It is within the walls of the Royal Military Museum that I met Pär Sundström, the bass player of Sabaton. The Swedish power metal band is about to release its 9th studio album dedicated to the First World War, also called like the title of the album : « The Great War ». But before discussing this topic with Pär, I had to walk across the museum and see its amazing and massive collection. Even if I’m not super interested in war related things, I must admit that I was really impressed by the quality of conservation of the exposed artefacts. I was even more amazed when I entered the hangar full of authentic planes where the interview happened.

It’s quite original but also more meaningful for Sabaton to have this interview here instead of a hotel lobby or something like that. I know now by Chris (the promotor) how the idea came from, but how do you feel being here today ?

A huge part of the museum here is dedicated to World War I. And this is not that common. We often get to be invited to different museums and most of them focus more on World War II as does the whole world. It gets sort of all the attention in the medias except for a little bit in the past few years when we came up to the century anniversary. But walking around here… It’s also interesting because it is actually the first World War museum that I’ve been to. So, for me it’s interesting as well, you see, growing up in Sweden we don’t learn so much about World War I. We knew about it mainly because there was a second one coming after. And we read a book in primary school, called « All Quiet on the Western Front ». But other than that we didn’t know much in Sweden. So when we were doing this album we also discovered a lot.

So, is that the reason why you choose this theme in particular for this new album ?

No, it’s not the reason why we chose this. We have been singing a couple of songs about this war before. And we find it very interesting in many ways. There are so many stories and different angles to it and also, there’s obviously a large scale conflict. It has a lot of stories to be told. But it fits very well to our music and we did a couple of tracks before, it was good. And thanks to the century anniversary, we felt that this was the right timing to do this one now. All the other topics we discussed could be pushed for the future.

« The Last Stand » came out already three years ago. How long did you need to work on this new record ? Could you please sum up its creation process ?

So, sometimes during last summer, we decided on the topic and then we knew all the ways already about the deadlines we have. Because these are things that needs to be set quite early in order for us to book studio time, to be able to deliver as well the masterings and have ensure that we don’t miss our release date. So, that’s how everything works out. We need to be quite planning in advance so we booked the studio time maybe one year and a half in advance. And this is somewhere in the vicinity how much we need to plan in advance for some parts of what we are doing. But, we didn’t decide upon the topic by that time, we decided about it last summer. And at the end of last summer, at the end of last summer’s festivals and shows, let’s say around late august… That’s when we started songwriting, real proper songwriting. At the same time, we also start gathering different ideas of topics and stuff… Music is being written on one side and topics are being collected on the other. But we were not writing any lyrics at this time. So, by November, just before when we are going into the studio, we had the tracks, the musical demos for them and we had lots of different topics. And that’s when we start pairing and puzzling like : « This song gives me these kind of emotions, we need to find that kind of topic », and when we have matched something we can then do some research and start writing the lyrics for it. The research for this album was quite simple compared to others for us, because we do have by our side a great historian, Indiana Neidell, who is the host of the Sabaton History channel. He is an expert at World War I, having done the biggest documentation in history about this war. So, there would be no problem for us to just ask him for any information or how to get to any topic. And he would be like : « Of course ». He would be very passionate to tell us the story and he could also lead us in any direction we need to look for information. So, the research for this album was thankfully not that difficult.

By the way, there’s an History version of the album. Is it an idea from Indiana ?

No, the idea for this History edition came up during the ending of the creation process of the album. During the ending of the mixing, basically. I wanted to try to do something because of all the people who were saying they really loved when we were doing deeper concept albums, when you have narrations that bind together and tell a little bit about the History. Some people said that and they liked it in « The Art Of War ». Some people complain about it because it ruins the whole listening experience, if you take one song and put it into your favorite playlist. So, I totally get the whole idea and it was why I decided to make two editions of it as well and especially for the listeners. I mean, if I sit there listening to my favorite playlist full of party tracks, I don’t want the woman to come in and explain the background of a song, I just want the action of heavy metal. But if you really want to enjoy an album and hear it from the beginning to the end and like to really understand a little bit about the songs, the history edition is definitely the best version to enjoy the album. It doesn’t really teach you so much, it just gets you into the mood and explains a little bit what the next song is about. So, it’s still not a teaching thing. But we do have a proper teaching version of the album, which is for the supporters and the backers of the Sabaton History channel. So, there is a different version of the album where Indy explains things, he talks about proper history as well between the songs. I think it’s a little bit heavy for most people because it’s too much. It’s nice if you want to hear an album and have so much information in between, and I think that maybe some people will enjoy it. I enjoyed it when I was listening to it, so we’ll see !

