Sabaton: the “crisis” of history and heavy metal music

Interview with the Swedish band Sabaton, a pioneer in the musical telling of stories that must not be forgotten.

History, its teachings and the events that compose it, very often become “victims” of the power games of the present timeline. A sort of continuous cutting and sewing of the major events of national histories that, in the long run, leads to forgetting, or worse, misrepresenting some events, heroes or protagonists, in favour of others and all in the name of interests of the current political class. This trend would seem to be stronger in authoritarian countries, with strong national elements inside the government narrative. A good example of such situation is the issue around Filippov’s manual, adopted in Russia in 2007, where the role of Stalin’s historical figure has undergone a serious (quite questionable) restyling.

[…] in 2007, the authors of the most important government-sponsored textbook of Soviet history (the “Filippov textbook”) gave a positive assessment of Stalin’s role in Soviet history. Without denying the dictator’s responsibility for the repressions, they presented him at least as an “efficient manager.” This formula immediately became subject of passionate debates between Stalin’s admirers and his critics[1].

Plus, the teaching of history lives through a time of major crisis, also in Italy. History manuals tend to be progressively more reductive, especially in high schools, and teaching itself is more than often confined to the mere memorizing of historical dates and finalized to overcoming tests and homework. A “passion” crisis? A methodical crisis? These doubts will surely be analysed more in depth with the contribution of authoritative voices from the academic field in future articles, but, in the meantime, someone in the world is fighting for history and its stories not to end up forgotten into oblivion, and for them to be a source of renewed interest and curiosity coming from young people – or not. Music has always been a strong vehicle of transmission and sensibilisation of awareness on the most varied issues, and history makes no exception. The Swedish band that goes by the name Sabaton[2], founded in 1999 by Joakim Brodén and Pär Sundström, made it its real trademark and currently manages a thriving Youtube channel for historical analysis of the themes covered by their songs (Sabaton History[3]). We had the privilege of asking bassist and co-founder Pär Sundström some questions on the topics that were previously mentioned and that are aiming at deepening the relationship between their music and history, and much more.

The interview

Distinctive mark of the band is military history; a “story” that unfortunately shows no sign of diminishing and therefore I would like to ask what consideration you have, you who are particularly involved in the theme, of the phrase “historia magistra vitae”?
“I am aware of the phrase, but I be honest I am not fully aware of where it comes from and for what purpose it was once written. I have to add that while Sabaton sing about history we are not historians, we find history more interesting than other topics we could have chosen to sing about. Stories live as long as they are told, perhaps what Sabaton is doing will help some stories live longer.”.

The teaching of history, in Italy as well as abroad, is very sectoral and limited. History is considered a secondary subject, do you think it possible that the “crisis” of this teaching is the cause, in part even minimal, of the problems and wars that we still see today?
“I am not sure what will happen with history lessons in the future, unfortunately history is often used politically and by many leaders history is censored for the own people to fit the leaders agenda. The way I see the world develop even in western countries is that it becomes more and more controlled what is right and what is wrong. What I know about conflicts is that there are always at least two sides, and they often both right according to their own agenda.”.

Your music has always stood out for narrating historical events from an impartial and extremely precise point of view, this has meant that many people have approached history as a subject (thanks also to your youtube channel: Sabaton History channel). Do you think music is a more effective tool than movies, documentaries and books? or maybe as a means to get then to be interested in the latter?
“I think we are another branch of teaching history, for some people we are more appealing and many fans who start listening to Sabaton and then start digging into the background of the songs they find out that suddenly they are studying history without even knowing about it. Some people prefer to read a book, some go to a museum, some watch a documentary, and some go to a Sabaton concert. We are a complement to the other factions.”.

Your music, together with its genre (Metal) aims to raise awareness and remember with respect. A problem, however, that also afflicts other musical genres that would like to raise awareness on some social issues, such as rap and trap, is that often some distracted listeners and fans could read the message in reverse and, in your case, stir up for that dramatic event that is a war. What reflection would you like to make on this?
“There are many artists who use their music and fame to influence people politically. In Sabaton we have no such agenda. We want to play metal, sing about history and if someone feel something or want to do something that is not us telling them to do so.”.

Your latest album: “The war to end all wars”, further explores the theme of the First World War and its dramatic events that took place over a hundred years ago. The release of the album, however, was concomitant with the war we are seeing in Ukraine and the international climate is so tense as to remember what the months were following the attack in Sarajevo in 1914. What reflection would you like to make on this?
“There are many who somehow try to make our album seem planned in the timing of the war in Ukraine. Something I find strange since it takes years to make an album and it would be very strange if Sabaton somehow were aware of Putins plans a few years ago. Sabaton planned the album to be a follow up to the 2019 album The Great War which we decided to put out due to the activation of the topic world war 1 as the 100 years anniversary were coming up. We would have released a traditional Sabaton album no matter what is going on in the world, if we would change our plans or change our brand we would become political and we want to avoid that. If I see similarities with what happened in the beginning of ww1 I have to say that the tensions between alliances and such could resemble some parts that were crucial for the outbreak of the first world war.”.


[1] Koposov, Memory claws, cit. p. 242
[2] “In over two decades since their launch, Swedish metallers Sabaton have carved out a reputation as one of the hardest working bands in the business – gaining a legion of loyal fans across the globe, delivering ten highly-rated studio albums (including two certified platinum-sellers), and scoring multiple industry award wins and nominations… not to mention launching their own annual festival and cruise”. In [3] Si veda:

Photo: Sabaton “The Great War”.