How Sabaton Built a Heavy Metal Empire

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer 359 and was written before the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Sabaton had just launched a 17-date tour of Russia when nations began to crumble around them. If this was a war movie, there would have been a map of the world behind them covered in red lights that would gradually go out one by one.

In fact, Sabaton bassist Pär Sundström sat in a hotel bar every night glued to the news on his cellphone. It was March 2020 and countries around the world were closing their borders as a new contagious virus named Covid-19 swept the world. Yet here in Russia, life went on as normal.

“The government had said there was no virus in Russia, so if we had gone home, we would have had to face a ton of costs,” says Pär. “We were landing in new cities and the airports were full of fans. Everyone said, ‘Are you okay?’ »

As the man who basically runs Sabaton, Pär was the one people came to and asked what was going on. He couldn’t do much except tell them the tour had to go on. But, he added, any crew members who wanted to go home were free to go home with their full pay. “Everyone stayed,” he says proudly.

They had played nine dates before Russian authorities realized the seriousness of the situation, allowing the band to cancel the tour without financial penalty. But for Pär, it had been a stressful time – and things weren’t going to get any easier in the months that followed.

“The last two years have been anything but good,” he says. “We are seeing positive signs now, but we have also learned that things can still change even when they look positive.”

It’s late January 2022 and Pär is sitting in a Sabaton-branded gaming chair in his office in Cyprus. The shelves behind him hold everything from the recently released Sabaton board game to a Lego-style Sabaton model tank to a limited-edition Sabaton olive oil. It wouldn’t be surprising if he wore Sabaton underwear (yes, they do).

Pär has lived in Cyprus since late 2017. He says he’s never really felt at home in Falun, the town Sabaton trained in in 1999. “It was pretty lonely there,” says- he.
said. “He didn’t give me everything I wanted. I want to have the opportunity to go to a bar and meet nice people anytime. There was none of that in my home town.

He’s usually the band’s cheerleader, pitchman and business brains all rolled into one, but today the usually talkative musician seems rather quiet and a little brooding. This is
partly because he’s uncomfortable, as the sniffles that punctuate his conversation illustrate. “I was better,” he said. “I’ve had this fucking cold since October of last year and it’s not giving up.”

All the Covid tests he took came back negative, he says. “I went to the doctors, but they couldn’t find anything: ‘Sorry, man. You have a cold.'”

There may be another reason for his subdued mood beyond an underpowered immune system. In December 2021, his business partner and mentor Tomas Sunmo
died of “a combination of different things, including Covid, that his body couldn’t take anymore”. The two were a tight-knit team, says Pär. Management, marketing, licensing, agreements – they worked together.

“I have good friends and all that, but he was probably the guy who was closest to me,” he says. “For me, it’s as if I no longer know a bit where to find my place in the world.” He offers a sad shrug. “So I’m pretty lost.”

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Two thousand kilometers away, in his adopted city in Norway, Joakim Brodén seems all but lost. Even through a laptop speaker, Sabaton’s Mohawk leader blasts like a howitzer and laughs like a machine gun burst. Curiously, he’s a man who claims he’s “not an outgoing person.”

“Me on stage, it’s a kind of caricature of myself,” he insists. “Silly humor and all…it’s not an act, but I wouldn’t behave like that sober among strangers.”

This odd couple have been at the heart of Sabaton ever since they met at a party in their hometown of Falun in 1999. Pär and his bandmates at the time were looking for a keyboard player to add some epicness to their sound. . When they learned that Joakim had been playing the Hammond organ and the church since he was a child, they asked him to join them.

“They didn’t have any songs, so I wrote a few songs,” he said. “Then they wanted me to sing so they could hear the melody. They said, ‘You sing until we find a singer.’ There’s that crackle of laughter. “The lazy bastards.”

Ironically, given the partnership that would go on to make Sabaton one of the greatest Swedish metal bands in history, the pair weren’t particularly close at first. “I was closer to the other guys in the band, definitely,” says Pär. “My friends and I were a die-hard metal community, and Joakim was from outside of our little community.”

It didn’t take long for the two to realize that they worked well together. This was partly due to a common spirit of us against the world, something that was tested when their home label refused to release the album they recorded in 2002, Metallizerbecause “heavy metal was dead” (it finally came out in 2007).

