Joakim Brodén – Sabaton ‘A lesson in Military History Heavy Metal’
On the cusp of Melbourne’s Download Festival virginity being spiritedly taken this coming March by a plethora of mammothly head-banging bands, Wall of Sound did a rather futuristic Skype interview with the exceptionally polite Joakim Brodén; thunderously-voiced front man of Swedish power metal heavyweights Sabaton. For the uninitiated, Sabaton deal exclusively in historical tales of war, glory, sacrifice, and honour with deft and inspiring results. It’s gargantuan, powerful, and uncompromising stuff from a band that remains entirely unique and exciting after 20-odd years in the business.
G’day Joakim! How’s it going and where are you calling from?
Hey Todd! Right now I am from Norway.
How’s Norway? I’m sure it’s quite cold at the minute.
Oh well, yeah. It’s going to be a bit colder than you at the moment (laughs).
Yeah, I think it got to about 28° Celsius today here (Melbourne, Australia).
Hah! We got about -10°, I guess (much laughter from everyone).
It’s crazy we can be on the same planet and have a 40° temperature difference.
Where I am is near Oslo, so quite far down. Right now we could go up to where Chris our guitar player was born and grew up, and there’ll be no sun for another month!
Yeah man. I heard a story once from this Norwegian guy about being chased by a moose through this pitch black forest after a big party. He climbed a tree to escape, but it’s not like he could just wait it out and see where the moose was, because the sun wasn’t coming up for another month.
To a lot of people in this world it sounds like a fairy tale, but to some people of the north it’s just another Saturday!
Well mercifully you’ve got some hot weather coming when you arrive here for Download Festival this coming March of 2018. I’m sure the novelty of travelling across the other side of the world to play with your band never wears off.
No way! Especially coming to Australia because we only came once and that was five years ago! I can honestly say I’m really, really looking forward to going to Australia for the people more than Download. That’s not to say I’m not excited by Download, that came out wrong (laughs). We’ve played Download in The UK, we’ve played festivals before, so that’s nothing gonna be that different, y’know? But it’s going to be great going to Australia, having a few beers, and seeing some people I haven’t seen in a while.
And you’ve got some side shows with Amon Amarth to look forward to as well. Are you guys mates?
Yeah, we toured with those guys across North America a few years ago. First of all, I really like the music, and secondly… they’re pretty much the nicest guys ever, so it’s going to be good to see those guys again.
Absolutely, sir. I watched those dudes play the opening slot at Soundwave a few years back, and they were having the time of their life even though it was so early; just drinking from a horn, burping, and laughing the whole time while pumping out awesome metal.
It’s good because their singer Johann loves craft beers, which you guys have heaps of down there.
While we’re on the subject of music, it must be said that yours is most awesome. As the grandson of a World War Two veteran who lived through countless situations of horror and glory in the worst parts of war, having that very human connection to it all can make listening to your music quite impactful and emotional. Do you hear that much good or bad from families or people affected by war and conflict?
We do. We’ve met quite a few veterans from World War Two over the years, and its… I don’t think what we do is anything special. I think it’s kind of sad that we’re the only ones doing it, no matter in which (musical) form it is. There are so many good stories – from a story point of view – as well as so many sacrifices made that it’s like, why the fuck are we making up new stories? There would be nothing wrong with making up new stories as long as you honoured the old ones first. I think it’s sad, this new thing that’s going on around the world right now is that we shouldn’t talk about these things.
We see a trend, y’know? We’ve been doing military history heavy metal for, like, a decade or more, and the trend now… I mean Germany, for instance, has always been a bit ‘Don’t mention the war’, but that’s a whole different thing. In the last two years really all over the world, I’ve seen this trend ‘Why are you singing about this?’, and ‘You’re glorifying war!’ It’s like, ‘Dude, have you read our lyrics? It’s actually quite the opposite!’ I guess there’s this times-are-changing-sweep-it-under-the-rug thing, but when we get those types of (loaded) questions, it’s never going to be a music magazine! It’s always the general media, those guys.
Do you get that negative press very often?
Oh yeah! That happens. Writers for national magazines, daily magazines with prints of millions have accused us of that. We’ve been accused of being Nazis, of being communists, of being Zionists – which doesn’t clash well with the Nazis accusations (laughs).
They should do as much research for their stories as you do for your lyrics, as it may make their facts a little straighter.
It’s not all from the same source, but if we go to say… Israel, for example, we have a song about the Six Day War. If anyone who doesn’t like Israel or a journalist finds something out, then they’re only going to see and hear things about the (Six Day War song) Counter Strike, and are going to call us Zionists, pro-Israeli occupationists, or whatever. On the other hand, if we play in Germany they might find a song we sing about Rommel the Panzer general, and (the media) will say we’re Nazis.
Does it light a fire under your ass to keep writing these songs when you hear such misguided assumptions? I’d be like “Fuck you, here’s another one!”
Well it’s even better now, because we’ve always looked for diversity, so when a stupid journalist does a mistake like that, we can line up songs about this, and this, and this, and this, and turn the question on them, like “What do YOU think about these things?”
Is there pressure to honour legacies properly when you’re writing songs? Is it a long process?
Yes, and no. It depends, actually, because some of it we already know. We have a song about D-Day called Primo Victoria, and we went totally on emotion, because the basic facts we already know from watching movies, and just having a genuine interest in history. While other times it’s watching documentaries and ploughing through book after book. Sometimes that’s seriously helpful, and other times it’s counterproductive.
I remember for the song Stalingrad I watched two movies, three documentaries, I read the Anthony Beevor book – great book, by the way – about it, and I had so much ‘Where do I start?’ There was no emotional connection to the song. Then I found on the internet a translation of a Russian soldier’s diary, only a few pages. That had some emotional stuff, so I used that instead. But I couldn’t have done that without knowing the basic facts around it.
It’s fast sometimes. I guess it’s because we have a genuine interest in history, and already have a lot of the facts we’d otherwise have to research.
You guys are the reason I know a heap of things about historical conflict I wouldn’t otherwise know.
Oh, trust me, there is so much we don’t know! Every country has its history. There are things you know from the top of your head I would have no idea about! English folk and history is easily assimilated by us, if you understand what I mean, because we speak the language. We can read about what happened to you guys, to the British, the Americans, the Canadians. But what about the not so known facts of Polish history? Brazilian history? For example, the battle of Gallipoli is something every Australian is gonna know how it happened or where it happened. I know people from different parts of the world who have no idea about it whatsoever. The more I learn – and I try to learn more every day – the more I realize I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve probably forgotten more than some people know though (laughs).
Away from the music and politics, I hear you’re quite the pinball player.
Yes! I’ve been to the Swedish championship and I was decent the first time, worst the second, and shit the third (much laughter all round). I had just rediscovered pinball after many years, just half a year before the Swedish championships, and I bought myself a Spider Man machine. I played that a lot. A lot! And I was writing music for an album, probably Heroes. I found out pinball was the perfect mind-cleaner; you’re sitting, writing, writing, writing, and you need to clear your head. If you watch a TV series, there’s a chance you’ll think about the music still, while with pinball you can’t think about anything else or that ball will drain!
I love pinball too. I knew there was a reason Heroes is my favourite album! Anyway, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking with you, Joakim. See you at Download and your massive sideshow with Amon Amarth.
Thanks man! Take care!
Words by Todd Gingell
Sabaton – 2018 Australian Tour Dates
March 24 @ Download Fest
March 25 @ Roundhouse, Sydney
(Supporting Amon Amarth)
March 27 @ The Tivoli, Brisbane
(Supporting Amon Amarth)