Home Gigs Gig Review : Sabaton – The Tour To End All Tours Special guests Babymetal and Lordi Cardiff International Arena

Gig Review : Sabaton – The Tour To End All Tours Special guests Babymetal and Lordi Cardiff International Arena

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

It’s been a while coming to actual fruition for ‘The Tour To End All Tours, but the time has now arrived for the prodigious bulk of Swedish power metallers Sabaton to land in town.

Their particular cathedral of heavy metal has constructed its altar within the cavernous environs of the Cardiff International Arena. Queues of eager, devoted fans snake about the city streets of Caerdydd hours ahead of doors awaiting their opportunity to worship.

It’s a sold-out gig and with 7,500 in the assembled ranks there’s a tangible buzz in this corner of the Welsh capital. Justifiably so as Sabaton have ensured an entire evening of spectacle with a canny choice of support acts. They’ve brought the might of fellow Scandinavians Lordi to the arena alongside the Asian polished dance metal delights of Babymetal. This is, make no bones about it, a triple-billing that bears the hallmark of an industrious quality.

A bell dolefully chimes, metal striking upon metal, as the mountaintop halls send out their darkened call. Rampant helldogs descend from the moorland lairs. Leaving their granitic homelands behind them they swoop in for the kill with fire emanating from their flared nostrils. Their overlord Mr. Lordi strides forth, a character larger than life itself with his four lieutenants about him. Legendary Finnish shock heavy metal force Lordi have landed, no prisoners will be taken. This will be a death or glory moment.

The 2006 Eurovision winners are rapidly into their pounding parade kicking off with the latest single, and album opener, ‘Dead Again Jayne’ rocking to the very core. Hella’s harem scarem keys skitter hither and tither before the combined forces of drummer Mana, bassist Hiisi and axeman Kone flood over the precipice. Mr. Lordi, the bastard offspring of the Duke of Demons and Angel the Troll, unleashes his supernatural strengths, necromancy afoot. Clawed hands stretch skywards.

There’s tribute to Kiss, Twisted Sister, Alice Cooper, and their kin but this is undeniably a new tack. The anthemic banquet of their first ever single ‘Would You Love A Monsterman?’ possesses a biomechanical vehemence and more hook than an entire decade’s subscription to the Angling Times. Out front Mr. Lordi is an engaging, charismatic presence. “So, you decided to spend your Sunday with Swedish metal and Japanese rock, but you got us for forty minutes” he quips in self-deprecation. Judging by the approving roars, just two tracks in, all gathered herein are more than content.

The predator’s fury is set loose as the ranks offensively break forth. The living doll Hella’s keys swirl enhancing the kinetic of ‘Thing In The Cage’ that is driven by the six-string precision of Kone. Under the incantation’s scripture the scene reddens in bloodlust hues ahead of the infectious roar of ‘Blood Red Sandman.’ Raising his horns Mr. Lordi howls an Ozzy-like soul-curdling scream.

Fists punch the air, and the assembled horde sings along entranced under the wizardry, the overlord is moved. “Aww you are way too kind” he dismisses before enquiring as to the crowd’s wellbeing. Completing a 1-2-3 trading between new and old ‘Lucyfer Prime Evil’ – off the very recently released ‘Screem Writers Guild’ – precedes, most aptly, the bone-white rocking of ‘Devil Is a Loser.’ Stone gargoyles, on the granular wing, cackle in satanic timbre as bloody teeth are bared in the moonlight of the killed. Lordi are setting a high bar with a skeletal army ready to strike, curved swords strike demonic metallic shields afore the battle to commence.

“Back to the 2006 album, we’ll play that one but not just yet” Mr. Lordi playfully teases the maxed-out arena. The Arockalypse is upon us as Lordi ask ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ Completely under the metalliferous conjuration the crowd, emboldened by the powerage, chant “Daddy” atop the fiery undercurrent of Cooper and Kiss. Contagion levels threaten to go through the roof as the keyed intro of ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ elicits a thundering roar.

The rock’s about to roll as the moon rises, demons and angels as one land. The assembled generate an electricity that surges as Lordi raises a double headed battle axe to bring down the metaphorical curtain. To profound effect the horror of King and Herbert has been alloyed in dramatic fashion with the high fantasy of Tolkien and Pratchett with a good dash of the latter’s larger than life humour.

