Sabaton + Apocalyptica + Amaranthe
@ SSE Wembley Arena, London
8th February 2020
Review by Jack Merry
Photography by Graham Hilling
Veteran power metal outfit SABATON brought their juggernaut ‘Great Tour’ to London’s Wembley Arena as the only UK headline date of 2020 for an unmissable night of theatricality, bombast and heavy metal prowess.
Fresh from the release of the stellar “The Great War” album in 2019 and an extensive North American tour, SABATON have picked Finnish classical rockers APOCALYPTICA and Swedish heavy metallers AMARANTHE as support acts on the current European leg of the tour. On a cold Saturday evening, SABATON and company took over Wembley Arena for a sold-out performance of melodic power metal unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Kicking off proceedings were AMARANTHE (4/5), a Swedish group I was only vaguely aware of prior to the show, having heard just ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ and ‘Digital World’ sometime late last year.
With a triple vocal attack, the group have an interesting dynamic in which the three vocalists can perform male and female clean vocals, as well as growling from another male singer.
Elize Ryd is the standout here, as her operatic vocal a’la NIGHTWISH pierces through the excellent mix, and her talent is undeniable, especially on tracks such as ‘Amaranthine’ and ‘Call Out My Name’.
With a fantastic pulsating light show, AMARANTHE deliver a mind-altering, genre-bending set worthy of a headline act. Thumping bass parts gel with thunderous drums as the vocalists often take part in synchronized head-banging. Definitely a band to catch on their next UK tour, whenever that might be.
Helix intro (tape) / Maximise / Digital World / Hunger / Amaranthine / GG6 / Helix / That Song / Call Out My Name / The Nexus / Drop Dead Cynical
After a short interval, cello-metal act APOCALYPTICA (2/5) were up next. I’ve been aware of them for a while, and despite being unbelievably talented and good at what they do, what they do isn’t my cup of tea at all.
The group started in the late nineties by covering classic METALLICA tracks and converting them into classical forms, most famous being their rendition of ‘Nothing Else Matters.’
The opening three songs of the set were all instrumentals, two of which hail from the newest album “Cell-O”, released in January 2020, and despite all of the cello solos drenched in wah effect and distortion, they couldn’t hold the crowd’s interest the entire time and people started getting restless, at least where I was seated.
An admittedly gorgeous cover of RAMMSTEIN’s ‘Seemann’ was unveiled, with a guest appearance from AMARANTHE vocalist Elize Ryd, and she stayed for a powerful version of ‘I Don’t Care’, which has previously featured THREE DAYS GRACE frontman Adam Gontier.
The two METALLICA covers, ‘Seek & Destroy’ and the aforementioned ‘Nothing Else Matters’, get the biggest audience reaction as melodies are sung back to the band by the building crowds. My main gripe with APOCALYPTICA is I’m still not convinced they’re anything more than a gimmick. There were some interesting moments, but they were few and far between.
Ashes of the Modern World / Path / En Route to Mayhem / Seemann (feat. Elize Ryd, Rammstein cover) / I Don’t Care (feat. Elize Ryd) / Grace / Seek & Destroy (Metallica cover) / Hall of the Mountain King (Edvard Grieg cover, including Thunderstruck and La Mareillaise snippets) / Nothing Else Matters (Metallica cover)
And finally, SABATON (5/5) take the stage. The lights dimmed, and a thunderous roar erupted across the arena as instrumental versions of ‘In Flanders Fields’ and ‘Sun Tzu Says’ play over the speakers.
The curtain falls, and the band explode into life on stage, with the heavy-hitting ‘Ghost Division’ and its grinding riffs. Its mammoth chorus chant of “They are the Panzer Elite, born to compete, never retreat…” echoes around the arena as the captivated audience sing it back. It’s a powerful start, and one of the best openers I’ve seen in recent years.
The stage was set to look like a World War 1 trench, complete with sandbags, barbed wire, metal sheets and a tank built around Hannes van Dahl’s drum riser. It’s an incredibly impressive sight, and it continues to highlight the theatricality of SABATON.
Combining soaring power riffs with vocalist Joakim Brodén’s instantly-recognisable gruff baritone is what SABATON do best, and following tracks ‘Great War’ and ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ showcase this marvellously.
The former begins with a grinding guitar part and choral chanting, and enough fire to make Till Lindemann blush, whilst ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ sees Joakim dressed up in a gas mask and apparatus, singing a song about the horrifying true story of the Russian ‘dead men’ who fought back against all odds.
‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ is a thrilling tale about one Lawrence of Arabia, with an incredibly memorable chorus and twin guitar harmonies performed with absolute conviction and gusto by a band passionate and dedicated to what they do, whilst ‘The Lost Battalion’ is a slightly slower yet no less powerful tribute to the group of soldiers the song is written about.
Joakim is in a very jovial mood, laughing and joking with the crowd in-between songs, repeatedly saying how thankful SABATON are to be where they are today. Stating how in 2007 they headlined a London show with 250 people, he was filled with genuine love and respect for the London crowd for selling out Wembley Arena after being told years ago that their music would not go down well with English crowds by early management.
Cries of ‘bullshit!’ filled the venue and it was a beautiful moment, for everyone in the room. Most bands I see say how happy they are to be in a particular place on tour, but I could tell they truly meant it.
‘The Red Baron’ was up next, and in typical SABATON fashion a Hammond organ dressed up as the Baron’s very famous red tri-plane, compete with moving rotor blades, was wheeled on stage, followed by somebody dressed as von Richthofen himself to perform the song. A highly memorable moment, including Joakim pushing him aside jokingly to perform the solo part himself.
’82nd All the Way’ is another hit from “The Great War” album, with its fantastic lead guitar melodies and thunderous pace to keep the momentum going. The entire band are absolutely on top form and the audience are lapping up every second.
‘Night Witches’ is a crowd-pleaser from the “Heroes” album, with relentless drum and vocal parts. The arena’s sound is the best I’ve ever heard it, with every instrument mixed excellently. Nothing sounds muddy or badly mixed, it all shines through when it needs to. More fire erupts from the stage and it’s an awe-inspiring sight.
Joakim takes a breather as he introduces APOCALYPTICA back to the stage for a very special 5 song set beginning with their re-worked ‘Angels Calling,’ and I really enjoyed them in this context.
Being able to play off of SABATON made them much more interesting, to me at least, and they gave SABATON a little more oomph, not that they really needed it. ‘Angels Calling’ is a powerful showcase of the talent pouring from both acts, and it works brilliantly.
‘Fields of Verdun’ from “The Great War” is a MAIDEN-esque romp through another World War 1 tale which is accentuated by the cellos in the background, whilst ‘The Price of a Mile’ is a fan-favourite and is possibly one of the most sombre tracks of the night. “Know that many men will suffer, know that many men will die… what is the purpose of it all? What’s the price of a mile?” is a haunting lyric as a stomping riff imitating the march of thousands of men carries the song to its conclusion. It’s very moving, and I won’t forget that any time soon.
Finishing the main set are two earlier SABATON cuts, ‘The Lion From the North’ and ‘Carolus Rex’, two very heavy tracks that lean into thrash metal territory with bombastic drums and razor sharp riffs. Fans who have joined the SABATON craze more recently may not recognise these tracks, but the older fans absolutely appreciated them being in the set. More fire adorned the stage at every opportunity, and I could feel the heat from the back in my seat as a layer of fog had crept over the arena.
As encores go, this was one of the best I have ever seen. The unashamedly thrilling ‘Primo Victoria’ begins as Joakim asks if we will sing with him, but he doesn’t need to ask. Wembley Arena has it covered. Its opening chant and bouncing guitar riff are captivating, and the fiery fretwork from both guitar players is quite something to witness. ‘Bismark’ and ‘Swedish Pagans’ get loud cheers before the band finish on ‘To Hell and Back’ with its melodic hook; one that was sung by the legions of fans leaving the arena once the show was over and SABATON had taken their final bow.
The show was a lesson in theatricality, with a superb set-list that flowed effortlessly and outrageous use of fire, lights and costumes. The sold out crowd were enthralled for the entire show and it’s a testament to SABATON’s ever-growing fan-base. I hope it’s not too long before they return to our shores for another triumphant night of power metal and world-class showmanship. One of the best live shows I have ever seen. If you get the chance to see SABATON on the Great Tour, I absolutely recommend it. Top marks from me.
In Flanders Fields (tape) / Sun Tzu Says (tape) / Ghost Division / Great War / The Attack of the Dead Men (with History Edition intro) / Seven Pillars of Wisdom / Diary of an Unknown Soldier (tape) / The Lost Battalion / The Red Baron / The Last Stand / 82nd All the Way / Night Witches / WITH APOCALYPTICA: Angels Calling / Fields of Verdun / The Price of a Mile / Dominium Maris Baltici / The Lion From the North / Carolus Rex // ENCORE: WWII intro (tape) / Primo Victoria / Bismark / Swedish Pagans / To Hell and Back / Dead Soldier’s Waltz (tape)