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Sabaton - 'Swedish Empire Live' CD/DVD review

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Sabaton - 'Swedish Empire Live'

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Like a lot of metal bands today, Sabaton is hugely popular in Europe yet virtually unknown here in the US. Hopefully that will change this spring, now that the Swedish band was chosen by Iced Earth to provide direct support for them on their Worldwide Plagues tour. In the meantime, however, you can get a taste of what a metal show is like on the other side of the pond with Sabaton’s latest live release, 'Swedish Empire Live.'

Over the course of their 16-song set recorded at the Woodstock festival in Poland (not to be confused with the iconic concert setting in America, of course), you learn very quickly that this is a band that takes military history very seriously. Oh, and not to backtrack, but apparently in Europe, even the bands that aren’t headlining have the opportunity to play a full set at festivals. By comparison, sometimes even the headliners at Rock On The Range perform less than 16 songs. Anyway, back on topic, Sabaton must be huge Iron Maiden fans, particularly influenced by tracks such as “The Trooper,” “Aces High” and “Afraid to Shoot Strangers.” Every song on the CD except for the final one is about some battle or war. Imagine a military history class put to music (power metal, specifically), and you start to get an idea of what Sabaton sound like.

The audience just eats it up though. No whiny American emo metal for this crowd. During a spot of between-song banter, vocalist Joakim Brodén compliments the Polish fans for their knowledge of their country’s history, and thunderous applause erupts. I don’t know if this would be a typical reaction elsewhere in Europe but it illustrates the differences between European and American metal fans. It’ll be interesting to see how Sabaton fares here in Columbus next week.

The DVD includes both the Woodstock concert along with 16 other performances recorded all over Europe during the Swedish Empire tour. Many of those songs were not played at Woodstock, which is a nice touch and more bang for your buck. The camera work at these shows is amazing – there are cameras everywhere: on stage, attached to the band’s guitars, even swooping over the city-sized audience. It is interesting to note, however, that the mini-documentary that precedes the Woodstock show is completely in Swedish, and there are no subtitles. It is a minor, albeit legitimate gripe. Otherwise, this is a phenomenal live DVD, capturing a high-energy, epic performance from a powerhouse band firing on all cylinders.

I am not a cinephile, so I can’t really judge the video and audio qualities of the DVD, but I can say that for a standard (i.e., not a Blu-ray) DVD, the picture quality is absolutely pristine and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack will shake your house. A lot of care and professional work was put into this DVD. It was most definitely not just slapped together and included as an afterthought. Just don’t ask me about black levels, artifacts and so on. To this admittedly untrained eye, 'Swedish Empire Live' is well worth its price.

It will be very interesting to see if Sabaton can bring this same level of intensity to the very small, intimate stage of the Newport Music Hall next week, as opposed to festivals where the attendance is measured in the hundreds of thousands. Find out for yourself next Thursday.

Sabaton will be performing at the Newport Music Hall, opening for Iced Earth, on Thursday, April 10. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets for the all ages show are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show.

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