September 15, 2016 Interview – Joakim Brodén of Sabaton Talks The Last Stand
Perhaps one of the hardest working bands in Heavy Metal over the past five years has been Sweden’s Sabaton. Warriors of their craft, the band is now an international force that continues to grow with each passing tour and album. That said, just two years after the powerful Heroes album, Sabaton return with their eighth overall studio album, The Last Stand. Released on August 19th via Nuclear Blast Records, on the unique effort, each track depicts a different part of World History from selected wars that have occurred. A new challenge for Sabaton, their style remains consistent, and that is thanks due in part to original member Joakim Brodén. With Sabaton since their formation, Brodén, originally the band’s keyboardist, soon became the permanent voice fans know and love. Quite busy lately with the release of The Last Stand, and on their way to hit North America supporting Trivium, along with Huntress, Brodén managed to clear off a bit of time from his schedule to discuss their new album, the tour, his love for history, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Last you spoke with CrypticRock, Sabaton was in the midst of touring in support of 2014’s Heroes. Since then, you have continuously toured and kept Sabaton growing. Seeing the band’s rise in North America, what has the last couple of years been like?
Joakim Brodén – Hectic (laughs). That’s the first thing that comes to mind, but that’s the way we like it. I like touring in North America even though we are a much smaller band there. A good show for us in Europe is going to be 10,000 and a good show in the US or Canada is going to be 1,000 people. I love it, but we get different experiences every time. We usually say at the end of the festival summer, which is now, “Oh come on, get me some great club shows soon.” Then we can have the audience close and have some interaction. Then, at the end, ask me in March and April, I would probably say, “Oh come on, give me some bigger stages so we can really run and move.” So we can kind of have both eating and cooking at the same time.
CrypticRock.com – Well you certainly have been hard at work. You recently released the band’s eighth overall studio album, The Last Stand. The album seems to go through various different points in history. What was the research and preparation like for this new album?
Joakim Brodén – Well, we kind of shifted towards the subject of The Last Stand quite late actually. When we did that shift, we realized instantly we cannot stay within modern warfare anymore. Normally, except for 2102’s Carolus Rex of course, we stayed with 20th-century warfare. Then we thought about doing The Last Stand, which we had as an idea for quite some time. The first things that popped into our heads was they were all outside of the 20th century. Among the first ones was “Rorke’s Drift” in the Anglo-Zulu war. Then, of course, the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans were led by King Leonidas, the other Greek forces of thespians, and everyone’s talking about Spartans and getting all the glory. Already there, we are spread out quite a bit. Then we end up with the Battle of Shiroyama in Japan and while it’s not the last track of the album, but it’s historically the last event, and that’s 1988 the Soviet-Afghan war (“‘Hill 3234”). It’s almost 2,500 years of warfare on one record. Obviously, we are not covering it all though. That would take 200 albums, at least to take snippets of it all.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, there is certainly a lot of history to cover, and you do a fine job of it. The Last Stand keeps switching to different gears and years and different wars throughout. It is quite compelling.
Joakim Brodén – It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride. Both musically and theme wise in history and geographically, it changes quite faster.
CrypticRock.com – You had mentioned that the Heroes writing and recording process was like hell. Was the experience for The Last Stand more stress-free?
Joakim Brodén – It’s always hell to make an album at a certain point. Especially in the beginning and end of making it. Pretty much the main songwriter, and I usually start off on my own and before I have this one song, I think, “Yeah, I can do this.” I sometimes hate everything and nothing is working, but once I get going, it works out fine. Then at the end of the recording, I’m so tired of everything because I listened to it so many times and working on stuff. By that time, everything sounds like shit. Then, I have to listen to some of the old stuff that we did that’s supposed to be really good, and if that sounds like shit too, then we’re cool.
So it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship for me. The best and the worst thing to do is the writing in music. That said, I think we were a bit more free on this one for sure. Heroes was the first album with the new lineup and, giving that, I think, subconsciously, even though we didn’t know it at that time, we were pushing ourselves into the sound of a framework both instrumentally and songwriting wise so hard to prove that Sabaton is still Sabaton. While now, I feel more confident that we proved this. So now, let’s do it as we normally did it, but we also threw a few surprises in there.
CrypticRock.com – Well the transition with the lineups appeared rather seamless to listeners. That in mind, The Last Stand is certainly strong from start to finish. As you stated in the past, this lyrical style sort of happened by accident for the band. Now that it has become a signature, do you pride yourselves on not only writing kick-ass Metal songs, but ones with such historic value?
Joakim Brodén – Well, yes and no. To be honest, we’re not history professors. We’re not here to tell people right or wrong, but if someone gets interested in it and somebody wants to find out more, that’s an amazing bonus. I think there are so many fantastic stories in our past, so why are we making new ones while we are forgetting the old ones? To be honest, I know so many fantastic stories that are for real. Stories that have happened, where you don’t need to lie a single second. That would make more fantastic War movies than pretty much ninety percent of what Hollywood has come up with over the last few years.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Very true. Many Hollywood films have recently been terrible when it comes to the history genre. Inaccurate at times and fabricated for drama effect.
