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Interviews : “I don’t think we’ve had this much variation on a single album before” – An Interview With Joakim Brodén (Sabaton)

By on September 1, 2016

Sabaton 2016

Joakim Brodén – Sabaton

Sweden’s Sabaton have come a long way in the 17 years since their inception. Growing and maturing to become one of not only Sweden but the international power metal scene’s key performers on a whole, Sabaton’s unique sound and lyrical prowess (of which retells and honours the greatest and most tragic of wartime events throughout history) has made them a Euro staple in the metal world. Back in 2016 with their eighth studio album, The Last Stand (out now via Nuclear Blast Records), Metal Obsession had the recent pleasure to catch up with Sabaton frontman, Joakim Brodén, to discuss all things The Last Stand, ex-band mate Thobbe Englund, working with weapons to create unique notes and sounds, and the promise of an Australian tour in the near future!

Set to kick off a massive European world tour very soon, I asked Joakim if Sabaton had any plans in the works sometime next year to add in Australia?

“Yeah, we’re looking into it right now, actually. I can’t make any promises on exactly when, but there are plans to make sure we visit you guys before the next year is over.”

I asked whether they plan on outdoing themselves on their next tour? A full tank drum kit is hard to beat!

“Nah, a two tank drum kit is better! [laughs] Seriously though, we’re adding to the stage, so there’s going to be more coming. Especially for the European tour, we had to build another one. We have two tanks now because of logistical reasons. We’re playing one day in Finland, the next day in Spain, and there’s no way that tank can transport itself, so we have two now.”

The Last Stand shows quite a progression in the Sabaton’s music, serving as both a return to their roots with the heavier use of synths and keys, as well as implementing other elements that feel wholly fresh for the band, such as the bagpipes featured on “Blood of Bannockburn”. I asked what inspired the adoption of the new elements featured on this record?

“I don’t know, actually, but I think it’s an album that’s still a Sabaton album – it’s not totally revolutionary in any way. I think it’s kind of a look backwards and forwards at the same time. It’s not really what I think most people would expect of us to do right now. It’s kind of paying homage to what we did 10 years or 8 years ago, but at the same time as it’s looking into the future. We never planned it in any way. We just wanted to do a good album and write good songs. But when we did Heroes, obviously that was the first album with the new lineup, so we wanted everything to be very, very Sabaton, and very straight on; which made it a little bit adventurous than we did before. I guess some of that loss for experimentation made its way over to this album instead! [laughs] I mean, it’s not like we haven’t done strange stuff or odd stuff before, but I don’t think we’ve had this much variation on a single album before. This type of variation on an album, you can find it anywhere in our past, but we never had that much variation on a single album.”

Something I particularly love with The Last Stand is just the concept behind this album: of these deciding conflicts at different points in history. It is such a rich area. Seeing Sabaton venture further back into history – for the likes of the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Shiroyama – I asked Joakim what first prompted he and the band to want to explore this idea?

“I think it was when Par [Sundström] and I were sitting down to write lyrics for Carolus Rex or Heroes. I said to Par, ‘Maybe we should do this mini album sometime.’ You know, because when we did Heroes, we also wanted to do Commanders – another CD – next to it. Of course, in that case, to include guys like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Nuclear Blast, our label, said, ‘Oh no, fuck no, you don’t!’ [laughs] And then it was, ‘But you can do it about other commanders, like Alexander the Great!’ And, it’s like, really? Doing an album about commanders and not including these guys, that’s like having a fucking AC/DC album – a greatest hits –  without “Thunderstruck” and “Hells Bells”, you know? It can’t be done. At that point, we were discussing maybe we should an extra CD as bonus material, with these famous last stands. We had something else planned for the album at the beginning, but then Par and I talked and Par said why does The Last Stand have to be a mini CD? We can make it the main topic and theme for the album! Then we both kicked off on the idea, ‘Like, yeah, let’s do this!’

When we started, obviously, when you think about last stands, something like the Battle of Thermopylae is going to be one of the first that pops into your head; whether you’ve seen the movie 300 or not, you know? It’s one of the most iconic ones. We went, ‘Well, there’s been a movie behind it, maybe we should skip that, it’s not recent history.’ Then we thought about other last stands that popped into our minds: Rorke’s Drift… there was a whole bunch of these coming up. But of all the famous last stands we’d been discussing, none of them were in the 20th century.  So we thought let’s just scrap the thing of we’re sticking to modern warfare. Obviously we went out of that comfort zone when we did Carolus Rex, as well. I think people are quite understanding that when you are singing about the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae 480 BC, most people are willing to accept that what we are dealing with here are not hard facts but more myth and legend. Even though we know it happened and there was a king called Leonidas, how much else is true, well… [laughs]” – I then joked that you have to pretty much take Herodotus’ word for it and hope it was accurate enough – “Yeah! I mean, what can we do? We’ve got to go find the most reliable sources and kind of make our own interpretations, and go, ‘this is probably the most probable thing’. But you have to do a lot of singing about metaphors and singing figuratively.”

sabaton the last battle

‘The Last Stand’ – out now via Nuclear Blast Records

Are there any other battles you wish you could have added in, but couldn’t for lack of space? Such as the Alamo or the Battle of Saragarhi?

