The Sabaton Cruise is an annual metal event on a cruise ship that is completely dedicated to the band Sabaton. During the event, the boat sails from Stockholm to the Estonian capital Tallinn and back in 48 hours. Onboard the ship is a full program including performances by Sabaton and a few other bands. After impulsively buying tickets with a few friends a few weeks in advance, we board the plane to Sweden on an early Wednesday morning in December.
After arriving at Stockholm-Bromma Airport, we continue our way by public transport to the port of Stockholm where the ship the Baltic Queen is already waiting for us. At that moment the ferry terminal is already full of enthusiastic darkly dressed metalheads. From the busy restaurant, the first Sabaton songs are already coming through the speakers brought along by fans. As soon as it appears that boarding is about to start, a long line will form in the terminal. Despite the length of the line, it moves quickly. Once the tickets have been scanned and the passports have been checked, we board the ship in search of our room. When we have found our room we get ready for the first evening. The rooms are of course not spacious, but big enough to contain everything you need.
Once we’ve unpacked, we head to the Sea Pub for the first part of the cruise’s program: A live episode of Sabaton History with Indy Neidell. On Sabaton History’s YouTube channel, the history and stories behind the songs are explained. Today, two songs are discussed, one of which has not yet been released. As soon as Indy starts talking we notice that the boat has left and that we are slowly leaving the port of Stockholm. In addition to fans, we also see a few familiar faces in the audience. The singer and bass player of the band, Joakim and Pär, are also listening attentively. Later, Pär also sits down with Indy for an interview. Due to the limited number of seats in the Sea Pub, there is not enough room for everyone who wants to come and watch. Some people stand at the doorway looking in to catch a glimpse of what is being told inside.
After listening for a while we decide to explore the ship. The over two hundred meter long ship has twelve decks and features several restaurants, various bars, a disco, a shopping center, a children’s playground (with a ball pit!), an arcade hall, and a sauna. As we walk through the corridors of the ship, we hear Sabaton and other heavy metal music coming through the built-in speakers. There are also plenty of people who have their doors open and are having a party with the music turned up. Arriving at Starlight Palace, the place where the concerts will take place, we see that the first fans have already claimed their front spots against the fences. In the meantime, the first band of the evening is busy soundchecking. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a concert hall (or rather, concert hall-turned-theater) on a ship, but it soon became clear that this is a special location for a performance by a big band like Sabaton. With only seven meters between the stage and the first seats, you’ll never be far from the stage.
At 6:40 PM it is finally time for the first performance of this cruise tour. The men of Wind Rose kick off. When the band starts playing, the room isn’t that busy yet. But that doesn’t matter much for the performance. The atmosphere is good and band members are visibly having a good time. Songs like Drunken Dwarves, Gates Of Ekrun and Fellows Of The Hammer pass by. Musically, Wind Rose isn’t the most technically advanced music (most of the bands on board this cruise aren’t), but they get the crowd going. The last song on the setlist is the Wind Rose classic Diggy Diggy Hole. As if the party wasn’t complete already, they end the song with a portion of the dance remix they created for it.
Tonight’s second band is Freedom Call. The band whose song M.E.T.A.L. I’ve been trying to get out of my head since their performance at Alcatraz (festival in Belgium) in 2021. That is also the song that is used as an intro before the gig. They open their set with the song Union of the Strong. Later also songs like Metal Is For Everyone and Warriors pass by. Personally, I find Freedom Call‘s music a little like mini-disco-metal (if that would be a genre). But when I look around me I see enough people who can enjoy it well. Each to their own, we’ll say.
A metal concert wouldn’t be a metal concert without a place to get merchandise. The same is true for this cruise, where there is a merchandise shop. In addition to the standard band merchandise from the different bands playing on the boat, there is also merchandise for sale from the Sabaton Cruise itself. In addition to general shirts from the cruise, there are also shirts available for this specific edition with the date and year on it.
Around 22:30, fifteen minutes before the start of Sabaton, the stage area starts to really fill up for the first time tonight. It’s still not very busy. It’s not like you’re standing shoulder to shoulder and can’t move anywhere. Let’s say it’s pleasantly busy. A few minutes before the performance starts, the band members of Sabaton come down the right staircase to a loud cheer from the audience to enter the stage.
