SABATON / HAMMERFALL
Date: 26th October, 2019
Venue: The Vic Theatre
Ticket: $32.50 / €29 (in advance)
It was not a shocking surprise seeing this show being sold out. In fact, I would have been surprised if it had not been, considering that SABATON have been working hard on this side of the Atlantic making the trip at any given chance, kicking things off with supporting slots in small venues. Well, this time the journey brought them being headliners in a theatre having the almighty HAMMERFALL along. Oh yeah, HAMMERFARLL are also to blame for selling all the tickets for this Saturday show as they are awesome onstage and their sets are filled with spirit / mood-lifting music. Was there anything else to ask? Unfortunately there was, but it had nothing to do with either the bands or the venue; yeah, the weather had put its shittier face that evening, being more winter-like and was determined to make the trip downtown Chicago as hard as possible with a power combo featuring freezing rain, floods and terrible wind. Doesn’t this sound lovely?
Anyway, we managed to storm the weather after losing the opening minutes from HAMMERFALL’s “Never Forgive, Never Forget”. Since there was no opening band, the venue looked full to the brim with as the first for the two Swedish bands kicking off the night’s festivities. Joacim Cans was as always moving around the stage making the most of the rather limited space the band had on its disposal. Apparently, SABATON had filled the stage with lots of props (more on this later), leaving something a little bit bigger than a corridor for HAMMERFALL. At least the available stage area was not split in two, and mainly Joacim and Oscar were able to move from side to side. Musically, the two bands are not that different, with HAMMERFALL being closer to the traditional Power Metal that some may still call as German Power Metal. What is amazing with this band is its addictive onstage energy and how the up-tempo Power Metal makes you forget everything else and feel good immediately. Yeah, it did not matter that our cloths needed some drying time, and frankly I’ve forgotten all about the weather and the torturous evening commute the moment the fists-in-the-air “One Against The World” followed the setlist opener. This is the definition of the Power Metal I grew up liking and this is why HAMMERFALL had made quite an impact back in the mid ‘90s with their “Glory To The Brave” release that took things back to the basics. By the way, the first time I saw HAMMERFALL live was during the tour for their debut (oh yeah, more than two decades).
The audience did respond to the setlist openers and especially to the pumping hard “Renegade”. Come on, it is not that difficult to follow the chorus of this one, right? And for sure it wasn’t, and in fact, song by song more people get involved in the HAMMERFALL wave that was gaining momentum in a steady pace. After all, it is impossible to resist a band with that energy unless their music is not your cup of tea. Although, I do not see how a SABATON could not like what these Swedes were doing especially with songs like “Blood Bound” and the sticky like superglue “Any Mean Necessary”. Lining those back-to-back was a clever way to keep building the momentum inviting more and more to join in the fun. “You know this song - for this, I wanna see some serious headbanging, ok?”, said Joacim as it was time to put singing-along into the menu with the perfect for concerts “Hector’s Hymn”. I know, many may find such songs with such lyrics as being cheesy but really, can you resist not headbang and sing-along during this Metal anthem? That’s right; this is how we called songs like that back in the day and I am really happy that HAMMERFALL reminded me of that era when this type of Metal was the only fuel I had in my tank to get me through. And speaking of singing along... “I - I am the one / the one - who lost control”, Joacim started a cappella singing passing the Power Metal baton to “Last Man Standing”.
It was kind of surprising to see so many hands in the air as a response to Joacim who had asked: “how many of you are seeing HAMMERFALL for the first time?” Although come to think of it, nowadays there are not many who will start pulling the thread of a specific Metal genre once they have found a band they like. Back in the day (again), HELLOWEEN would lead to GAMMA RAY and getting to HAMMERFALL was a matter of a couple of vinyl records ahead.
“When I say HAMMER, you say…” asked Joacim and it did not take much thinking to guess how to fill out the sentence even if this was your first HAMMERFALL gig. Oscar got his “hammer” guitar only to find out that it was not working… Of course, things like that will happen at the right time... Oh yeah, Pontus found out that his guitar did not want to work either… When it rains it pours, right? Anyway, everything was resolved and the ACCEPT-esque “Let The Hammer Fall” rocked hard. Of course, the band chose “Hammer High” as a follow-up and it looked awesome seeing lots of fists in the air. This song may be a slow-burned when you spinning it at home but live it becomes the definition of “anthem”. Ok, I would have chosen something from “Glory To The Brave” instead of “(We Make) Sweden Rock” but I am sure I will get my fix next year when HAMMERFALL will do their US headlining tour. Although paying tribute to the Swedish Metal scene holds a lot of water, and you’ll agree if you know your Metal history. Joacim announced next year’s headlining tour before jumping off stage and into the photo-pit to sing “Hearts On Fire” as close as it was possible to the fans in the front row. This was a short HAMMERFALL appetizer and hopefully a powerful teaser for those who saw these Swedes live for the first time.