“Alamo was actually one of the first ones that came onto the table. But unfortunately we have fifty ideas and ten tracks! [laughs] It’s like with Heroes. I guess we could do two more Heroes albums and we could do two more Last Stands albums. We always let the music choose. We start off with the music and found the ideas separately, and sometimes we write them together, but usually they’re coming from different areas. It’s quite important to us that the music and the lyrics speak the same language, and deliver the same kind of emotional feeling. So many times we’ve actually had to take away many of the stories we really wanted to tell, and in this case, Alamo was one of them. I guess if we ever run out of ideas, we could always do Heroes 2, 3, 4, and Last Stands 2, 3, 4, but, as it seems right now, we’re not running out of military conflicts.”

Late last month it was announced that Thobbe Englund had decided to leave Sabaton, on amicable terms. After four years of providing great material to the music of Sabaton, I asked if Joakim was glad Thobbe was able to part ways on a high note with The Last Stand?

“Well, yes. It’s sad to see him go because we have seen him… not losing interest, he has given everything on stage. But we’ve seen him not be so socially a part of it, slowly but surely. We didn’t see it coming, but in retrospect, we should have seen it coming. [laughs] So when he told us a couple months back that he wanted to do something else, we said, ‘Well, is there anything we can say or do to reverse this decision?’ and he said, ‘Nah, sorry guys, I don’t want to be on the road 250-270 days a year.’ He loves to play with us and he loves the music, but if you listen to his solo stuff, he’s a bit more of an improvised based musician than we are as a band. So I kind of understand and I totally support him. I mean, if he doesn’t want to do it one hundred percent, he shouldn’t be doing it; so I kind of fucking love that he’s honest about. It was a ‘last stand’ and we didn’t plan for it to be, but obviously it became his last stand!” [laughs] – I said how it was great that he and the band were able to part ways on good terms, as not all bands have that – “I’m going to miss him as a person. It goes for most people that have been in the band. But I guess, you know, not everyone is as crazy as Par and I. We have a tendency to wear people out. [laughs] That’s the thing: for us, this is normal. We’ve done nothing else for the past ten years now. For us, it’s: tour, home for a short while, tour. And all these strange things that is kind of a strange life. We noticed over the years that everybody thinks that’s fun for a couple of years, but not everybody wants to live their life like that. Both Chris [Rörland] and Thobbe had been doing a few tours, but they hadn’t done it on any level like we do it in Sabaton. I guess that’s a risk we’re running again with Tommy [Johansson – their new guitarist/backing vocalist]. I mean, musically, with the vocals and the guitars, there’s no problem at all. He’s a fantastic player. But is he still going to want to do this in five years? We don’t know because there’s always a honeymoon period. Everyone always think it’s awesome to do heavy metal touring for two years. That’s the fucking honeymoon period, you know?” [laughs]

One of the songs on The Last Stand I looked to discuss in particular was “The Lost Battalion”. Based on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, what grabs me personally is how different a song this feels for Sabaton. Heavily layered with synths and Hammond keyboard work, it almost has a 80s flair to it; even in the mixing behind the drums. I asked Joakim to tell us a bit about the genesis behind this track’s production and its narrative lead-in with “Diary of an Unknown Soldier”?

“Well, it’s kind of interesting since it starts with the drums that isn’t drums. There is no drums on that track. People think it’s a kick drum, it’s a .50 calibre machine gun. What sounds like a snare drum is a 9mm handgun. And what you think is a hi-hat is a bayonet going into flesh. When I had the genesis of the song, I had this idea that you’ve got to be able to make a war machine drum kit with sounds of war. That became the idea of the song. I started out with the drums and started programming them, and they had to be played kind of differently. Because if you program or do that in the same way you’d play a drum kit, it’d all end up being a mess. So that’s why the hi-hat usually has a very different beat and is not always going at the same time as the kick drum or the snare. It’s rather filling out the gaps. With the melodies, I thought, ‘this is kind of strange and different, so the choirs and the bridge and the chorus should be very much Sabaton’. So I kind of made those very much Sabaton. Because the song was very different already.”

Any last words you’d like to offer your fans?

“Yes, thank you. We had a blast last time we came and I hope we can have as much fun when we return! I hope fully – and I’m pretty sure we can – to make it before 2017 is over.”

The Last Stand is available for purchase now in a variety of formats via Nuclear Blast Records.


Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.