In their first batch of international shows for over three years kawaii metal act Babymetal bring their fusion of heavy metal and Japanese idol genres to Cardiff. Their band, identities hidden behind their cult-like masks, assemble quietly upon the darkened stage as an ecclesiastical-esque intro reverberates about the cloisters. A Churchillian monologue pervades the darkness.

With a burst of red backlighting the drummer bursts into an expeditious beat, deftly joined by the guitarist who more than equals the machine gun percussive forces. The crowd chant as they greet their beloved trio of lead singers who comprise the nucleus of the group. Lead singer Su-metal takes to the centre with her compatriots Moametal and Mumometal to her flanks. ‘Babymetal Death’ – off the eponymous debut album – sets the tone. The band, totally anonymous, are the hard-hitting backdrop for the slick choreography afront.

The fans out in the arena clearly love it, chanting each letter of the band’s name in absolute rapture but under the lifeblood red lighting I’m left a touch bewildered. It’s an alloying of styles that is, to me, somewhat alien. Clearly a generational matter as the younger elements of the arena rage in a glorious fury during the freneticism of ‘Megitsune.’ Metal is evolving and this is right there up front and centre of the maelstrom.

‘Pa Pa Ya’ is infectious to the point of face-melting whilst the coupling of the bouncing ‘Metalizm’ and the stand-out ethereal ‘Monochrome’ constructs the set upwards to a blinding crescendo. The latter sees phone lights abound about the CIA, a stirring sight.

A spacecraft descends to earth, its occupants demanding cocoa-based confectionery to a rapid-fire despatch. ‘Gimme Chocolate’ pleases in all quarters whilst the blues-fringed saccharine-fuelled metal of ‘Road Of Resistance’ is faster than the bullet from the gun. With high-kicking dancing wrapping up kinetically enthused 40 minutes that goes down an absolute storm with the overwhelming majority of the CIA crowd.

It’s evident that the ranks of Babymetal fans, to their absolute credit, are fiercely loyal in their adoration and support of their band, rightfully so. This is the sunrise of a brand-new day in terms of musical crossovers which is to be commended but their set has taken myself well beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone. I’ve been challenged here this evening and the ball is now firmly on my side of the court. Babymetal have delivered.

Branded ‘The Tour To End All Tours’ this moment has been over two decades in the coming for Swedish titans Sabaton. It’s been an ever-ascending journey for these ground-breaking power metal exponents who hail from the copper town of Falun. Multiple Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards and nominations for the Swedish equivalent of the Grammys along with the charting success of 2019’s ‘The Great War’ and its partner ‘The War To End All Wars’, from last year, bears an abiding testament to their continuing rise.

For the third consecutive date the opening pyrotechnical blast ‘appears’ to go awry. There’s a frantic scurrying of tech staff and the scene is set with the stage darkening once more and the intro – “Sun Tzu Says the art of war is of vital importance to the State” – sets the scene perfectly. If the first barrage was impressive then the second, to which Sabaton storm forwards, is eye-wateringly and ear-shatteringly detonative, smoke bombs add further to the spectacle. Surely that was felt in Swansea and Newport, a truly seismic event.

Blink and you’re guaranteed to miss something on-stage; the lighting rig is on overtime and the PA is driven to the max. Sabaton hit the stage, metaphorical hooves thundering and sparking, at full pelt delivering the rousing ‘Ghost Division.’ Rommel’s Panzer Elite roll as powerhouse frontman Joakim Broden, centre-stage, is joined by bassist Par Sundstrom and six-stringers Chris Rorland and Tommy Johansson to rally the CIA ensemble. Drummer Hannes Van Dahl is seemingly unphased as the tank, upon which he and his kit sit atop, fires a salvo as the stage erupts.

Sabaton, a keen eye upon history, continue their examination of WWII from the Axis perspective with the 50,000 tons of steel that comprised the bulk of the ‘Bismarck’ – once the pride of the Kriegsmarine – despatched to devasting effect. Broden loses his place momentarily, distracted as Sundstrom and Rorland proceed to stick confetti to his forehead. Chuckling the vocalist regains his composure as all around flames erupt as Sabaton do their level best to toast one and all.

It’s a relentless metallic tableau, bells mournfully toll their Hemingway-esque warning as the twin guitars appear atop platforms either side of the stage for pounding punch of ‘The Last Stand’ – a relating of the heroic backs-to-the-walls efforts of the Swiss Guard during the Sack Of Rome in 1527.

