Photo Credit: Stefanie Nysand

Global metal in Dalarna: Sabaton Open Air 2022, 4.-6.8.2022, Part 2/3

Author Stefanie Nysand - 16.9.2022

It is the second day at the Sabaton Open Air festival 2022 in Falun, Sweden (or the third if you add in the day of the pre-party). In terms of the line-up, today’s Friday seems to be the least interesting day of the festival. Lordi are the most known band, next to HammerFall, and so the only goal for the day is to rock along to their winning song from the Eurovision Song Contest 2006, “Hard Rock Hallelujah“.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this festival report, the final decision to visit the festival wasn’t made until the day of the pre-party, so the pre-party was missed. One of the main reasons why the decision was made last minute is the fact that it has become common practice for bands to cancel their gig at a festival, sometimes at the very last minute. It is almost impressive that Sabaton Open Air had to announce only one cancellation, especially considering that the festival had to be postponed twice, in 2020 and 2021, due to the corona pandemic. Less impressive is the fact that Mister Misery cancelled their performance only two and a half weeks before the start of the festival, “due to logistical issues colliding with our show at Wacken Open Air”. Their appearance at Wacken Open Air 2022 on the same weekend was already confirmed in mid-December 2021, and their appearance at Sabaton Open Air 2022 was confirmed again in mid-March 2022, after the Swedes had been part of the line-up since 2020. How “logistical issues” can arise with such a long lead time remains a mystery.

The first band that is performing today is the replacement for Mister Misery: Curse Of Cain. Little is known about the band, except that today’s performance is their first live performance ever. And, unfortunately, both their gig and their signing session later on pass us by, as do the two following performances of Mile and Van Canto.

It isn’t until three hours into the programme that something happens that really captures one’s attention. It all starts with a backdrop that reads “Shakra“. Of course, the band name Shakra has been known to me for years, if not decades. When the quintet enters the stage, even some of the faces look very familiar to me. I probably recognise them from printed music magazines that I used to read many, many years ago. But it is only now that I realise that I am not familiar with their music, let alone their genre. In this regard, the choice of Shakra as a band name is a clever one, due to its lack of clichés that could give away the musical direction of the band. And then they start their set with “Fireline“. So that’s what Shakra is all about: Hard rock at its finest. From Switzerland. At first, I am positively surprised, and after songs like “Raise Your Hands“, “Hello“, “Too Much Is Not Enough“, “Ashes To Ashes” and especially “Life Is Now“, I am actually impressed. Great songs, charisma, the ability to entertain: Shakra has it all. And they have stamina: A career that has lasted for more than 25 years, twelve studio albums and various frontmen. Mark Fox is the new (and old) frontman. Originally the second frontman from 2003 to 2009, Mark returned to the band in 2015, following the departure of Shakra‘s third lead singer John Prakesh. It’s a pity that the band is not as known as they should be, but it is fair that they are placed on the larger one of the two stages today. And thanks to their performance, I realise that today’s line-up does have more to offer than “Hard Rock Hallelujah“. Speaking of which: After Lordi had won the Eurovision Song Contest 2006 with “Hard Rock Hallelujah“, Shakra tried to represent Switzerland the following year. However, the internal jury chose another representative.

After Shakra, it’s time for the all-female metal band Burning Witches. Like Shakra, these ladies are hailing from Switzerland, although the new frontwoman Laura Guldemond is actually from the Netherlands. The fact that there have been some changes in the line-up since the quintet was founded in 2015 is not noticeable at all; they come across as a well-oiled machine. And the audience rocks along like there’s no tomorrow when songs such as “Flight Of The Valkyries“, “The Witch Of The North” and “Sea Of Lies” are performed. As befits a proper heavy metal / power metal band, there are electric fans on stage so that the hair of the musicians blows nicely in the wind. It’s particularly entertaining when Laura leaves the stage during “Lucid Nightmare” in order to rock with the fans in the audience: Even the toughest men don’t know how to deal with this unexpected opportunity, and so they turn into little girls. Very amusing. Just imagine what would have happened if Burning Witches had had a signing session at Sabaton Open Air.

There is no signing session with Burning Witches today, but there is one with Shakra. It is the second and last signing session for today, and from the signing sessions that we have attended at Sabaton Open Air so far, it is the first one where the band provides actual autograph cards. Very nice.