Let’s talk about music later, as we just talk about your History YouTube channel. What are the feedbacks you received about this project so far ?

I knew from the start that we couldn’t go wrong with this Sabaton History channel. First of all, it’s not mandatory, you don’t need to watch it if you don’t want to. So, I couldn’t see any harm with it. The only harm I could accept is that somebody would say : « Oh you spent time with that instead of writing new songs ». But it’s not really true because it’s not the same thing. I do know that we could have done an extra show instead of filming some episodes or whatever, but these are not strong arguments. So, I knew that we would have only happy people and some people who don’t care at all. And for that, that was good enough for me. It was not complicated to decide about doing it once we knew that. But there were things to take into consideration… I mean, when I talk about it to Indiana and asked him if he wanted to do it, he was like : « Hell yeah ! It’s a great idea ». But that was just the start of it. I mean, it requires a whole team. There’re about 10 people working on each episode and we are releasing them quite often, like one per week. So it requires a lot of work, planning and execution. And we also have a lot of ideas on how we will evolve it in the future, and it will require even more people. So, it is a big thing and it took us about eight months until we could publish the first episode. It was also a bit exhausting because most of the final work was done during the same time we were writing the album and doing the Bismarck story and also making a completely new website. And we also upgraded the « Sabaton cruise », now it’s the « Sabaton battleship ». So, we were working on a lot of different things at the same time and this was a bit exhausting for the people we have in the band and for the people who work with us, because we’re not used to this. So I guess that during the past six months I’ve been working a little bit more than the average working day of 16 hours that I normally have to.

So now, back to this new album for which you started the recording on the 11th of November last year, which is quite symbolic. Was it a choice or it just happened like this ?

It’s actually hilarious, but it is not a choice, it should have been but it was not ! We needed to book the studio really far in advance, so we couldn’t really take this into consideration. We didn’t even know we’re going to do the thing about the World War I. So it was just by chance and it fitted very well.

There are a few fascinating things about Sabaton music and I guess you’ve been asked a lot about that. The first thing is that you definitely have your signature style, but isn’t it difficult to renew your riffs ?

Sure, if we would love to renew everything it would be very difficult, but we are not really excited about the fact that we really need to renew everything. What is important for us is to release a good album that sounds like Sabaton and also to make sure that the fans are not worried, that they can relax because a new album is coming and it’s going to sound like Sabaton, with maybe a few tiny improvements. So, we don’t really need to evolve that much, we just need to try to recreate great songs.

And do you have particular inspirations for this album ? I mean, musically.

Musically, not really. The songs are what they are. Everything being written before the lyrics to ensure that we could do it as a heavy metal band.

So, another really interesting thing in your music, which is a bit contradictory to me, is that you make powerful and positive music with one of the worst thing on earth which is war. What do you think about that ?

I think that no matter how you do it, how you tell history, as here we are in a museum… We are doing the same thing as this museum. We are preserving a piece of History. We are just telling it then on different attractive ways. Some people who don’t want to come here, or who don’t want to read a book, they can listen to a song. So, in terms of that, we are just doing the same thing as this museum.

Here is a question that most of artists hate, but do you have a favorite song out of « The Great War » ?

Probably the title track, I think it’s a great song. It reminds me a bit about a sort of a hybrid between our songs « Primo Victoria » and « Carolus Rex » and I don’t think that can go so wrong. So, musically I liked it from the beginning and when I was writing the lyrics for it I was extremely inspired. I also had the cover artwork on the making at the moment, so it was even more interesting. And I wanted this song to ask the question like : what is so great about this war ? That was the whole thing. You know, why call it the « Great War » ? That was the idea behind the song.

