"Crack of the lightning splitting the ground. Thunder is sounding, artillery pounding..."
Yes, SABATON are in town. Supported by the extremely scary Hell. I arrived too late to see their set and only caught the very tail end but there was enough red-eyed flagellating to give me nightmares and the audience seemed impressed!
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The KOKO is packed to the rafters and twenty minutes before the band are due on stage the crowd cannot wait. Chants of "Sabaton, Sabaton" burst out from random pockets of insanely passionate devotees of this awesome band. By the time the lights go down and 'The Final Countdown' overpowers the roaring masses we are ready to march into battle!
With the force of a battalion of Russian T-34's, Sabaton open with a triple punch of 'Ghost Division', 'Primo Victoria' and the Polish anthem '40-1'. In all honesty, short of throwing a Molotov cocktail into the moshpit, there's nothing more they could do to further ignite the crowd. It's brilliant. But also a bit worrying to hear all our favourites so soon.
After a stirring and powerful 'Cliffs Of Gallipoli', frontman Joakim Brodén raises the roof by announcing that as an end of tour treat, we can choose the set-list!
Despite the mohawk haircut, army fatigues, tattoos and mirror shades, Brodén is such an amiable and enthusiastic frontman that you can't help buying into his onstage banter. To keep it simple he's going to call out a couple of tracks and whichever we cheer loudest for, they play. Fantastic!
'Screaming Eagles', 'Coat Of Arms' and, for the first time in the UK, 'Talvisota', maintains the momentum before the band slow it down for 'The Price Of A Mile'.
There was probably an alternative offered but trust me - this was what everyone wanted! We deal in superlatives at MetalTalk.net, but Sabaton really do take the power ballad to a new level. I concede the band can be clichéd and I'm well aware this is a very niche segment of European Military Metal, but it works brilliantly live, with its theatrical crowd pleasing choruses and passionate stories of war.
It's a classic Metal Moment when the entire KOKO in unison sings of the futility of World War I trench warfare: “Thousands of feet march to the beat, it's an army on the march. Long way from home, paying the price in young man's lives. Thousands of feet march to the beat it's an army in despair. Knee deep in mud, stuck in the trench with no way out."
As a unit, Sabaton are at the top of their game. Like Iron Maiden they have a natural ability to draw the crowd in and make the evening feel personal. And with total control of their back catalogue it's incredible to see them effortlessly play track after track with no hesitation - until one moment when after a plea from the front row to play 'Union', Joakim has to admit they've forgotten how to play it!
"Yes, we suck!" he jokes. But luckily we're treated to 'Panzerkampf', 'Uprising', 'White Death' and - for the British, the Falklands anthem, 'Back In Control'.
After some more banter from Joakim, who downs a beer (but only because it's Christmas and the end of the tour!), it's heads down to the end. And what a finish!
Hailing from the Nordics, the evening wouldn't be complete without 'Swedish Pagans', quickly followed by 'Panzer Battalion', 'Purple Heart' and 'Attero Dominatus'.
How do you end a such a majestic gig? It's simple - break out the Metal Medley! Sabaton may walk through the fire of warfare with some challenging themes of death and destruction but they're true classic Metal fans at heart and behind their ferocious onstage attack there lurks a great sense of humour!
"This is a song about my penis", shouts Joakim before the ludicrous and melodic 'Metal Machine'. It's a glorious slab of dumb fun and the perfect close to a brilliant end of tour party and for me, one of 2011's greatest gigs.
Before leaving the stage they reveal the artwork for their new album, due in March 2012. Make a date in your diary because Sabaton will be out in full force next year and are not to be missed.
Johnny Churchill. MetalTalk.net
Jonathan Churchill. MetalTalk.net
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