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Saturday 3rd November 2012
HMV Ritz in Manchester, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
With the UK leg of Sabaton's Swedish Empire Tour in full swing, the trio of bands comprising this rather enticing of packages hits Manchester on a Saturday night. And Saturdays are for partying, right? Rather fittingly then, there's a discernible party vibe in the HMV Ritz this evening, crammed as it is with a gaggle of metal fans eager for their weekend fix of live action. And, looking around, many have already been over-eager in their weekend fix of beer consumption even before opening act Wisdom hit the stage as a few punters look ever so slightly unsteady on their feet, engaging in involuntary swaying rather than purposeful moshing when the Hungarian band commence attack. Power metal through and through, their set is slick, incisive and a whole lot of fun. Looking like they're enjoying every second of what's their first ever European tour (despite forming back in 2001), the audience respond positively to their melodically infectious tunes as fists start to pump the air a short way in. With a bias towards material from their latest album, 'Judas', they also air their namesake track from debut full-length, 'Words of Wisdom', and a carbon copy of Iron Maiden's 'Wasted Years'. It could be argued the latter is a little misplaced in a short support slot whereby they might've been better off maximising set time by showcasing more of their own material. However, the rapturous crowd reaction to their five minute burst of Maiden is so well received and enhances the party atmosphere so fuck it; no-one in attendance seems in any small way disgruntled by its inclusion. Climaxing with the title track from their latest release, Wisdom have done themselves proud with a solid performance and no doubt won over some new fans amongst the Sabaton hordes tonight.
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I last caught Swiss folk metallers Eluveitie four years ago on both the Paganfest tour and at Bloodstock Open Air so was relishing this opportunity to witness their unique fusion of melo-death and Celtic music on the live stage once again. Unleashing what many have hailed their best work to date earlier this year, 'Helvetios', a sign of the band's own confidence and satisfaction in this rather impressive new album is the whopping seven tracks they air from said release this evening, which only leaves time for a couple of other numbers (fan favourite 'Inis Mona' is predictably one of those). Renowned for their high energy live shows, the octet that comprises Eluveitie are somewhat restricted tonight, lined up as they are in formation in front of Sabaton's backline and stage props. It's largely down to frontman Chrigel Glanzmann to make the most of what little space there is as he prowls his confined territory as if an animal trapped in a cage, mixing up his growled vocals with sporadic passages over which he adeptly performs mandola and whistle etc. And then, of course, there are the wondrous vocals of hurdy gurdy wielder Anna Murphy which sound truly sublime over 'A Rose for Epona' and 'Alesia'. Many present sing along to those two tracks so Eluveitie evidently have a contingent of their fanbase present in the HMV Ritz, further evidenced by the energetic response they receive to the more up tempo 'The Uprising' and set closer 'Havoc'. Amazing stuff from an incredibly talented band but the eight musicians really do need more stage space to genuinely excel on all counts. As such, they make the most of what they have tonight and still manage to deliver a mindblowing set.
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Sabaton at the HMV Ritz in Manchester, UK, 3rd November 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
As lights fade in the HMV Ritz and Europe's perennially cheesy classic 'The Final Countdown' blasts through the PA, cheers subside and a mass sing-along ensues. Now it truly is party time and when Sabaton hit the stage around 8:15pm, the venue erupts into a mutually jovial sanctum of metal merriment. It's been a long time since I've witnessed such a rapturous crowd reaction at a gig as, literally, front to back, and from the start of Sabaton's set to the end, the entire venue transforms into an energetic mass of moving bodies. And you can't help but 'feel' the audience's enthusiasm during the many occasions where at least ninety per cent of the people present bounce up and down so the floor physically moves beneath my feet. The love for these talented Swedish metal warriors is undeniable and they deliver on all fronts tonight with a musically tight, ceaselessly energetic performance on a stage adorned with platforms, a big drum riser, and additional lighting.

Seeing Sabaton is as much about the spectacle as it is about the music. These men know how to entertain on every level and embody the true spirit and essence of metal's fun side. And, remarkably, with the exodus of four key band members earlier in the year after the exit of two guitarists, drummer and keyboardist, followed by the swift recruitment of three new musicians - guitarists Chris Rörland and Thobbe Englund, and sticksman Robban Bäck (keyboards, at present, are on backing tracks) - the spirit of Sabaton is very much alive and kicking with an even greater onstage camaraderie than ever before. As such, the band's war-themed repertoire sounds as good as it ever has - dare I say delivered with an even fresher, greater vigour. Considering the seriousness of the lyrics' war stories, the fun atmosphere engendered by Sabaton's performance is kind of a paradox. So, despite the mass sing-alongs, the evening is not a glorification of war, rather a celebration of unmitigated metal entertainment. Matters are kept light-hearted throughout such as when a keyboard is brought forth (the only live keyboards of the night) for 'The Hammer Has Fallen', and frontman Joakim Brodén can't resist a short rendition of 'The Final Countdown' (are these Swedes proud of their country's musical heritage or what?!) before commencing the actual song. Airing new album tracks alongside classic material such as 'Ghost Division', 'Primo Victoria', 'Cliffs of Gallipoli', 'Uprising' and 'Metal Crüe', a fun night is had by all, both band and fans. Incredible stuff.
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