Joakim Brodén – They are all Super Heroes being rehashed nowadays anyway.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. You have visited North America quite a bit in the past few years. With Iced Earth in 2014, Amon Amarth in 2014 , and then with Nightwish in 2015. Now you are set to return to North America with Trivium. Do you have any surprises in store for audiences this time around?
Joakim Brodén – No, we’re still going to look like the Village People in camo pants. That’s not going to be a surprise. Of course, we’re going to play songs from the new album though. We have a short set so we are going to look into what we did before. I think we will focus on the must play songs and the new songs, those are the only ones we can fit into the set.
CrypticRock.com – That will be exciting to see, regardless of the abbreviated set. Going back to The Last Stand. Of all the tracks on the album, which ones are you most excited to perform live?
Joakim Brodén – Well, yes. It’s always special when you play a song in the country where it takes place or belongs. For example, on Sunday, August 28th, we played the song “Winged Hussars” for the first time and it was in Poland. Winged Hussars are the famous Polish cavalry and the command of John Sobieski, riding down the mountain and pretty much scaring the ultimate empire away from Vienna. I guess, in North America, would be the New York area to play “The Lost Battalion” because the 77th division was based on there if I remember correctly.
CrypticRock.com – That is in fact correct. Lots of research happened for each war after listening to The Last Stand. You have stated the ride has been filled with ups and downs, but overall has been an amazing experience. That being said, do you have a favorite personal experience from your time in Sabaton?
Joakim Brodén – There’s so many it’s hard to mention. Trust me, we had so many favorite moments and so many disastrous moments. Every time somebody asks, you have a stream of 100 answers coming at you and you can’t catch them all. It was a lot easier if you asked ten years ago because we haven’t experienced that much, but now, it’s really hard to pick just one. I guess you can say my favorite moments would be the times you can feel a bit of history connected to what you are doing.
We have a song, “40:1,” it’s about the Battle of Wizna in Poland. We played that particular battlefield exactly 70 years on the day after the battle happened. Those things are kind of hard to forget, and there’s several other situations like that. Like visiting Gallipoli, Turkey, that was really awesome, even though it’s 100 years later. When you walk around, it looks like the Garden of Eden. It’s beautiful with nature all around. Then you look down and see all of the trenches and you say, “Man, a lot of people really died here.” So, that’s not a beautiful moment, but a scary one.
CrypticRock.com – That is interesting, to play on the exact anniversary on a battle. That has to be surreal and sobering experience.
Joakim Brodén – Imagine how the people singing along felt and you can see it in their eyes. Earlier during the day, they made a reconstruction of the battle where they rebuild the bunk where they were supposed to hold the last defense. They had actual German IV Panzers, rented out for this re-enactment. We were standing there and were like, “Really?” Right after that, we had the show and went on the stage. That was a cool experience.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly sounds like it. In regards to Metal, Scandinavia is rich with Metal bands, ranging from all genres. In your opinion, what are some of the best acts coming out of the Scandinavian scene right now?
Joakim Brodén – I would say, at this moment, Sweden and Finland are keeping the flag high. The ones that aren’t as obvious, I would say from Sweden are bands such as Twilight Force. Crazy, crazy Metal. Imagine, Rhapsody of Fire and Blind Guardian plus on 200 bpms and even more production with the choirs and everything. Really extreme Power Metal, but it’s so well done, it’s impossible to be against it. From Finland there is Battle Beast. Classic ’80s Hard Rock, female-fronted band. She has more balls than eighty percent of the guys singing in Heavy Metal. If you like your old school stuff, like Accept and Judas Priest, on that, they do it justice well, all in that area.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, Battle Beast are quite good. The recommendations are duly noted! Our last question for you is pertaining to films. If you recall, CrypticRock covers both music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. Now, I know you said you are not much of a Horror fan, but you are a History buff. What are some new historical films you have enjoyed?
Joakim Brodén – I’ve only seen one (laughs), 2015’s Bridge of Spies. Steven Spielberg about the Cold War and the prisoner exchange going on there between agents and such. It’s not really War, but military history nonetheless. I haven’t seen that many films at all actually, now that I think of it. Obviously, I have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). I’ve also seen Documentaries. Eighty percent of what I watch is going to be either, when I want to rest my head, possibly a TV series of some kind, easy laughs or a Documentary is where I can follow up on what’s going on. It doesn’t matter if it’s history or Astro-Physics, but the best one I have seen so far is the one with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, coming out. Brilliant series.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds quite interest. What is it Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey all about?
Joakim Brodén – It’s a scientific series, anything about cosmology to evolution, all of these things bound together. It’s great.
CrypticRock.com – Sounds like it is worth checking out. Is there anything you want to add in regards to Sabaton?
Joakim Brodén – Yes, one thing. Be nice to our new guitar player, Tommy Johansson, coming out. It will be his first time in America, so be nice to the young man. We’ll see how he survives touring, but I know for a fact that he’s a fantastic singer, way, way better than me. Guitar wise, he’s fantastic. Looking forward to going on tour with him because he’s been a fan of Sabaton since 2005 actually, and he’s come to our concerts, and I’ve met him over the years. It’s fantastic to have somebody in the band who really cares about Sabaton.