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Live Review: Kreator & Sabaton

The first time I saw Kreator was in October 1989 at an S&M bar in New York City called Zone DK. Coroner had supported. I tell this tale not to brag, but to illustrate how long Kreator have been at it. I didn’t even see them particularly early on (people were already saying they sold out — Extreme Aggression was on a major label, don’t you know) which really illustrates how long they’ve been at it.

Mille Petrozza, the one constant in the band’s lineup, has not lost much of hoarse thrash scream despite turning 50 a few months back. The one concession to age might be having his microphone angled down, just like Lemmy used to do it. It’s probably easier to get through an hour of screaming by looking up the whole time. Ask a vocal coach and see if they either confirm this theory or cringe.

With a large catalogue to choose from, Kreator split the set more or less into two distinct eras and three distinct sections. The first half dozen songs were all from last year’s Gods of Violence or 2012’s Phantom Antichrist using “Enemy of God” to connect the two most recent releases. Then for the geriatric amongst us, the middle of the set included “Coma of Souls,” a blistering version of “Endless Pain,” and “Outcast.”

Although Jürgen “Ventor” Reil took a couple of years off, it’s important to remember that he and Petrozza are the only original members. The duo are indelible lifers who deserve respect not only for what they have done, but that they continue doing it — besides, he still is one of the best double-bass thrash drummers you’ll find.

The set closed by returning to the more recent fare – the title tracks from the new one and Hordes of Chaos sandwiched between “From Flood into Fire.” While a classic band highlighting new material is often a mistake, it showed that Kreator is still churning out quality thrash metal decades after many of their peers have left the hall.

The parting classic cut “Pleasure to Kill” was domineering and breathtaking, almost good enough to let you forgive them for completely ignoring Extreme Aggression. It would have been a pleasure to kill if it meant hearing “Betrayer.” Oh well.

If Kreator embodied the rigid 1980s Teutonic thrash sound, Sabaton proffer quintessential Swedish power metal. While not quite on par with the schism between skinheads and longhairs, there used to be friction between thrashers and trad metal fans. The new titans on the block were the good friendly violent alternative to the Dungeons & Dragons set. Fortunately, despite distinct differences between the allegiance of those in denim vests and others in black long sleeve tees in the crowd, they all seemed to get along. Most seemed to watch both bands, too.

For Sabaton, a concert is a battle, and they are the foot soldiers. The band all wore matching jungle camouflage pants; vocalist Joakim Brodén wore what looked like a bulletproof vest. Combat helmets and ammunition bandoliers hung from the mic stands. They started with not one, but two prerecorded introductory songs, both of which referenced war. The screen behind them teemed with images of bombs exploding or self-aggrandizing Sabaton logos, their own battle flag.

The rhythms gallop and the crowd responds with soccer chants along with “Swedish Pagans” that were nearly as anthemic as the churning riffs and percussion perfect for marching into strobe-lit arenas and smoky battlefields alike.

All that said, these Swedes sure are pretty damn cheerful for warmongers. Maybe they’re desensitized from nearly two decades of desultory demolition; more likely it’s that power metal is empowering and epic. Manowar can do this without cracking smiles, but Sabaton seem to realize that this is entertainment and don’t take it too seriously.

They do get serious when images of Anne Frank and other victims of Nazi violence are displayed on the screen as they perform “The Final Solution.” Some things are no laughing matter.

But that didn’t last. Brodén took a guitar and goofed on “Beat It” and “Master of Puppets” and then kept up the fun letting the crowd choose the next song; they chose “Screaming Eagles” over “Into The Fire” (despite the Fillmore using that as the name of a featured cocktail for the evening – Jim Beam, Club Soda and lime juice – next time perhaps they can make a “Blood of Bannockburn” Mary.)
Finally, Sabaton left the way they came, with two different prerecorded salvos lamenting the dead and flamboyant heavy metal bows. It was over the top, overblown, and at times overkill, but they are one of the biggest power metal bands in the world because of those things, not in spite of them.

— Brian O’Neill

photos by Tashina Byrd

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