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Tuesday 15 March 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sabaton (Live Review By Paul)

Sabaton, Alestorm & Bloodbound Tramshed Cardiff

Earlier in the day I'd been reading with interest a discussion on social media between a number of Northern Irish metal fans who were airing various views about the atmosphere at the Machine Head gig at The Limelight the night before. Whilst some of those engaged in the debate were insistent that you go to a gig to watch the band (true) and not the crowd, the counter argument was that a good gig is often fuelled by the enthusiasm of the crowd. A decent crowd can make an average band impressive whilst a flat audience can wipe even the best bands.

So, what's my rambling introduction got to do with a Sabaton review? Well, to put it simply, the crowd at one of the first real metal gigs at the very impressive Tramshed absolutely made the evening.

Arriving around 7.20, I found Swedish power metalled Bloodbound (6) were already getting stuck into their set and with a large percentage of the ticket holders also hitting the venue early, the atmosphere was impressive. There were burgeoning pits that increased in size and ferocity as the evening wore on, much fist pumping and a decent number of the crowd clearly familiar with the material from Bloodbound's six albums. Whilst their brand of power metal was pretty generic they were certainly mildly entertaining and in their role as opening band did a sterling job of increasing the temperature although the disappointing “scream for me Cardiff” from singer Patrik Johansson drew a similar response to that of  Wisdom, who opened for Sabaton on their 2012 visit to Cardiff and who threw in a poor cover of Wasted Years.  At least there was no Maiden cover in the Bloodbound set to drop them further points. The band certainly appeared genuine in their appreciation of the reaction and the band left the stage to a strong reception.

There was certainly a fair number of folk dressed in pirate garb in anticipation of the next band and it is fair to say that Alestorm (6) whipped up an absolute storm. With the venue close to capacity the temperature noticeably increased as the Perth lads hit the stage. With the crowd in quite frenzied mood, this was probably one of the easiest gigs Alestorm has ever had. I think they could have farted and the audience would have jumped up and down. I just don't get this band. What the fuck is pirate metal? Songs about pirates but yet you don't dress like pirates? What's that all about?  Having seen them several times I'm always amazed by the intensity they create amongst the crowd. To me they appear very much a one trick pony; Keelhauled, Ship Wrecked, Walk The Plank, Nancy The Tavern Wench. They all sound exactly the same with the sea shanty sound of Elliot Vernon’s (good pirate name there) ludicrously positioned keyboard and the keytar of Christopher Barnes grating after a few songs. Still, As I said, Alestorm generated a fervour rarely seen in these parts and the crowd responded wholeheartedly.

Having a co-headline tour means that the last band on doesn't get the full set length to ply their trade. Luckily, with a band like Sabaton (8) that doesn't really matter as the fly through their songs at speed anyway. There was a noticeable thinning of the numbers in the Tramshed by the time The Final Countdown blasted through the PA. Why the band insist on using this godawful song is beyond me but it really gets the crowd pumped. Crash, bang, lights, smoke and it was “Good evening Cardiff. We are Sabaton, we play heavy metal … and this … is …” and Ghost Division kicks in as the place went bat shit crazy. If ever a band is stuck with the same opener for life, it is Sabaton.

When the band changed two thirds of the line-up back in 2012, there were fears that the cohesive unit that existed and provides the driving energy within the band would dissipate. Not a chance and this slimmed down outfit are now on top form. Joakim Broden remains the main focal point but the band are really stepping up to the plate now. Few other outfits would ditch their singer to sing a song in their native tongue but yes, they did on Gott Mit Uns. Some of the banter and interplay is cheesy, but the crowd love it; never a chance they wouldn't play Swedish Pagans though the buoyancy of the crowd and the constant singing and chanting played its part in the skit.

No real surprises in the set list, apart from a bemusing bit of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, but some blistering renditions of old favourites like Midway, Uprising, The Art Of War and Attero Dominatus which maintained the pace throughout and linked well with newer material from Heroes including a blistering Resist And Bite and Soldier Of 3 Armies. It's easy to forget that underneath all the comedy and foolery Sabaton are actually a fine heavy metal band. The twin guitars of Chris Rorland and Thobbe Englund slice and shred whilst founder member Par Sundstrom (who never stops grinning) and drummer Hannes Van dahl provide a solid spine. It's also frightening to realise that these guys are only in their early to mid thirties. They've achieved a huge amount already.

One of the highlights of the evening was undoubtedly Carolus Rex which really had the crowd singing and demonstrating there devotion to the band. They closed with the same three as they did at BOA last summer; Night Witches, Primo Victoria and Metal Crue and brought a good evening to a close. With the band clearly amazed at the energy and excitement in the venue on a Monday evening, I was heartened that maybe the metal scene in South Wales does have a heartbeat after all. Well done to all who attended and put the effort in. It made the evening.

Footnote: one chap had made a huge amount of effort to look like Joachim. Camouflage trousers, kevlar waistcoat, sunglasses and even the haircut. He then proceeded to spend the entire evening at the back and unfortunately became a fascinating sight throughout the Sabaton set.. This was because at no point did he smile, applaud, sing or even raise an arm. I make no judgement …

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