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Learning from lyrics: how Sabaton educates their listeners

by Tt Shinkan  When you hear “educational music” it probably brings you back to your kindergarten classroom. Sitting on the bright colored carpet, looking up at the teacher who’s teaching your class the latest color song.  As you got older, these songs started to seem “childish." Music is supposed to entertain people, not teach them. However, there are a few songs that slip in there and teach people important life lessons. Take one of my favorite genres, country. Sure, a lot of the more “mainstream” songs are about whiskey, love, and tractors but you do get some hidden gems that actually teach listeners something. Luke Comb’s song, “When It Rains It Pours,” basically teaches its listeners that, even though something bad might happen to you, it might have happened for a reason. John Rich’s song, “Shut Up About Politics,” is basically just that. He literally sings that even though he agrees with one political parties views, it’s still nothing but a “big pile of dirty tricks.” We can all still get along if we just put down our weapons and “shut up about politics.”  https://youtu.be/t_OynNTbd-Q However, there’s one band that centers their entire career around teaching their listeners, and the genre they’ve decided to do it in isn’t what you would think. Sabaton is a power metal band from Falun, Sweden and almost every song they produce centers around battles and acts of heroism in history. Even their name, sabaton, is a historical reference, referring to the foot armor of a knight.  The band has been around since 1999 and consist of the members Joakim Brodén (vocals and keyboard), Pär Sundström (bass), Chris Rörland (guitar), Hannes van Dahl (drums), and Tommy Johansson (guitar). Since their formation, the band has released eight studio albums with a ninth set to be released on July 19th. Seven out of the eight all have the same historical themes to them, with “Metalizer” being an exception. However, their songs illustrate battles fought throughout history as well as telling stories of war heroes the history books didn’t teach us.  I first discovered them when I was a sophomore in college. One of my friends introduced me to them one night and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m a huge history buff and sometimes find myself researching historical events in my free time. I’m also a sucker for good metal music, so Sabaton was the whole package for me. One of the first songs I remember listening to was about an American soldier whose grave I happened to see when I went to Arlington National Cemetery a few years back.  “To Hell and Back” is about the most decorated World War II veteran in America, Audie Murphy, who joined the U.S. Army at the age of 17 after forging his birth year by a year. The song details his time in the war as well as incorporating a poem he had written about it later in his life. The poem, “Crosses Grow on Anzio” is referenced in the song:   

