SABATON w/ AMARANTHE & APOCALYPTICA – Hartwall Areena, Helsinki, 23.11.2019

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It seems like just yesterday that Sabaton took the leap from The Circus to the Helsinki Ice Hall, and now they’re playing one of the bigger venues in the country, Hartwall Areena. With special guests Apocalyptica along for the ride and Swedish pop-metallers Amaranthe as support, there’s no surprise that the show sold out. The Great Tour was in Helsinki on November 23rd, 2019, and we couldn’t miss it.

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Amaranthe was the first to take the stage right around 19:00. A very techno/dance intro cranked up the energy right away for “Maximize.” By the second song, “Digitial World,” it was clear that I was hearing one of the most balanced shows in a while sound-wise, but the mix was still murky and the drums were a bit harsh. On the plus side, the growls sounded strong and weren’t lost this time around, and Elize Ryd‘s mic was audible the whole time, so it was a far better experience than the last club show.

Following a strange new trend notable in other popular frontwomen like Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast), Ryd was in an outfit that didn’t really make any sense and felt a bit overdramatic for their dance sound. Older songs like “Hunger,” “Nexus,” and “Call Out My Name” were vastly better this time around and were definite highlights of the night. One of their most memorable songs, “Amaranthine,” got off to a rocky start with Ryd missing the timing, but they made up for it once the singalong ended and the full band came in.

Nils Molin remains a charismatic frontman and one of the best elements of their show, though I found myself quite pleased with Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson this time around, carrying his parts with good ferocity. The mid-section of the show hit a still point where the lack of interesting melodies was masked by catchy, upbeat, and energetic dance beats, reflecting their new musical direction.

Mega-ballad “Endlessly” was way to over-the-top for me and it may be that the crowd agreed, as there weren’t any hands up like there had been during “Amaranthine.” It did get a well-deserved cheer though, for Ryd did a great job of her part. They finished up with “Drop Dead Cynical,” which rides the line between too poppy and really awesome, and worked well as a closer for their set.

If Amaranthe is going to continue with the heavy dance/synth sound, it would be nice to see them amp up the energy on stage to match the music. While the energy in the venue was good and the music was upbeat, the band did surprisingly little to move around on stage. They swapped places from time to time and did some light headbanging, but there wasn’t much interaction between the band. It’s a bit weird to see them hardly even moving in tune to the music when it’s so fast-paced. Otherwise, the rest of the show proved to be one of their recent best, though the sound quality was a bit iffy still.

Amaranthe setlist:
Helix intro
1. Maximize
2. Digital World
3. Hunger
4. Amaranthine
5. GG6
6. Helix
7. Endlessly
8. Call Out My Name
9. Nexus
10. Drop Dead Cynical

The stage was dark but for blue lights, with ambient music and nature sounds playing at 20:00. Ominous cello sounds let us know that Apocalyptica was about to take the stage, with shocking and explosive drum blast under spotlights slamming in suddenly to kick things off. The bass from the cellos was so loud at that point that my seat was vibrating. The sound was still on the murky side of things and the nuances of the lead cello parts couldn’t be heard with the rhythms overpowering the melodies.

They opened with their two new releases, “Ashes of the Modern World” and “Rise,” which were a nice treat to get things going. Not having heard them before, they felt at least like they could’ve been good old songs that I didn’t know by name. After a few songs, it felt like forever since we’ve seen this band and there was a happy nostalgia to hearing their music again after such a long while. Their light show was pretty intense and fast at points, pairing really well with the cello shredding.

Paavo Lötjönen remains a fantastic frontman and the crowd eagerly screams when Eicca Toppinen greeted the crowd and asked how they were doing. Perttu Kivilaakso was, of course, wild as ever on stage, running around with insane energy boosts. After hearing “Grace,” we started to think that this would be a good opportunity for a guest vocalist, and lo and behold, they brought Elize Ryd back on stage. I can’t say if it was better or worse than the original Apocalyptica song (which I didn’t ever really like that much personally), or the original Rammstein song for that matter, but it was certainly different. She stayed for one more song, “I Don’t Care,” which originally had Adam Gontier on vocals. The song started rough as Ryd seemed quite uncomfortable with it, but she seemed to get into it after a while.

It wouldn’t be an Apocalyptica show without a little Metallica and this night’s menu featured “Nothing Else Matters,” which had tragically chunky and muffled sound quality that was made up a bit by the crowd singing along; “Seek and Destroy,” which felt insane (and looked it as drummer Mikko Sirén wanted on his own head); and surprisingly, that was it! Only two Metallica songs this time around. After having heard the anniversary tour of the album, that wasn’t disappointing at all.

One of the new treats was their recent rendition of Sabaton’s own new song, “Fields of Verdun” as an intro to one of Apocalyptica’s own best songs, “Path.” It was a pretty wild ride for a while, bouncing back and forth from each song a few times, finishing up with the strong ending from “Path.” Of course, they couldn’t skip “In the Hall of the Mountain King” at an event like this, so they closed out the night with their legendary version of the Edvard Grieg song.

Apocalyptica setlist:
1. Ashes of the Modern World
2. Rise
3. Grace
4. Seamann (Rammstein song ft. Elize Ryd)
5. I Don’t Care (ft. Elize Ryd)
6. Nothing Else Matters (Metallica song)
7. Path / Fields of Verdun medley
8. Seek and Destroy (Metallica song)
9. Eurovision Theme / Thunderstruck (AC/DC song) medley
10. In the Hall of the Mountain King (Edvard Grieg song)

A great banner with the tour name rose to cover the front of stage as epic instrumental Sabaton tracks played on the arena’s speakers while the stage was changed over one more time. This was an interesting choice musically and I think i liked it. The instrumental intro was pretty bombastic with bass that rumbled our seats once more. Since the opening music was from The Great War, I had hoped that these guys might throw us a curveball and start with a new song, so we were admittedly disappointed by the de facto opener, “Ghost Division,” despite its power to get fists up and the crowd moving.

