Like most music festivals, the Sabaton Open Air festival had to be postponed in 2020 and 2021, due to the corona pandemic. Therefore, the 2022 edition is something of a comeback for Sabaton‘s own festival in their hometown Falun. And for me, it is the first time ever that I visit a festival in Sweden. I had a lot of concerns beforehand. For one thing, I do not believe that the corona pandemic is quite over yet. And for another, long before the corona pandemic, it has become common practice for bands to cancel their gig at a festival, sometimes at the very last minute. As a consequence of this development, it wasn’t until the day of the pre-party that I finally decided to visit the actual festival from the next day. With my two favourite bands – Deathstars and Tiamat – playing on the same day, attending one festival day would actually have been enough, but seeing a band like Myrath (who were scheduled to play two days later) was tempting as well, and so it ended up being all three days of the festival.
The actual festival begins on Thursday afternoon with a signing session with Sabaton. A clever move. Sabaton‘s performance is scheduled for Saturday evening, so the most devoted Sabaton fans won’t buy a day ticket for Saturday only, but go for a 3-day ticket instead, since they want to attend this signing session, too. Having things arranged like this, it not only increases the financial profits, but also benefits all other performing bands, especially the lesser-known ones for whom it has become increasingly difficult to attract attention and reach an audience amid all the sensory overload and oversupply in today’s world. Furthermore, the safety barriers are set up in such a way that the huge queue has to pass the merchandise booth. There, you can buy mainly merchandise from Sabaton, including offers such as “Buy a new Sabaton tour shirt and get an old one for only 100 SEK”. Again, very clever. Since the queue is – as expected – huge, there is a “only one autograph per person” policy. This ensures that nobody who wants an autograph from Sabaton ends up without an autograph from Sabaton. That also seems really well-organised and very professional, and after about an hour and a half, no one is disappointed because EVERYONE got their autograph.
In terms of fashion, Sabaton band shirts dominate the audience by far. There are even some look-alikes of Sabaton frontman Joakim Brodén; some of them hardly younger than the original, it seems. And the dominant language is German. The national language Swedish as well as other languages such as Finnish, English and French can only be heard sporadically.
During the signing session with Sabaton, the first two gigs take place as well: Tungsten and Dark Tranquillity. Since the two stages are next to each other and can also be seen well from the signing tent, you never really miss anything of the ongoing programme, and yet there is so much going on during Sabaton‘s signing session that said gigs just pass me by.
The signing session with Sabaton is followed by another signing session; the one that I was looking forward to the most, namely Tiamat‘s. It quickly turns out that these two signing sessions could not be more different: About 20 fans show up, and after less than 10 minutes, the whole band is gone and the signing session is over. It’s strange, to say the least, especially since the contrast to Sabaton‘s signing session is so extreme and obvious. I feel very sorry for the band.
The third and final signing session of the day will be hosted by Dark Tranquillity, but at this point, it’s about time to head for the stages.
The third band that is performing today, Cyhra, is a Swedish heavy metal supergroup. Or as the band around frontman Joacim “Jake E” Lundberg describes it: “You know them from In Flames, Amaranthe, Shining, Rhapsody, Annihilator & Kamelot but you have never seen them together like this. Cyhra is here to bring you the next thing in metal.” The audience seems to like it. Songs like “Heartrage” and “Man Of Eternal Rain” are well received, and especially “Battle From Within“, which is about the suicide of Jake E’s brother, does not leave anyone in the audience untouched.
Then, it’s time for my first personal highlight at Sabaton Open Air 2022: The performance of the masters of death glam from Sweden’s capital Stockholm, Deathstars. The band has become a quintet again after guitarist Cat Casino returned to Deathstars in 2019. There is also a new man behind the drums, Marcus Johansson from the Swedish band Reach, who follows in the footsteps of Oscar “Vice” Leander after the latter joined Tribulation in 2017. The set is opened with “Night Electric Night“, and Whiplasher Bernadotte (vocals), Nightmare Industries (lead guitar & keyboards), Skinny Disco (bass) and Cat sweep across the stage from the very first moment. One could sum up the show with the following words: “They came; they saw; they conquered”. From “Synthetic Generation” (“Semi-Automatic“, “Synthetic Generation“) to “Termination Bliss” (“Tongues“, “Cyanide“) and “Night Electric Night” (“Death Dies Hard“, “Chertograd“,”Blood Stains Blondes“) to “The Perfect Cult” (“The Perfect Cult“), the setlist contains the industrial metal from all albums that Deathstars have released so far, including the band’s best-of album “The Greatest Hits On Earth” (“METAL“). A fifth studio album has been in the making since 2019 and was originally due to be released in early 2020, but has since been repeatedly postponed. Unfortunately, none of the new material will be presented today either, but that does not dampen the joy. During today’s performance, “Blitzkrieg” is the most popular song anyway. After all, we are at Sabaton Open Air; it fits. Seeing how Cat acts as the animator of the audience, one can only agree with Deathstars‘ statement that he is “a key character in the history of the band”. It’s good to see him back in the band. As always, Deathstars deliver a great show, and it would have been nice if it went on a little longer.
