Just as the old saying goes, this tour has everything. Something old, something new and something Swedish blue! Sabaton are back in town, this time with hardened metal veterans Accept and fellow Swedes and battle metal newcomers Twilight Force in tow. With the bases covered, Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid donned his battle dress and got ready to rattle some sabres!
It would be easy to deride Twilight Force as they gleefully gallop into view under the banner of battle metal (whatever that is). The Swedish outfit first grabbed my attention by answering the questions of colleague of mine at Fireworks Magazine in full 'warrior character'. The more straight faced the question, the more ridiculous came the reply – it was a hoot, in a good way. So, interest piqued, we entered the quaint but cavernous Glasgow Academy just as the Force hit the stage. As we headed through the doors, my daughter shouted "I didn't know Twilight Force had a female vocalist??" They don't, but the pitch perfect, glass shatterings from Chrileon (stick with me here) could easily be mistaken for so. As we gained sight of the stage, the next thing my daughter did was to glance at me before we both burst out laughing. With all manner of capes, face masks, elf ears (I kid you not) and flowing blonde locks adorning the six-piece hammering through "Battle Of Arcane Might", it would have been easy to think we'd arrived at a Rick Wakeman cosplay party. Yet, with a sound that mixes early Helloween, Dragonforce and Gloryhammer, Twilight Force's merrily technical attack is hard to resist. And so it proved, "Riders Of The Storm" (as far from a Doors cover as you can imagine) and "Gates Of Glory" receiving an impressive reception from a healthily full venue. Pulling out his broadsword (that's not a euphemism by the way) for closing number "The Power Of The Ancient Force" Chrileon thrust his weapon in the air in celebration, drawing a similar response from the crowd. Yes, the half spoken, half growled song introductions from keyboard wizard (guessing from his garb maybe even literally a wizard) Blackwald, are more than a little silly. Yet with the band's frontman comically yawning, checking his watch and counting himself back in at the solo's end as guitarists Aerendir and Lynd traded copious fret licks, the band certainly don't take themselves too seriously. But that didn't stop them warming up the crowd like few relatively unknown bands ever do and had me making a mental note to get a copy of their latest album, Heroes Of Mighty Magic, as soon as possible. Surely that has to count as a job well done?
Other than a two part stage-set/backdrop that proved too big for the traditionally narrow but deep dimensions of the Academy's stage (ultimately the two pieces were laid out in an overlapping fashion to squeeze both them and the drum kit into the available space), Accept don't need gimmicks to get their message across. Of course, having a first rate catalogue to draw from, including three top notch efforts since their 2010 resurgence, would be the making of any band. However it was the vigour and youthful enthusiasm with which this band attacked every one of the songs in their allotted hour that made their set the triumph it undoubtedly was. Splitting the set 60/40 in favour of old over new, opening with two more recent numbers, "Stampede" and "Stalingrad", might have been seen as a risk, but with the band very infrequent visitors to Scotland throughout their career, it was clear that not only were their fans simply delighted to see them, but that they've also embraced the current Mark Tornillo era of Accept. With the crowd's fists constantly in the air and every chorus a gang chant, the core duo of guitarist Wolf Hoffman and bassist Peter Baltes were clearly having a ball as they ripped through the older classics "Restless & Wild", "London Leatherboys", "Princess Of The Dawn" and "Fast As A Shark". The latter complete with its enthusiastically greeted crowd intro singalong.
Tornillo really has proved a perfect fit, his cross between his predecessor Udo Dirkschnieder's bark and AC/DC's Brian Johnson's, well, bark, allowing the diminutive grey denim clad howler to simultaneously be both reverential and his own man. He's also a strong presence on stage, even if the between song interaction was very sparse indeed. Instead the band just got on with it, hammering out one riff after another and delighting everyone in the process. If there's a complaint, then it's that second guitarist, Uwe Lulis and drummer Christopher Williams feel very much like the 'backing band', but in terms of performance they both impress hugely. As for the main men, you'll seldom see two veterans of the scene visibly have as much fun as Baltes and Hoffman, both getting their moments to shine. Although it's the guitarist who most unforgettably grabbed the limelight with his simply stunning solo work during the outstanding "Metal Heart". The song possibly being the highlight of the whole night. That said, being able to pull out stunning slabs of metal in the shape of "Tuetonic Terror" and "Balls To The Wall" to close their set, shows the true class and heritage this band have at their disposal. I've been a fan of Accept since 1982, but tonight was the first time I've ever had the chance to see them. They were worth the wait.
Sabaton like a challenge. Last time they ventured into Scotland they hit the stage after home heroes Alestorm had already worked a partisan crowd into a frenzy. Whereas tonight they'd set themselves the unenviable task of following genuine legends. To their credit, as has been the story across Europe, this visit finds the band in a larger venue than before - even though the previous date was only ten months ago. To emphasise the point, this time they arrived not only with their trademark double barrelled tank-drum riser but also state of the art visuals on the huge screen behind them. Illustrating the heroes, battles and wars the band's lyrics have always portrayed, there was also the opportunity for the screens to almost, but not quite, turn things into Sabaton-aoke! "Sparta" however found another focal point, singer Joakim Brodén in full Spartan garb, head-dress and all, while two muscular chaps appeared brandishing spears and flexing their pecs. The only mystery being that with the pair having their faces hidden behind helmets and the guitar pairing in Twilight Force having remarkably similar long, flowing blonde locks, were they one in the same…?
As ever when you witness a Sabaton show, not only can you prepare yourself for some pounding power metal, but also the band's onstage antics. New guitarist Tommy Johansson - who seems a perfect fit for the band both in enthusiasm and ability - got in on the act, given the opportunity to 'choose' a song to play, he plumped for Brodén's 'least favourite' Saba-song "Swedish Pagans", which always goes down a storm with the fans. Great fun though they are, in truth, some of the amateur dramatics do wear a little thin and when you consider that Brodén is a charismatic frontman with a sharp sense of humour, arguably the way they sometimes slow the show down for no real reason could be seen as needless. However in the band's defence, their meteoric rise over the past five years or so clearly shows they're doing something right and I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to laughing along at the hammed up set-plays with everyone else.
With six songs aired from their current album, The Last Stand, the set did feel fresh, "Shiroyama", "The Last Battalion" and "The Last Stand" also going a long way to explaining the band's upward trajectory. Bravely they also added another new aspect to the Sabaton attack, "The Final Solution" a tradeoff of acoustic guitar - Chris Rörland providing a stunningly restrained solo - Johansson's impressive keyboard work and percussion from drummer Hannes van Dahl and Brodén, the latter handed a shaker to entice him away from the keyboards… Well intentioned though the idea was, all it really did was suck some of the hard earned energy out of the room. However, from there it was boom-smash-boom-smash anthems to the end, "Union (Slopes Of St Benedict)" a fittingly bombastic conclusion to the main set. Promoted from its slot as an early evening rabble rouser on the rest of the tour so far, the Scottish inspired "Blood Of Bannockburn" was an exceptional choice as an encore, before "To Hell And Back" gained such an ovation that Brodén announced "It's Wednesday and I have goosebumps!"
As was the case with Twilight Force at the start of the night, it's easy to poke fun at Sabaton. However a more professional, capable and entertaining band you'll struggle to find anywhere. Even if for me, Accept stole the show.
Photographs by Katie Reid