The stage set-up was bigger and better than ever with a full barracks of sand bags and another panzer for Hannes van Dahl to play his drums on, as well as other mortar canons, barbed wire, and so on. The backing screen played a very nice combination of song-specific visuals and live footage of the show, which was also one of the best parts of the night. It allowed them to show whatever they wanted to show while still throwing a bone to the people who bought tickets for the nosebleed seats.

There were tons of pyros throughout the entire set, and the first half had more of the new material like “Great War” and “Attack of the Dead Men.” The latter was accompanied by green lights while frontman Joakim Brodén stalked the stage in a gas mask, spewing green mist from a hose attached to a tank on his back. It felt very Iron Maiden in a good way. Brodén gave a very heartfelt greeting to the crowd about selling out the big arena on the first night of the tour for “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” He then joked about talking too much as van Dahl teased him, but the crowd stayed loyal and urged him to ramble away.

Sabaton’s sound was the best of the night, though still not at the level I’d hope for from such a big venue. The new material like “Seven Pillars” and “Fields of Verdun” felt like really good inclusions in their live set. In a band of strong performers who aren’t afraid to move about or throw their hair, it was cool to note van Dahl was really into it and making himself seen by getting up from time-to-time and waving or gesturing around. Even though he was hidden among props, he was actively part of the show.

Brodén introduced a tiny plane on stage as the coolest Hammond organ in the world and the crowd immediately started to chant after the first few notes of “Swedish Pagans,” but then fully denied the crowd and they played “The Red Baron” instead, with a red-scarfed pilot playing the organ. The singalong may not have quite gone as planned, as I would safely bet that Brodén thought the crowd would know the whole chorus… and they didn’t. Regardless of the circumstances, he made it work in his favor and didn’t miss a beat.

They definitely impressed the crowd with the Finnish intro to “Talvisota,” accompanied by some light fake snow on stage, though there was some talk afterwards that the intro made the whole thing feel a bit uncomfortably nationalistic and some of the Finns wished it hadn’t been included. Dramatic visuals, red lights, and rising smoke set the stage for “Night Witches” as more pyros lit up the stage. Then the heavily foreshadowed guest appearance by Apocalyptica began with “Angels Calling” at last. The cellists were well highlighted and worked really nicely with the track. Brodén gave a quick history of the collaboration with Apocalyptica and there was a ton of fire as both bands sunk their teeth into the fun and fast “Fields of Verdun” together. It was also fun to watch all seven mobile band members running around the stage together. Mikko Sirén came to join the party with a drum strapped to his shoulder for “Price of a Mile” to help keep up the marching beat. Sadly the sound quality really suffered in this one, making the cellos seem murky rather than crisp, though we could still appreciate what was going on musically with some ear strain.

I would wager that almost every Finnish fan prefers the Swedish version of “Carolus Rex” to its English counterpart, so if there was a flaw in the set, they played it a little too safe there. Then, after saying goodbye to Apocalyptica, Brodén said that the show is over and you have to go to church tomorrow on Sunday, so bye-bye, and ran away. The stage went dark.

After getting over the general “heeey, wait a minute…,” the crowd started to call for them to return and of course they weren’t done. A battle intro sounded, pairing the pyros with the sound of bombs, and the encore kicked off with their old hit, “Primo Victoria.” They followed this with “Bismarck” and then Brodén made a joke with Tommy Johansson (guitars) about trying to get away with not playing “Swedish Pagans” just one time in Finland. They closed out the set with one of their most fun tracks, “To Hell and Back,” which finished up the show with a bang.

Sabaton setlist
1. Ghost Division
2. Great War
3. The Attack of the Dead Men
4. Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Diary of an Unknown Soldier [tape]
5. The Lost Battalion
6. The Red Baron
7. The Last Stand
8. Talvisota
9. Night Witches
10. Angels Calling (ft. Apocalyptica cellists)
11. Fields of Verdun (ft. Apocalyptica cellists)
12. Price of a Mile (ft. Apocalyptica)
13. Dominium Maris Baltici (ft. Apocalyptica cellists)
14. The Lion from the North (ft. Apocalyptica)
15. Carolus Rex (ft. Apocalyptica)

Encore:
16. Primo Victoria
17. Bismarck
18. Swedish Pagans
19. To Hell and Back

Sabaton is an interesting band in that they get bigger and bigger in performance while the sound stays largely the same. While in the grand scheme of things, the whole evening was a fantastic experience, there has been something a bit lost in Sabaton’s shows since their popularity took them to stadium level. Brodén was clearly less willing to ramble to the crowed, for example, and all the jokes they made felt a bit rehearsed. Admittedly, hearing Brodén saying the same jokes and comments at every show had gotten a bit repetitive, this almost felt like he was holding back from being himself a bit. The other complaint would be that the sound quality was rather bad for a stadium show. I’ve honestly neve been to a stadium show that didn’t have really good sound before, so that was strange in and of itself.

Otherwise, everything you hoped for from the evening went forward. While Ryd’s versions of the Apocalyptica songs were a bit iffy, the spectacle of including Apocalyptica in a good chunk of Sabaton’s set was really cool and the two bands were a fun mix and a unique experience that we were glad to be a part of.

Photos: Janne Puronen

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