Broden appears awestruck “Wow what a welcome on a Sunday!” jokingly adding “You must have been exhausted being in church all day!” The sheer pace and precision of ‘Into The Fire,’ exploring the horrors of the usage of napalm in the Vietnam conflict, quite literally turns up the thermals.

Cumulonimbus clouds, clustered along a squall line, herald ‘Carolus Rex.’ “Alright let’s test your Swedish!” challenges Broden. Exuding nationalistic pride Sabaton virtuously despatch a metallic tribute to the 5th King of the Swedish Empire. Most appropriately the arched tour title is lit in alternating yellow and blue.

The opening segment of the set draws to a close, unnoticed by most, by the cavalry charge of ‘Winged Hussars’ brandishing a touch of Iron Maiden melded with Steve Vai. The remainder of the main body turns its attention towards WW1 – the salient subject matter of the band’s latest two albums. As a shadowy figure fires a pistol so we’re jerked back to 1914 and the declaration of war that followed the assignation of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. ‘Sarajevo’ resounds before the Imperial ‘Stormtroopers’ march offensively. Atop the watch towers shock troops scorch all before them with their potent flamethrowers, the brutality of war never diminishes.

Released, as a single to celebrate the ‘Stories From The Western Front EP, Sabaton’s emotively charged rendition of Motorhead’s ‘1916’ brings the roof down; there’s a rumour bouncing about the arena that long-standing Motorhead guitarist is in tonight. If he is, and I suspect he is, then he’ll approve wholeheartedly as Johansson nails the solo whilst Van Dahl and Sundstrom, all the while, lay down a fearsome rhythm.

A chill suddenly descends as snow begins to blow, high from the mountain peaks ‘Soldier Of Heaven’ brings forth the depths of the raging blizzard in glorious technicolour with an uprising chorus. With flames emanating from the tank, and about the stage, the broadside of ‘Dreadnought’ inflicts a mighty strength from within. A lone sailor salutes as blues-inflicted fretwork from Johannson launches horizonward.

For ‘The Red Baron’ the keys are housed in a distinctive red Fokker triplane; swooping and rolling with a deadly strike Sabaton wreak trademark intensity upon the sold-out CIA. The abominable abhorrence of poison gas is explored in the swirling clouds of ‘Father’ and ‘The Attack of the Dead Men.’ The former a dark exploration of the contradictions of Fritz Haber – a Nobel Prize winner for his invention of the Haber-Bosch process but also considered the ‘father of chemical warfare.’ Thought provoking matter as a white coated scientist leads a team wheeling out the laboratory equipment.

Donning gas masks Sabaton emerge from the murky effluvium for ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ – a narration of the abominable suffering of the Russian defenders at Osowiec Fortress who were attacked by German forces utilising chlorine and bromine. As the snow falls, once more, so the heinous acts of war are balanced with the telling of ‘Christmas Truce’ introduced by Sundstrom who relates to playing in front of just 24 people in TJ’s, Newport before gathering the arena to partake with this stunning set closer. Mobile phones spectacularly light up the arena in serene respect.

After an hour and a quarter more action packed than a Hollywood blockbuster Sabaton take the deserved roar of 7,500 souls rammed into the CIA before slipping off stage to gather their collective senses. This has been theatrical heavy metal production of the highest order, but Sabaton are not finished just yet.

Regaining the stage just a couple of minutes later the quintet explosively power into the frenetic fury of the titular ‘Primo Victoria’ before letting loose rampaging ‘Swedish Pagans.’ Band and crowd, alike unified as one, as the encore builds to the finale to end all finales with ‘To Hell and Back.’ In front of me a young child is taken to his father’s shoulders under the magic spell of awe, the very epitome of rock n’ roll as he clenches his fist and triumphantly punches the air.

It’s been a spectacular evening with three bands of widely varying sounds and different nationalities but with one common thread; that of further enhancing their mellifluous output with a dramaturgic magnification. For those of a cynical disposition this can be easily dismissed as gimmickry to bolster a weak product. However, in the humblest of my opinions, this couldn’t be further from the actual truth. What we have witnessed this evening – whether it be wondrous costumes, super-polished choreography, or sheer aptitude in stage props – is the elevation of quality music to a Broadway or West End scale. Mountains are scaled and the flag of success is nailed to the peak.

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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