HammerFall don’t really need an introduction, and yet there are people who have not seen this big player from Gothenburg live yet. My humble self, for instance. And even if you don’t normally listen to power metal and / or are not familiar with their songs, you have to admit shortly after their opener “Brotherhood” that the Swedes put on a great show. One could already see that pyro effects would be involved when the stage was set up, but pyro effects alone do not make a good show. It is also the way frontman Joacim Cans interacts with the crowd in Swedish and English that makes HammerFall‘s show worth seeing. For 8 pm, the appearance of a “special effect” is announced. Joacim says he doesn’t know himself what it’s about. Then, at 8 pm, a combat aircraft flies over the festival area. What seems like a rather expensive “special effect” is probably a cooperation between Sabaton Open Air and Flygfesten 2022 [“The flight festival 2022”] which takes place on the same weekend in Dala-Järna, about 100 km away from Falun. Sabaton Open Air and combat aircrafts; it fits. The set continues with “Venerate Me“, and, overall, the setlist offers a good mixture of newer songs (“Hammer Of Dawn“, “Hammer High“) and old classics (“Renegade“, “Hearts On Fire“).

And then it’s time for the band that I considered more or less as the only band worth seeing on this Friday before I had seen the performance of Shakra: Lordi. Another band that I have never seen live. Right after the opener “Get Heavy“, frontman Mr Lordi tries to communicate with the audience in Swedish. His Swedish language skills are indeed impressive, especially considering that Mr Lordi comes from Rovaniemi, a city where – despite Finland being officially a bilingual country with Finnish and Swedish – there is in fact no connection to the Swedish language. The setlist is dominated by songs from the Finns’ debut album “Get Heavy” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year (“Not The Nicest Guy“, “Hellbender Turbulence“, “Devil Is A Loser” and “Would You Love A Monsterman?“, to name but a few). Like HammerFall, Lordi put on a great show. Definitely worth seeing. It’s just a pity and unfair that Lordi are often reduced to the success of “Hard Rock Hallelujah“, their winning song at the Eurovision Song Contest 2006. And even then, an important part of the truth remains unmentioned. Lordi not only gave Finland its first and so far only victory in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest. And Lordi were not only the first ones to win the competition with a rock / metal song before Måneskin managed to do the same 15 years later, in 2021. Finland’s victory thanks to Lordi came almost out of nowhere: In the years leading up to Lordi‘s victory, Finland either finished last, near the bottom or failed to qualify for the final altogether. There were even years when the land of a thousand lakes was excluded from the contest, due to low results. Lordi broke this pattern, and since then, Finland had only two success stories to report (Softengine‘s “Something Better” in 2014 and Blind Channel‘s “Dark Side” in 2021). Apart from that, Finland is back to the old pattern of finishing last, near the bottom or failing to qualify for the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. In other words: Even when reduced to “Hard Rock Hallelujah“, Lordi deserve much more respect – and much more gratitude from their home country. Needless to say that when said song is performed near the end of Lordi‘s set at Sabaton Open Air, the crowd goes wild?

Like the evening before, the second to last gig of the day passes us by; this time it’s the performance of Raubtier. One has to eat something in between.

Speaking of catering: Unfortunately, paying with cash does not work quite as smoothly as one would have hoped. The bar does not accept cash at all, and at the food booths, one employee simply wants to keep 50 SEK (~ 4,81 €) as a tip because she has no change. In general, there is hardly anything to criticise about this festival, it is almost perfect; only the possibility to pay with cash should be improved. For some people, especially from outside Sweden, cash is still king, and this is a very international event after all. Apart from that, it should be noted that the food booths – small red wooden houses which are typical for Sweden – are very clean and well signposted, and there are even options for vegetarians and vegans. The prices for one dish (115 SEK / ~ 11,06 €) are also reasonable. In general, you don’t have the feeling that money is being squeezed out of you at every given opportunity, as it is the case at some other, especially bigger festivals. Free drinking water is available and “a fruit or some candy is not food” and therefore allowed at the festival area. Not least thanks to this humane treatment, one simply feels very comfortable and in good hands at Sabaton Open Air.

The last band on today’s schedule is Beyond The Black from Germany. With songs like “Lost In Forever“, “Human” and “Heart Of The Hurricane“, the symphonic metal band around frontwoman Jennifer Haben not only appeals to those who count Nightwish and Within Temptation among their favourite bands; Jennifer’s costume changes also provide visual variety. Founded in 2014, Beyond The Black toured as a support act for Aerosmith, Scorpions and Within Temptation, to name but a few. A joint tour with Amaranthe through Europe and the United Kingdom is planned for October and November 2022, but this time, Beyond The Black are not going to be a warm-up act, but a co-headliner.

The evening draws to a close, and the second day at Sabaton Open Air was more exciting than expected. And in just a few hours, we will be back for the grand finale. To be continued…