songs like ‘Blood Red Sandman’ (with it’s ‘Evil Dead’ themed video) tick every box and it was great to hear it once more on stage as the revamped line up of Mr Lordi, keyboardist Hella, drummer Mana, bassist Hiisi and new guitarist Kone charge around in their new 2023 monster costumes.
Opening with ‘Dead Again Jayne’ from latest album ‘Screem Writers Guild’, the band proved that time and line-up changes have done nothing to dampen their creative talents or ability to write fantastic sing along songs. “Jayne how did you end up dead again…” growled Mr Lordi from the stage to the rapturous cheers of the crowd. The fact that the new material sits so well with the older material shows that they still have a great career ahead of them despite being some 16 albums in now (although to be fair, 7 were released at the same time thanks to “what else can we do” during the pandemic).
“Who’s here to see Swedish metal?” asked Mr Lordi. Cue cheers all round. “Who also wants to hear some Japanese metal?” he asked to another round of cheers. “Well, I’m sorry but before that you have to listen to some Finnish hard rock”, resulting in a mix of cheers and laughter. Whatever you think of the band, and there are as many detractors as there are fans, there is no denying Lordi know how to entertain. Their stage set, the props and the monstrous costumes all delivered and set the bar high for Babymetal.
With a backing band that looked like they were moonlighting from their day jobs with Ghost, the Kawaii metal superstars were met with the loudest roar. They’d clearly brought their own fan base with them and as evidenced by the chanting during the dance only, instrumental opening song ‘BABYMETAL DEATH’. As the three girls synchro-danced around the stage to the heaviest beats of the song, the crowd began to chant…. ‘B’ ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘Y’ ‘M’ … and so on.
When the vocals started, the tracks like ‘Megitsune’ and ‘Monochrome’ were embellished with gorgeous lighting and some of the tightest dance routines I’ve seen outside of a Britney Spears concert. There’s definitely something unique about acts from Japan, they bring an aura of mystery about them, a definite element of the absurd and most importantly BABYMETAL can get away with songs like ‘Gimme Chocolate!’ just well…. because.
All in all, an acquired taste and one that a vast majority of the arena were clearly happy to see. A stark contrast to Lordi BUT another act that knew exactly how to bring “the show” to the table and then some.
The stage set to end all stage sets was combined with the pyro effects to end all pyro effects whilst the band known for their history retelling metal anthems celebrated The Tour To End All Tours.
Sabaton arrived to roars from the crowd, played to roars from the crowd and closed to roars from the crowd. The band that back in 2007 played a gig at the Purple Turtle in London (300 capacity) is now headlining its own festival, bringing new bands on and most importantly (for us in the UK at least) headlining 10,000 to 12,000 capacity venues as befits them in a country that is notoriously difficult to crack when it comes to new music. By new, of course, I mean any rock or metal act formed after 1989 as it seems so many of my esteemed colleagues and friends refuse to accept that a band that is some 50 years into its career cannot be as good as they were in their heyday. Remember the past for what it was. Celebrate it through the new. Essentially be like Sabaton. New music that’s been built up through hard work, hard graft and a love of history and most importantly, a new style of music that until recently no one else was making.
You know you’ve made it when a review can describe and album or concert sounding Sabaton-esque and everyone reading it knows exactly what you mean. Thundering drums, loud guitars, pulsating anthems with epic vocals and choral overtones. Obviously no one does Sabaton better than Sabaton and when it’s combined with fire, so much fire, snow (yes snow), CO2 guns, rifles, rocket launchers and flame throwers… well you’re going to go home with your eyes wide, your ears ringing and your eyebrows…. well maybe a little singed.
The highlights from the show were perhaps too many mention but a Swedish language version of Carolus Rex , Winged Hussars that Joakim told the crowd deserved to be back in the setlist, a glorious cover of Motörhead’s 1916 and The Red Baron, complete with the famous plane converted into a moveable keyboard all made the show especially memorable.
The bond between band members was also clear to see with both Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson taking time to stick guitar picks to Joakim’s sweaty forehead, much, it would seem, to his surprise. As he peeled 5-6 picks that comfortably sticking there he delivered ‘the finger’ to both of them but done with a smile and the recognition that this is what bandmates who get on and don’t just do it for the money actually look like when playing together.
‘Primo Victoria’, ‘Swedish Pagans’ and ‘To Hell and Back’ brought the show to a close but to be honest, if they had the energy and the rocket fuel, we could have watched the band on stage for another 2 hours with ease. A glorious set, worthy of the headline status, buoyed on by the impressive performances of the opening 2 acts as well.
The Last Stand
Into the Fire
Carolus Rex (Swedish version)
1916 (Motörhead cover)
Soldier of Heaven
The Red Baron
The Attack of the Dead Men
To Hell and Back