01. “Never Forgive, Never Forget”
02. “One Against The World”
04. “Blood Bound”
05. “Any Means Necessary”
06. “Hector's Hymn”
07. “Last Man Standing”
08. “Let The Hammer Fall”
09. “Hammer High”
10. “(We Make) Sweden Rock”
11. “Hearts On Fire”
(click to enlarge)
Soon we found out why HAMMERFALL were “confined” in a rather small part of the stage. SABATON had lots of props with the drum-riser being the front side of a WWII tank with two galling guns in front of the drum kicks. Was it impressive? You bet it was and had lots of props all around it from ammo boxes, helmets all the way to the mic stands that looked like M16 rifles. Unfortunately, and like all the US indoor shows, there were no pyros that I am sure SABATON also use in this stage set up. Anyways, complaining about such things would be a petty thing to do because the show and the performance were top notch. The lights went out and the huge screen at the back started the intro that talked about WWI specifically mentioning when US entered the war. This got the audience going and it was one of the many instances hearing the “USA, USA” chanting that night. It gave me goosebumps when the narration started talking about the number of casualties this WW had and this is something no one should ever forget about. One more thing, SABATON deal with heroic acts of soldier no matter for what side they fought because all wars start with politicians and end with simple people dying so please keep that in mind.
“Ghost Division” brought the rest of the band onstage (Hannes Van Dahl had already assumed the tank’s commander position) and without any warm-up, the crowd-surfing and moshing started right away. The pumping groove and SABATON’s usual over-the-top energy were more than enough reasons to get things going from the get-go. Damn, this band knows exactly how to get through the audience and how to get everyone involved with “Great War” and “Resist And Bite” being impossible to deny invitations to join in the fun. The singing-along was loud both in the old and the new songs proving that SABATON have successfully cracked the hard shell of the US market and on top of this managed to engage their relatively fresh fanbase into their entire back-catalogue. An impressive feat don’t you agree?
“Good evening, Chicago - let me say you are crazy bastards!”, said Joakim but he was not as talkative as the previous times I have seen this band live. Well, what is better to have in concert: talking or more music? “Fields Of Verdun” and “The Attack Of The Dead Men” were two more from the latest SABATON album that to my delight did not see the audience slowing down. I am saying this because there have been shows where it is only the oldies that get the loudest reaction but not in this case. SABATON seemed to have a well-educated audience inside Vic Theatre that knew what to do making this sold-out show feel amazing. Extra kudos to the guy who did some crowd-surfing in a banana-outfit hinting that Halloween was approaching.
Joakim gave everyone a breather taking the chance to comment on the impressive stage prop and then spilled the beans about Tommy Johansson’s birthday. Of course, there was the “happy birthday” singing-along just before the reveal of something wicked the band had planned for the youngest member of the lineup. Joakim advised him to watch his back throughout the show because something would happen and honestly I felt that Tommy believed him because he kept watching his back from that point on. Well, Joakim made sure to feed the guitarist’s fear by faking that he was signaling someone to do something… and then he asked “Are you ready for Red Baron?” Everyone looked and sounded ready with the back screens showing WWI dogfights that matched the song’s theme. It seems that the band had put a lot of work in all the aspects of the show with the lights and the videos perfectly matching the thematic of each song. A ranging sea hinted that it was time for another one from the new album with the mid-tempo and catchy “Bismark” giving us another breather. But not for long because the “The Lion From The North” / “Carolus Rex” restored the crowd-surfing activities to the appropriate energy level changing at the same time WW thematology. By the way, I was amazed by the audience’s participation in the latter.
“Thank you, Chicago! Man, you are good! Usually people are relaxing at this point of the show but you are not tired”, Joakim acknowledged showing that he has gotten goosebumps during the “SABATON, SABATON” chanting. I have to admit this setlist managed to rekindle my interest to the band’s latest LPs and made a pact with myself to unwrap the latest SABATON albums and drop the needle on “Shiroyama” once more. How cool did the sing-along in this one sound?
Making fun of Tommy did not stop, although I think at some point he realized that nothing bad would happen to him, but on the other hand, seeing Joakim and all his crazy faces on, can never be 100% sure. SABATON floored the gas pedal all the way to “82nd All The Way” that talks about the US sergeant Alvin York who won the Medal Of Honor during WWI. This is one of the reasons why I like this band and has to do with the way the shed light in such acts focusing on the person rather than a battle. I hope that the loud “yes” in response to Joakim’s question whether people knew Alvin York was genuine.
The encore started with these cappella sung lines: “through the gates of hell” making it clear that it was time for “Primo Victoria” bringing along the trademark jumping along… Oh yeah, we were heading to powerful ending with some serious cardio exercise. The drakkar ships shown at the screen marked the time for “Swedish Pagans” with some “ooooo” chanting to go along. “We are getting closer to the end, so I’d like to take the opportunity to say a big thank you to each and everyone of you”, said Joakim before whistling the charge for the final song of the night. Damn, the main melody and groove of “To Hell And Back” begs for jumping along until your calves start burning like hot coals. Would I love to have “The Art Of War” and “Coat Of Arms”? You bet I would but I cannot for my life of me choose what to leave out…
SABATON came, saw and conquered, and there is no doubt about it. The sold-out was totally worth it to a point that the cold outside could no longer touch us… Until next time it is then.
01. “Ghost Division”
02. “Great War”
03. “Resist And Bite”
04. “Fields Of Verdun”
05. “The Attack Of The Dead Men”
06. “The Red Baron”
07. “The Price Of A Mile”
09. “The Lion From The North”
10. “Carolus Rex”
12. “Night Witches”
13. “The Lost Battalion”
14. “The Last Stand”
15. “82nd All The Way”
16. “Primo Victoria”
17. “Swedish Pagans”
18. “To Hell And Back”
(click to enlarge)