In the combative genre of heavy metal it is of course often about war. Iron Maiden, for example, addressed the Crimean War in the song The TrooperMetallica sang about the death wish of a wounded frontline soldier One.
The Swedish metal band Sabaton tackles the heavy theme even more thoroughly. The band only makes songs about bombings and naval battles. In May the band played in a sold-out Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam and re-enacted almost the entire First World War, in songs such as Sarajevo, Christmas Truce and Soldier of Heaven.
About the author
Robert van Gijssel has been music editor since 2012 de Volkskrantwith a special interest in electronic music and dance and the harder music genres.
According to themselves, the band is on a serious historical war mission and this became apparent on Tuesday in the National Military Museum in Soesterberg. The band founder, songwriter and bassist Pär Sundström can be shown around and even driven around in a tank. He walks past special uniforms and looks at weapon collections – who knows, they might one day appear in a new Sabaton song. But Sundström mainly traveled to Soesterberg to see the educational film The War to End All Wars to present: a drawn representation of Sabaton’s work about that one great war, which should have made all other wars redundant.
Personal war stories
The metal band’s film project is not just a video clip that got out of hand. Sabaton had the film made after they had recorded two albums about the First World War. The band had already started their own history channel on YouTube in which their songs are historically interpreted and now they wanted to capture their historical clips in a somewhat larger film project. “When it was finished, we didn’t really know where to show it,” says Sundström. ‘The war in Ukraine just broke out. Cinemas and film festivals just didn’t feel like it.’
Or did that happen because Sabaton is often accused of glorifying or romanticizing war? Sundström: ‘But that’s nonsense. We tell personal stories from the wars, also about the horrors.’ In the song The Lady of the Dark for example, Sabaton sings about the Serbian war heroine Milunka Savić, who fought in the First World War. A few telling lines from that song: ‘She stands before you, all that metal shining bright. Lost in time, returning to the light.’ Sundström: ‘We are indeed trying to put these special people back in the spotlight. To keep their stories and therefore history alive.’
120 museums worldwide
That is why the band wanted to show the historically accurate music film in museums. Dutch fans then suggested the National Military Museum (NMM) in Soesterberg, which opened in 2014. The NMM was approached by Sabaton and warmly welcomed the idea, as did 120 other museums worldwide The War to End All Wars show.
“It is a boost for a museum,” says spokesperson Carla Marcus. ‘Of course we always try to attract new audiences and preferably more young people. That works very well now.’ And indeed: dozens of visitors wearing Sabaton shirts are wandering through the museum this afternoon, who, incidentally, leave the band member they admire alone.
Of course, the band was vetted in advance, says Marcus. ‘As a museum you want to know whether it is a pure band. And where they stand with their texts. But that is completely fine with Sabaton.’ Sabaton does thorough research before starting a text about an act of war, as they know at the NMM. ‘Moreover, many museum employees are also simply fans.’ We see this when an attendant has a selfie taken with Sundström, for whom he is extra cordially opening the door today. Marcus: ‘He specifically requested to be allowed to perform this service.’
Sundström gets to process a lot of Dutch history during his tour through the museum galleries. Curator Dirk Staat accompanies him and explains how the Netherlands freed itself from Spanish rule, and how water has always played a role in military history. ‘Yes, we Dutch know what we can do with water.’
Sundström gets his rock jacket pulled by two young fans. Nova Hyman (11) and her brother Nickson (6), both in an oversized Sabaton shirt, are passionate lovers, they say after their selfie. “My mother likes metal,” Nova says. ‘That’s how I got to know them. I’ve been to two shows already. But I especially find the history in their songs interesting.’
She previously gave a presentation in her class about the warship Bismarck, about which Sabaton made a song. ‘They thought that was quite strange at school.’ Her mother Brianda: ‘Unfortunately they don’t do much history at school anymore. Yes, Anne Frank. But beyond that?’
The War to End All Wars – the Movie, with music by Sabaton, until 19/11 in the National Military Museum in Soesterberg. The Sabaton history channel can be found on YouTube under: Sabaton History.