Swedish power metallers Sabaton came back to NYC for the second time in 6 months, this time on their first North American headline tour in 5 years, and did so in style, bringing Leaves’ Eyes and Battle Beast with them to rock Playstation Theater for a combined 3 hours or so.
I first saw Sabaton just over 2 years ago when they were touring as support for Nightwish, on opening night of the Endless Forms Most Beautiful tour at Hammerstein Ballroom here in NYC, long before I was photographing concerts. I had never heard of Sabaton before that night and hadn’t the slightest clue who they were until Joakim Broden & company hit the stage, huffed and puffed and blew the roof off the house, instantly cementing them as one of my favorite bands who I haven’t stopped listening to since. Then, back in October while the band was supporting Trivium, I came away massively disappointed because – despite being approved to cover the show – Trivium’s tour manager closed the photo pit before Sabaton’s set, and instead of shooting the band, I was instead treated to a free Sabaton show and some bad whiskey. Finally, after the extra half-year wait, I was able to cover Sabaton proper, at a better venue, on their terms, and WITH A FUCKING TANK!
The whole thing kicked off with Battle Beast, who I had only vaguely heard of and never really listened to up until showtime. And that was a mistake, as Noora Louhimo and the boys proceeded to blow me away from note one of Straight to the Heart, all the way through the closing note of Beyond the Burning Skies. Frontwoman Noora Louhimo has a metal version of 1980’s Pat Benatar/Lita Ford going on with her voice, and it’s absolutely incredible over power metal riffs with some added raspy growls for her part. Being an opening act making their first trip stateside, Battle Beast were given 7 songs and about 30 minutes to make an impression on someone who had never heard their music, and they most definitely left their mark on the NYC crowd – and me – in a short amount of time. The band as a whole is obscenely talented, too talented, almost, for this to be their first trip to the US after 3 albums and countless European shows played, but what I keep coming back to is Louhimo’s absurdly powerful voice, which was done a disservice live due to pitifully low mic levels for the first half of the band’s set, and that didn’t improve much after.
I’ll say this, though – her voice is nothing short of astonishing. She’s got unbelievable power and range combined with the grace of the early 80’s icons Benatar & Ford, and that makes her, dare I say, quite possibly my favorite female metal singer. Period. I’m note sure how this is Battle Beast’s first US trip, but if you’re going to a Sabaton show on this tour, I strongly urge you to get there early, camp out a spot near the stage and rock with this band. They’re easily the best opening act I’ve seen since The Answer opened for AC/DC in 2008.
Up next was Leaves’ Eyes, who I’ve liked for a long, long time but didn’t get a chance to see with Sonata Arctica last year and had yet to hear with new lead singer Elina Siirala. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the change in vocals, and to be honest, I’m still not really sure what to make of the whole thing. Siirala’s voice is there, as is the band’s chemistry, but she’s not Liv Kristine and the stage presence isn’t the same. To be fair, this is the band’s first run with Siirala and since they haven’t released an album with her yet, she’ll take some getting used to for fans and this tour is really meant to introduce her as the new lead singer. I’m the same guy who wouldn’t accept Floor Jansen when she first joined Nightwish – until she opened her mouth on Dark Chest of Wonders on the band’s live bluray from their Wacken Open Air show a few years back – and now she’s one of my favorites and I can’t imagine Nightwish without her. I’m hoping this plays out much the same way for Leaves’ Eyes, but for the time being, I’ll leave the jury out on this one.
And then, finally, it was time for SABATON! Oh man, what can I say about a band I’ve now seen three times – as many as Nightwish and Motley Crue and one more than my all-time favorite AC/DC – that isn’t being said in every other review from not only this show, but opening night in Philly and every stop in Europe on The Last Tour? If you’ve been to a Sabaton show, you know what to expect, and since I’d seen them twice prior, I knew exactly what I was in for. This time, though, it was different. Sabaton were finally headlining North America again and playing a full 90 minute instead of being given the hook after an hour, and this particular stage was big enough for the band to bring along one of their tanks! As the only show on the tour getting the tank, I feel like I got to be part of something special that no other city will get to experience on this run.
Like I said, if you’ve seen Sabaton once you know what’s coming. The minute-and-a-half March to War leading right into Ghost Division, which they always open with. From there they’d run through many of their other hits – The Art of War, Soldier of 3 Armies, Screaming Eagles, Carolus Rex, the Swedish version of A Lifetime of War, Resist and Bite, and Primo Victoria. Along with the usual suspects, 6 songs from The Last Stand were featured on the setlist – Blood of Bannockburn, Sparta, The Last Stand, The Lost Batallion, Winged Hussars and Shiroyama in the “encore” – but we all know Sabaton doesn’t do a true encore, they just run through song after song and occasionally Joakim will work the crowd like a champ, and that’s fine, it keeps the energy level up and keeps everyone into the show.
I’ll admit I was slightly disappointed that the setlist lacked Gott Mit Uns, which they were playing on the European leg and which I’d have much preferred to Union, and Sabaton has seemingly stopped playing Metal Crue live, which closed their Hammerstein set 2 years ago. I was really hoping I’d get to hear both of those live on this run, but such is life when you see a band with so many good songs to choose from. But even without those two songs, the 18-tune set was nothing short of epic, so much so that I did the one thing I never do when covering a show – forced my way into the mosh pit with a backpack full of expensive gear – just to be closer to the action. Sabaton wrapped the whole thing up with To Hell and Back, bowed out gracefully and presumably went to drink beer somewhere nearby before making their way to the next city to kick ass someplace else.
Two years doesn’t seem like a long time, but after seeing Sabaton as support twice, two years is far too long to wait for them to headline, and I can only hope the packed houses on this run will have them back in the states on another headline tour in the not too distant future. Their production is second-to-none, and their on-stage antics are a sight to behold. You can tell they’re having a blast on stage and genuinely love what they’re doing, and the fans love seeing them. How long it’ll be before they headline here again depends entirely on the success of this tour, and from what I saw on a Friday night in NYC, this one’s gonna be a massive achievement.
This is normally the part where I tell you to go see Sabaton, but I’m not gonna say that here. If you’re reading this, you’re already a Sabaton fan, so you already know to go see them. I don’t need to tell you that. What I do need to emphasize is that if you’re going to a show on this tour, make sure you see Battle Beast. They deserve your attention and they really do kick ass. As far as Sabaton goes, there really isn’t much else to say. They’re so good live, I really don’t have any other words to describe their headline show besides holy shit.
Check out our photo gallery below, and the full setlist under that.
The Art of War
Blood of Bannockburn
Soldier of 3 Armies
The Last Stand
Union (Slopes of St. Benedict)
A Lifetime of War
Resist and Bite
The Lost Battalion
To Hell and Back