Review : Sabaton – O2 Academy Bristol March 8th

I can’t think of two bands better for a cracking night out than Alestorm and Sabaton, so couldn’t pass up the opportunity to head up to Bristol to see them both together on a joint headline bill.

The opening act of the night, Swedish metallers Bloodbound, faced one small obstacle in their bid to get the crowd in the right mood, Sabaton’s set! Put a life sized tank on the stage, flank it with a tarpaulin covered large inflatable duck, and Bloodbound found themselves having to tell the crowd “we do have a drummer and keyboard player” as they were behind curtains to the side of the stage!

They used the tiny stage area left to put on a great show that had the early arrivers pumping the air and having a great time. There is a lot of Iron Maiden in their sound. Twin guitars trading licks and a full, almost orchestral sound that reminded my partner of some Nightwish tracks as well. The set opened with “Iron Throne” and some excellent vocals from the devil haired Patrik Johansson. Guitarists Tomas and Henrik Olsson complement each other beautifully, visually as well as sonically, and there is a cracking backing from Pelle Akerlund, Anders Broman and Frederik Bergh (the latter two pretty much invisible!). Their short set really worked. The crowd loved them and the end numbers; “Stormborn” and “Nosferatu” were superb. Well worth adding to your favourite playlist!

A short break, the tarpaulin removed and centre stage….a huge inflatable yellow duck and a drum kit made up of two steak and kidney pie tins….. Yep, party time! I confess I love Alestorm. No messing about, they are there to party and drink beer. The crowd comes prepared. In the pit I negotiate cutlasses, inflatable parrots, pirate hats and I try to focus on the stage rather than buxom pirate wenches at the front. These guys know what works and stick to it.

“Keelhauled” opened the show and the crowd went nuts. Chris Bowes manic grin and neck slung keyboard centre stage flanked by Bodor and Murdock on guitar and bass. Every song is accompanied by a beer (I have no idea how many these guys get through in a show). “Over the Seas”, “Shipwrecked” and “Nancy the Tavern Wench” all given an outing and enthusiastically received. Up above the crowd in the distance the drums of Peter Alcorn (Said steak and kidney pies) and keyboards of Elliot Vernon add depth to the sound. A full set rather than a support slot gives them plenty of time on stage but the energy increases rather than flags and by the time we are into “Drink” and “Rum” I am loving every second almost as much as they appear to be!

Once Alestorm leave (for a beer?) the techs remove the tarpaulins and there is “Audie”. How they have fitted a tank on the stage I have no idea. Mike stands feature guns and helmets, the stage is strewn with ammo boxes and other items of war – its Sabaton time! The lights go down, the tank lights come on and there they are in a blaze of guitars and camouflage. I have a big soft spot for Sabaton since seeing them at Download a few years back and the reason is simple (well, reasons, the obvious one is the music is wonderful!), they seem to have SO MUCH FUN!

Joakim skips onto the stage and seems genuinely surprised at the welcome. He constantly talks about how it is Tuesday and he thought it would be quiet and the reaction to one song prompts him to show the crowd the goose pimples on his arm. He smiles, jokes, banters and plays and you get the feeling this is a man who simply adores what he does. Around him is a blur of posing and posturing. One minute Pär Sundstrom is hoisting his bass towards the sky on the turret of the tank, the next Thobbe Englund and Chris Rörland are swapping places, head banging in synchrony or posing underneath Pär on the flanks of the war machine. High up in the gods is Hannes Van Dahl smacking out some superb drumbeats.

The set is a list of all that is great about Sabaton. The songs are all about history, glory and bravery, the sound is deliciously full and complex. Highlights? “Carolus Rex” is a monster of a song. “Attero Dominatus” simply sensational and “To Hell and Back” another killer. There is silliness too. At one point the band leave the stage but one member is stood there “unaware”. When he realises he has messed up, he launches into “always look on the bright side of life” which whilst no doubt being scripted, is also just fun! The band plays around with each other too. Play fighting, distracting and trying to catch each other out with false intros. They close out with encores of “Night Witches”, “Primo Victoria” and “Metal Crue” and as the lights come back up you can feel the excitement and satisfaction in the crowd.

Not often I would rate a gig this highly but three bands, all bang on form. 10/10

Review and photos by Rob Wilkins

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