I have no reason to complain, though, since my second personal highlight at Sabaton Open Air 2022 follows right after the gig of Deathstars: The performance of Tiamat. Or to put it with the lines from Tiamat‘s “The Temple Of The Crescent Moon“: “It’s been a long time but we are here again.” It’s been thirteen and a half long years “of thunder, lightning and rain”. It has become pitch black in the meantime, and there is not much light during the sound check of Tiamat either. The audience is thinning out as well. Then, the actual set starts with some light and “The Ar” from their 1994 release “Wildhoney”. In the course of their 35-year career, the Swedes have changed their musical style several times. To put it very simply, Tiamat first played doom metal before moving towards gothic rock with their 1997 release “A Deeper Kind Of Slumber”. So far, I only attended Tiamat gigs where the setlists were dominated by goth rock compositions, and that’s how I fell in love with their music in the first place. Doom metal in general has never been my cup of tea, and since I got to know Tiamat as a gothic band, I tend to forget their earlier work. Of course, many Tiamat fans see it the other way around, and “Wildhoney” in particular is held dear when it comes to the band’s discography. Well, there is no accounting for taste. It takes some time before I recognise one of the songs (“Divided“), but it isn’t until “Vote For Love” that I am truly happy. Finally, a goth rock song! It continues with doom metal (“The Sleeping Beauty“) before the gig ends almost as suddenly as the signing session a few hours ago. I’m speechless and, to be honest, a little disappointed.
It takes a while before it begins to dawn on me why things went the way they did for Tiamat today. The band itself never advertised their appearance at Sabaton Open Air 2022, and neither did they advertise their appearance at Wacken Open Air 2022 on the same weekend. On the contrary, their facebook page states that Tiamat is “temporarily closed”, while there are announcements for some concerts in September 2022. In the comments, one fan asks about the band’s status, and another one believes that the departure of frontman Johan Edlund in April 2014 is still up to date. In other words: The communication and marketing skills leave a lot to be desired. You can be the greatest band in the world, but if your own fans don’t know when and where you are playing (or that you are still active in the first place), they won’t be around either. It is as simple as that.
Before the evening ends, there are two more bands to go. It has suddenly turned quite cold, so most of the performance of Equilibrium passes us by while we are looking for a warmer place to stay.
The last band on today’s schedule, Nanowar Of Steel from Italy, is said to be funny and entertaining, so perhaps they are exactly what one needs while being disappointed and cold. And, indeed: Men with colourful wigs and in rather random outfits enter the stage. They look anything but metal, and that’s exactly the point of Nanowar Of Steel. As one can guess, “Nanowar” is a pun on the true metal band Manowar. And “Of Steel” was only added to the band name when the Italian power metal band Rhapsody had to change their band name from Rhapsody to Rhapsody Of Fire in 2006, due to copyright and trademark issues. Both the songs and the stage patter are a satire of true metal. During “Valhallelujah“, a Christmas song which combines heavy metal and gospel and is dedicated to both Odin and IKEA, vocalist Potowotominimak ceremonially assembles an IKEA side table before it is given away to the audience. And for “Armpits Of Immortals“, the audience is taught a choreography. It’s really refreshing to see a band like Nanowar Of Steel perform at Sabaton Open Air, especially when you know how narrow-minded some metalheads can be. The quintet interacts a lot with the audience, but despite all the parody, they are musically on a par with their role models. No-one less than the former Rhapsody Of Fire vocalist Fabio Lione seems to agree. After all, he collaborated with Nanowar Of Steel on their song “Barbie, MILF Princess Of The Twilight“.
A worthy way to round off the first evening. The temperature continued to drop, but one’s spirits were lifted. And best of all: Contrary to the original plan to visit the festival only on this Thursday, we still have two more days of Sabaton Open Air ahead of us. So the party isn’t over yet. To be continued… [Part 2 can be found here.]