If there is one band that personifies hard work, dedication and "paying your dues" - it is Sweden's Sabaton. There was a point up to the just before the release of "Carolus Rex" in 2012 that I hadn't seen the band live, though they had toured the U.S. with Accept in 2011. Since that daring bold headline U.S. tour (with no support and a brand new lineup), I have seen Sabaton over 15 times. This statement may turn some heads, but outside of Iron Maiden there is no band on the planet that plays a better live show than Sabaton.
Sabaton set out to do what few other bands have done - conquer America. They were seemingly on every tour from Nightwish to Amon Amarth. Judging by the fact that the band is now headlining over the mighty Kreator, playing in larger and more prestigious venues and the increasingly bigger stage show, Sabaton has proven that 2018 truly marks the band's arrival as metal's next biggest thing. Correction: Sabaton has been metal's next biggest thing - America has finally caught up.
Heading to the venue, which sits at the base of one of Major League baseball's most hallowed stadiums (Fenway Park), your author was pretty excited about this lineup in general. The mix of Sabaton and Kreator was similar to Kreator's U.S. tour with Accept a few years back and the mix of power and thrash becomes increasingly more natural the more melodic Kreator becomes. Having seen both bands destroy stages aboard 70,000 Tons of Metal a month ago, I simply cannot miss any opportunity to see and cover two of my favorites. Add in Sweden's modern metal upstart CyHra, with the extremely talented Alex Landenburg and Jake E in its ranks, this night was going to shine.
Boston's House of Blues is a truly spectacular venue, with three levels and lots of room to roam around and take in the bands from different heights. There was just one fatal flaw...and that is the venue's ability to open doors on time and get people (the f**k) inside. I truly understand the need for safety in these trying times, but paying customers (such as myself) go to see all the bands, so the expectation of getting into the venue in less than two hours is pretty mandatory. Perhaps opening doors at 6:00pm instead of 6:30pm would have made all the difference in my missing CyHra completely by the time I made it through the full on metal detectors at the door. Needless to say...I was beyond pissed off, since one of the highlights of this night was seeing and supporting CyHra for the first time. I arrived in the pit just before Kreator took the stage and friends along the rail informed me that CyHra put on a great performance and sounded fantastic. I sure wish I could have witnessed that myself.
Kreator entered the stage shrouded in the usual darkness, red and blinding strobes. The striking presence of the undisputed kings of thrash metal, Kreator is defeated by none. Combining the veteran talent of band originals and mainstays Mille Petrozza (v/g) and Jürgen "Ventor" Reil (d) with long time members Christian "Speesy" Giesler (b) and Sami Yli-Sirniö (g), Kreator continually proves that age is just a number. They sound better and better on each time I witness them.
The band's latest album "Gods of Violence" took CROM's Album of the Year and "Army of Storms" took Song of the Year in 2017 (full results here). Kreator continues to reign as the world's best thrash band, but in recent times have become incredibly melodic, sounding distinctly Iron Maiden-ish (check out "When Death Becomes My Light"). This melody has keep the band so relevant in times where an old school thrash revival seeks to pull it all back into 1985 (not that there is anything wrong with that sound, mind you).
The band charged forth with a mix of new and old - teasing latest album favorite "Army of Storms" but going straight into "Enemy of God" just like the last three times I've seen them. Some day I hope "Army of Storms" is played in full with all its fury (though I'd be forced to unleash my own elephantine fury, which may lead my sudden death). Represented from the latest was "Gods of Violence," "Satan is Real," "Hail to the Hordes" and "Totalitarian Terror." The classics were represented with "Pleasure to Kill," "People of the Lie" and the always present "Flag of Hate."
Kreator always proves to be one of the world's best live bands in terms of pure energy and unadulterated metal. The band doesn't need elaborate stage shows - the music speaks for itself. Circle pits, chants, metal horns - the crowd cannot ever stand still when Mille and company take the stage and the band feeds off the aggression of the crowd, an aggression that rarely results in actual pain, but a release of the frustrations of daily life. Kreator is a band that absorbs the world in its sickening state and spits out the anger and anguish of a human race in desperate need to let off a little steam without killing, despite what an outsider may think watching. Kreator confronts hate with hate, power with power, strength with strength - but we metalheads know one thing: when the band leaves the stage we feel like we've been put through an intense workout resulting in physical pain, but now have the psychological strength to take on what real life throws at us.
Sabaton was next to hit the stage, and as mentioned before - have truly arrived. Teaming up with World of Tanks, the band has an army of buses and tractor trailers that scream war games. The band brought along the ultimate show enhancer - a giant video screen that can adequately portray the history behind this great band's lyrical repertoire.
It is one thing to preach history to a bunch of weary and war torn (after Kreator) metalheads - but its another to show it off in full color. It was as if I never saw Sabaton the previous 15 or so times before - and this experience that was filled with pictures, video, words, lyrics as the band held history class in a way that truly brought it to life.
Just before the usual entry of "Ghost Division" - the speakers blared the band's cover of the Bolland & Bolland classic "In the Army Now." Animated tank clips provided by the World of Tanks video game blazed across the screen behind Hannes van Dahl's drumset before he entered to the band's blazing logo and now iconic opening song.
The crowd was at a fever pitch - chanting the band's name and singing every song. I was truly witnessing history and not just from the band's music. Watching a North American crowd get this excited for a band I adore not named Iron Maiden was historical. Watching this band grow, especially in the last six years, from a 1/3 full venue in the upstairs of the Palladium in Worcester, MA to a point where they are knocking on the door's of our largest arenas is truly something special.
Having been a long time fan of the band, I can say that the current lineup just exudes happiness. If these guys are faking their excitement and smiles in every performance, then they are the greatest poker players on earth. The addition of ReinXeed's Tommy Johansson after the departure of Thobbie Englund not only gives the band a brilliant guitar player along side Chris Rörland, but an incredible voice (which I can only hope to hear more as time moves on). Here is a guy that drips with such positivity that I cannot help but want to be around him hoping it can wipe away any shred of misery. Watching him as happy as he is only makes me happy and I'm proud to call him a friend.
The wonderful video screen truly made songs like "The Final Solution" and "Primo Victoria" as moving and emotional as they are meant to convey. The solo flame behind van Dahl stands as the memory of one of mankind's most shameful acts - one that must never again come to pass.
The 17 song set was filled with stories of heroes and tragedy, ranging from the forgotten and alone Poles, who revolted against Nazi occupation in World War II ("Uprising"), the failure of allies to secure a sea route to Russia in World War I ("Cliffs of Gallipoli"), the siege of Vienna in 1683 when 'The Holy League' arrived just in time to stave off the Ottoman Empire ("Winged Hussars"), the last stand of 300 Spartans as they fought and killed many in the invaders from Persia ("Sparta") and the story of the most decorated U.S. soldier Audie Murphy, who not only fought on the physical battlefield, but the battlefield of the mind with PTSD ("To Hell and Back").
This was a glorious night of metal and Boston did not disappoint, producing an audience that made the band proud (and a little shocked). Sabaton has come into its own - they are taking America, not with guns and weapons, but the power of history and heavy metal.