But there was also the “Eureka!” share. moments, such as when Joakim has a “crazy idea” for the chorus arrangements on the title track of the 2005 debut album proper, Primo Victoria. “That’s when we both knew it was special,” the singer explains. “We knew we weren’t copying other bands.”

They endured a few tough times together, although the toughest one nearly ended the group. This happened in 2011, when the rest of Sabaton left while recording their breakthrough album, Carolus Rexleaving Joakim and Pär to hold the baby.

“It’s the closest I’ve come to quitting,” says Joakim. “I didn’t know if I had the energy to carry on when we parted ways with the former members.”

Pär had the opposite reaction. “I knew if we could overcome this, nothing would stop us,” he says. “I could see it.”

He says it with the conviction of someone who was not lacking in self-confidence at the time. “Of course not,” he said. “If I don’t believe in something, how can I get someone else to believe it?”

Sabaton by Sundström

(Image credit: Tim Tronckoe)

It’s not entirely true when Pär says the last two years haven’t been good. Like many bands, Sabaton took advantage of the unexpected downtime provided by the pandemic to work on a brand new album, The war to end all wars. A direct sequel to the 2019 WWI-themed blockbuster The Great Warit follows the same pattern as its predecessor: tales of heroism and tragedy delivered with the subtlety of an approaching tank regiment.

The decision to do what is effectively a sequel was partly artistic. They were left with stories from the previous album that they hadn’t had time to turn into songs, and fans then reached out to them with stories related to World War I that the band had never heard before. . There was probably a commercial reason too: The Great War took them to more arenas. But there was the question of the Great War the album and the tour that followed feeling like unfinished business.

“We felt we could do all these stories that we had to let go of, all the stories that we didn’t know, and we could turn the show into a World War I setting,” says Joakim. “How much of a four-year conflict can you cover in an album anyway?”

“We wanted to do something,” says Pär. “We had just had an involuntary vacation.”

Recently, Joakim sold his AC/DC pinball machine to make room in his home. He is an avid player, even taking part in the Swedish national championship a few times. “But I never got past 112th place,” he says. “I like pinball because it makes me forget everything.”

It’s a surprise that there was never a Sabaton pinball machine, although of course Joakim thought of it. “I have some notes and ideas about the kinds of things that could be done,” he says. “You could have tanks, submarines, different gadgets.”

If anyone can turn a few sketches of a pinball machine into reality, it’s Pär Sündström. While Joakim writes Sabaton’s music and both works on lyrics and concepts, it’s Pär who largely runs the business side of things, bringing in the wackiest ideas that other bands wouldn’t. – a desk-sized mouse pad! A festival! A YouTube History Channel! – to live.

This clear division of labor was a groove they settled into years ago. Yet Pär was careful to hide it early on, to the point of creating a separate email account under a different name to handle the group’s affairs.

“I was trying to portray myself as just a rock ‘n’ roll guy, hiding the part of me that was doing this other stuff,” he says. “But I feel like I no longer need to hide that I’m thinking about management or economics stuff. What’s the point of hiding? It doesn’t hurt the fans and it doesn’t benefit me.

The bassist admits he lives and breathes the band 24/7. “Sabaton is such a big part of my identity,” he says. “That’s how it turns my head emotionally. If things go well for Sabaton, I feel good. I don’t need any other hobby.

It was stressful during the lockdown, he says, having to cancel and reschedule tours (the March UK and European tour was a recent casualty, with continued uncertainty forcing
the group to postpone the dates). And now, with his business partner Tomas gone, much of the responsibility for running the operation falls on him alone.

“Going to the office and cleaning up everything that belonged to her was something I never asked for,” he says sadly. ” It was hard. I gathered the unfinished papers and spread them on his desk. It’s like, ‘How can I do this without you?’

But he knows he will get through it, thanks in particular to the partnership that is at the heart of Sabaton. “Even our parents are very close to each other,” says Pär. “They have the same kind of experience: you work hard, you don’t rely on others, you pull yourself together if something needs to be done. And so we both have that mentality in us as well.

It’s a mentality that has not only carried Sabaton this far, but has turned these tank-loving Swedes into one of modern metal’s most unlikely success stories. There have been obstacles, of course, and there will be more to come, but Sabaton will roll over them, relentless and unstoppable.

The War To End All Wars is now available via Napalm

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