I personally really liked « The Future Of Warfare », but also « In Flanders Fields », which is completely surprising. Do you have a comment about this song ?

Yeah. The song before, « The End Of The War To End All Wars » is one of the most epic and bombastic moments in Sabaton history ever. And everything is on ten out of ten there. So, to take something away from there… I mean, if we would end the album like that people will crash, it will be a too heavy fall, because we have taken them so high so they will fall so hard and that they will hit themselves. So, we wanted to have it like a slow landing and that’s why it’s there. It took a lot of time actually to think about the orchestration for it, the arrangements. We had ideas about doing it with drums and guitars, but we scaled it down to only choirs. The girls who sing there are the same choirs who have been with us since 2005 with « Primo Victoria ».

By the way, do you plan to do a release show with the choirs or to bring them on tour ?

Yeah. Not the ones that are on the album but another one and we actually planned to bring it to Graspop and we are calling it the « Great War Choir ».

On another hand, the new artwork is rather strong and for me, tending to reflect the chaos and despair of a soldier during this « Great War ». Do you have any comments to do about it ? And does the character represent someone in particular ?

It sort of speaks of the main title song as well. The cover artwork represents all kind of stuff from the war and you can find different details that could not be found in the same battlefield. The story of the title track takes place in Passchendaele, but the album artwork is a more general about World War I with several different things that wouldn’t normally be on the same battlefield at the same time.

In the heart of the Great War with Pär Sundström of Sabaton

Otherwise, I’ve read in the French press that you visited Verdun and other symbolic places of the Great War which was like a pilgrimage, if we can say so. Why did you decided to do so and which memories do you keep from this experience ?

 

We knew from the beginning that the battle of Verdun was one of the topics we’re going to discuss on the album. And then we thought about going there and we thought that some medias from around the world would never know about this story, so we wanted to bring them with us. And we do the first initial album presentation in Verdun. So, that was the idea we have behind it and it gave us the opportunity to be there for a couple of days to see everything… Well, not everything, you need a lot more than a few days but we did see a couple of things. And it was also interesting for the whole band as normally it’s me and our singer who write the lyrics. But now everybody was there to understand it a little bit more. And yeah I think definitely the visit was rewarding for all of us.

Did you already visit Bastogne, here in Belgium ? Which is more related to World War II…

Yes. we spent a day there and we went into the woods together with a History guide and we spent the day in the town.

Also, with this kind of visits, did you reach a new audience as the general medias showed an interest on you ?

Yes, they actually did. Partly, because we were also there. It was a little bit of an interesting story for everybody : why is a metal band going there ? Why is metal band doing that ? So, it was a little bit different than the average rock magazines so to say.

It’s also the anniversary of Sabaton this year, you’re reaching 20 years of career. What was the first thing you thought when you realized ?

It’s not that often that we look back on Sabaton and what we have done and achieved and stuff, but sometimes it happens. But, for us there was like no 20 years and we were not that super excited about doing something extremely special. We would have done the album anyway and I’m sure we would have launched the History channel anyway. But « Bismarck », that’s the story that is connected to this and the idea of giving something to the fans for 20 years of loyalty. That is not something of the past but something of the future. And it was the most anticipated topic for a Sabaton song, except for Star Wars. So that’s why we decided to do that song.

Finally, how do you imagine Sabaton in 20 more years ?

I imagine it something similar to what we are today, just a little bit more experienced, I guess and still on the way to be a bigger band !


I was now done with my questions, but the promotors were not there anymore. So, we started to discuss about random stuff… Not so random in the end, because it appeared that Pär is not only a member of Sabaton, he also deals with a lot of behind the scenes aspects of the band, like taking part in the video making, the management and the organisation of the band’s own festival, the « Sabaton Open Air Festival ». He is also really interested in discovering new and young bands from Sweden and more than that, pushing them to expand by promoting them. For him, it’s really important to keep the metal scene growing and diverse for it to stay alive. It was a really interesting chat that brought a different vision of the artist who, beyond being a musician in one of the biggest bands of our era, remains an individual invested and passionate.

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