“Oh gather round me And listen while I speak Of a war Where hell is six feet deep And all along the shore Where cannons still roar” 
Even the title to the song is a reference to his 1949 autobiography of the same name.  After I listened to Sabaton’s song about him, I decided to research him more. I had known Audie Murphy was a prominent World War II veteran but I never knew he was also a poet and actor. Or that he suffered from severe PTSD.  Besides singing about American heroes, or the more well known wars, Sabaton also sings about other notable people and battles throughout history. “Shiroyama” is one of these songs.  The song is referencing the Battle of Shiroyama which took place on September 24, 1877 in Kagoshima, Japan which basically brought an end to the samurai class. As the song states, the samurai army only had 500 men which was vastly outnumbered by the Imperial Japanese Army’s 30,000. As you could imagine, all 500 samurai lost their lives because they were, as the song states, “surrounded and outnumbered, 60 to 1 the sword face the gun." The imperial forces used guns and were able to fight from a distance while the samurai used swords which required them to fight closer to the enemy.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ylyqoxh-cXk The song does a fantastic job of describing the struggle the samurai went through during the battle and that “it’s a nature of time, that the old ways must give in” to the changing technologies of the world and move into the future. In a way, it’s a depressing song, but it honors the brave samurai that fought till the very end and never backed down.  Sabaton has also allowed me to further research some of my heritage. “Last Dying Breath” is a song about Major Dragutin Gavrilović’s defense against the Serbian capital of Belgrade against the Austro-Hungarian and German attack in World War I. Finding out Sabaton has a song about Serbia made me blast this song in my room for weeks.  During their last stand, Gavrilović knew he was vastly outnumbered and didn’t possess as good of artillery as his enemy. Before charging into battle, he gave these words of encouragement to his men: 
Soldiers, exactly at three o'clock, the enemy is to be crushed by your fierce charge, destroyed by your grenades and bayonets. The honor of Belgrade, our capital, must not be stained. Soldiers! Heroes! The supreme command has erased our regiment from its records. Our regiment has been sacrificed for the honor of Belgrade and the Fatherland. Therefore, you no longer need to worry about your lives: they no longer exist. So, forward to glory! For the King and the Fatherland! Long live the King, Long live Belgrade!”
Upon further research, however, I discovered that the song’s theme is centered around this speech. “Soldiers, heroes, die for your land, Your lives are gone, erased by your command” is the chorus of the song, which, if you couldn’t tell, means that even though Gavrilović’s men were still alive during his speech, the Serbian government had already declared them dead. Unfortunately, his troops weren’t able to defend Belgrade from its attackers and suffered heavy losses with Gavrilović himself being badly wounded. But their bravery and self-sacrifice, earned the respect of their enemies which prompted them to erect a monument, which still stands to this day, recognizing these Serbian heroes.  Were it not for Sabaton’s song, I would have never known about these brave Serbian men and their fearless leader who inspired them to fight despite being outnumbered and lacking the strong artillery.  Even their albums show a historical theme. Their 2008 album “The Art of War” is about Sun Tzu’s fifth century written work of the same name. Each song on the album centers around a different historical battle where tactics from Tzu’s work are used. Their debut album in 2005, “Primo Victoria” is Latin for “Foremost, Victory." It was during the songwriting process of the title track that Brodén and Sundström decided to give the rest of the songs on the album a historical reference because they liked the meanings the subjects added to their songs.  “Carolus Rex," Sabaton’s sixth studio album is a concept album about the rise and fall of the Swedish Empire. Every song on the album has something to do with the Swedish Empire from the founding of the empire on the Baltic Sea in 1611 (“Dominium maris Baltici”) to its fall in 1721 after the Great Northern War (“Ruina Imperii”). Their seventh album titled “Heroes” is about individuals who, according to Sundström, “basically went beyond their call of duty, put themselves into harm's way for the good of others." This is the album where “To Hell and Back” is on.  “The Last Stand," released on my birthday in 2016, is about “last stand” military battles throughout history. This album features “Shiroyama” and “Last Dying Breath” and is my favorite album from the band.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwctcc2F8kE Their upcoming album, “The Great War,” focuses on, well, The Great War — World War I! Three singles have already been released which are: “Fields of Verdun,” which is about the French victory in the Battle of Verdun in 1916 which lasted for nine months; “The Red Baron,” which is about the famous German pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, who had 80 confirmed air combat victories; and “Great War,” which is about World War I as a whole.  The rest of the album lineup has already been released as well as the subjects each song references. If they’re anything like the singles, or the rest of their songs, they’re going to rock!  In addition to their albums, Sabaton has a history channel on YouTube called Sabaton History. Each Thursday, historian Indy Neidell takes one of the band’s songs and discusses the history surrounding it. Afterward, he sits down with either Brodén or Sundström to talk about why they chose that story to sing about as well as some interesting facts surrounding it. It’s super interesting and I highly suggest you give that channel a watch.  As you read this feature, you might’ve gotten a good history lesson out of it. Which is what I was trying to achieve. Educational music might sound boring in theory, but if you get the idea of it only being limited to just younger kids out of your head, it’ll open up a whole new door for you. Before I started listening to Sabaton, I was only interested in American history and maybe just a little bit of ancient history, but after listening, I have this greater appreciation for the world's history. Sabaton has created a new, unorthodox way of learning. I never would have thought that a Sweden power metal band would teach me more about history than a standard textbook. Whether you choose to listen to them or not, Sabaton will continue to tell stories about acts of heroism and bravery throughout history. It’s because of them that I’ve discovered a whole new world of music. Without them, I would have never discovered bands such as Powerwolf, Alestorm, Amaranthe, Battle Beast, and Brothers of Metal. All of which have made their way into my workout music. Sabaton is the type of feel-good music besides country I can enjoy listening to and feel like a total badass. I remember reading a comment on one of their songs about them being modern-day bards, and I have to agree. They use metal to recite stories about historic events or people, but instead of focusing on one person’s ancestors, they focus on events or groups who have found their way into the history books as heroes. 
Sources: YouTube Featured Image: Grande Rock

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