at The First Direct Arena, Leeds, U.K., April 14, 2023

SABATON (Live at The First Direct Arena, Leeds, U.K., April 14, 2023)
Photo: Mick Burgess

It’s certainly been a long time coming but finally Sabaton’s The Tour To End All Tours arrived in Leeds for the opening night of their European Tour and by showtime, the anticipation amongst the packed crowd had reached fever pitch.

Always a band to put on something of a spectacle, Sabaton ensured that spectacle started with the support acts too and what better way to open than Eurovision Winners Lordi complete with their hideous, gnarled, monster costumes.

Armed with some seriously catchy tunes, things started well for Lordi with “Dead Again Jayne” and “Would You Love The Monster Man?” packing a serious punch but with enough hooks to catch a dozen sharks.

Alas first night sound gremlins kicked in big time to seriously disrupt the set but Lordi soldiered on admirably despite this, delivering a set which had the crowd jumping. Mr Lordi’s dry humour added to the sense of fun on “Who’s Your Daddy” and the legendary Euro anthem “Hard Rock Hallelujah” rescued Lordi from the jaws of defeat. It wasn’t to be Lordi’s day but on another night, they’d have blown the roof off.

Every now and then a phenomenon comes from seemingly nowhere and turns the musical world on its head. Japan’s Babymetal have taken the Metal world by storm with their toxic mix of J-Pop and brutal Metal creating something utterly unique, both musically and visually which they dub “Kawaii Metal” or “Cute Metal”.

Fronted by three “cute” lead singers with almost cartoon-like voices and tight, high energy choreography juxtaposed by some seriously Metal riffing it just seems so bizarre that it couldn’t possibly work but it does. Big time.

The crowd went absolutely wild for them as they tore through “Babymetal Death” and “Pa Pa Ya” but it was their iconic “Gimme Chocolate” smash that brought the house down. Who could argue with a message like that?

Swedish Metal heroes, Sabaton’s star is certainly heading for the stratosphere at the moment with this tour selling out across the continent and tonight in Leeds, it was no exception. Ahead of the tour bassist Pär Sundström promised a show far bigger in scope and scale than they’d ever done before. Let’s just say, Pär didn’t lie.

As lovers of military history, a Sabaton show is not just a regular concert but something of a history lesson too – not the stuffy, boring school days type – but something altogether more interactive.

Opening with the bombastic “Ghost Division” to an absolute deluge of explosions and smoke bombs had the front of stage security guys jumping out of their skin before lead singer Joakim Broden ended the song by firing a bazooka at the drumriser. Sabaton were up and running.

The stirring “Bismarck” followed hot on its heels, with hot being the operative word as flamethrowers enveloped the stage from all angles frying those in the first tens rows.

With a stage set designed around their The Great War and The War To End All Wars albums, this was a visual feast with sandbags and barbed wire to the front of the stage which was flanked by watch towers, the drum kit sitting atop a tank with a huge gun, which of course, fired and a whole host extras, this was one unforgettable history lesson.

The energy levels never dipped below frantic as guitarists Chris Rorland and Tommy Johansson along with bassist Pär Sundström dashed from one side of the stage to the other, up ramps and platforms and into the watch towers without pausing for breath as Broden commanded from the front. It was a high intensity, fast moving, chest thumping, fist pumping Metal romp.

The flames came thick and fast during “Into The Fire” and “Carolus Rex” and with two actors standing in the watchtowers blasting flamethrowers across the stage during “Stormtroopers” it was as if the Commando comics of the ’70s had come to life.

Hot of the press this very day, “1916” and “Father” from their latest EP Weapons Of The Modern Age made their very first live appearances with the latter featuring a couple of onstage actors telling of the paradox of Fritz Haber, the man responsible for weaponising gas in war while also developing fertilizer that has fed billions.

During the driving, bombast of “The Red Baron” the legendary red tri-plane entered centre stage with the Red Baron himself playing the keyboards nestling in the cockpit. Great stuff.

In a truly moving moment, thousands of mobile phones lit up the arena like a Christmas tree during “Christmas Truce” featuring a British Tommy and a German Fritz around a burning piano, with Tommy Johansson standing on top for the solo as the song told the tale of the short time the guns fell silent in 1914 before ending with a confetti snow storm.

“Primo Victoria” and “To Hell and Back” brought the night to one suitably explosive end with enough pyro to spark World War III making this the hottest ticket in town and quite possibly the most jaw dropping, spectacular arena show you’ll see all year. In a word – stunning.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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