Those who have seen Sabaton perform more often know that they are fairly predictable in terms of which song they begin their performances with. But as soon as the lights go out and the band walks on stage, it’s not Ghost Division that sounds through the speakers, but the intro of The Red Baron. An interesting and, moreover, surprising choice to open the set. But that does not necessarily make it a less good one, because as soon as frontman Joakim runs on stage, the figurative roof immediately comes off.
After the third song of Steel Commanders, Joakim wants to take a moment to welcome everyone. But even before he gets the chance to do so, the whole room is already singing Swedish Pagans. Once he finally does get the chance to say something, he tells the audience that there are going to be two nights with two completely different setlists. Tonight, they will only be playing songs from the past ten years, and tomorrow’s set will only include songs older than ten years. That also explains why they didn’t start with Ghost Division tonight. With a big smile on his face, Joakim tells the audience that this way, he doesn’t have to worry about playing Swedish Pagans tonight.
After the disco song Soldier of Heaven and Race To The Sea, both from the latest album The War To End All Wars, tells drummer Hannes the audience that he has come up with a new drum intro for Swedish Pagans. It is only natural that the audience is paying attention to that. After asking the rest of the band for permission to deviate a little from the planned setlist, Joakim announces the song. Hannes plays his new drum intro, which secretly sounds a lot like another well-known song named Fields of Verdun. When the rest of the instruments join in, it becomes clear that they never intended to play Swedish Pagans.
After Fields of Verdun, we go for the first time tonight back to the in 2016 released album The Last Stand with the songs Shiroyama and the title track The Last Stand. After The Last Stand, lead singer Joakim also picks up a guitar, which means we go back in time even further to the in 2014 released album Heroes with the song Resist and Bite. Normally, Sabaton is a band that includes a lot of special effects in their live performances, such as pyrotechnics and flamethrowers. Unfortunately, there is no room for that on this cruise. They are now limited to using only a few colored LED lamps and a screen behind the stage. With this they prove that they can also put on a good show without special effects.
During this cruise, it’s of course not possible to miss the song Bismarck, a song about a German warship from World War II. A smaller venue might be a sacrifice in terms of production, but it does provide the opportunity for more interaction with the audience. The band has no problem getting the audience to sing along. After Bismarck, the band announces that we are slowly approaching the end of their first performance of the cruise. The fans all start happily singing Swedish Pagans again, hoping that it will finally be played. After the number is announced for the umpteenth time tonight, Joakim says that they will now really play it. When we hear the intro of To Hell and Back, a big grin appears on Joakim’s face and he throws up two middle fingers. I wish I had a photo of this since I would have loved to share this with you. That the set ends with To Hell and Back is not entirely unexpected, this has been the standard closing of the Sabaton setlists in recent years.
It was a nice first performance by the Swedish band. Since mainly the more popular songs from the latest albums were played, it felt like a relatively normal setlist for the band. The only song I had never heard live before was The Unkillable Soldier. Personally, I had hoped to hear Hellfighters from the band’s most recent album The War To End All Wars live tonight. Unfortunately, there was no room for that song in this set.
As the last band for tonight, it’s finally Battle Beast‘s turn to take the stage. When the band members enter the stage to the applause of the audience present, they kick off the set with the title track of the last album Circus of Doom, which was released in January 2022. Where we were not bothered by the waves before, we are now starting to notice that we are on a boat. The drinks on the tables go back and forth and the rocking of the boat is also noticeable on the stage. Singer Noora jokes that it is not that she has drunk too much, but that the boat just goes back and forth. Despite the waves, Noora sings as if nothing is wrong and hits the high notes with ease. With this performance, the program for tonight comes to an end.
On the second day of the Sabaton Cruise around 10:30 AM, we arrive in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Since there is no special program planned for the afternoon hours, we have time to explore the city today. Wearing multiple layers of socks and a thick sweater, we brave the cold. When we arrive in the center, we walk around the Christmas market and visit the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Walking through the city it is easy to see who belongs to the cruise and who does not through the camouflage pants and other metal merchandise. The city doesn’t have any particularly special tourist attractions, but it is nice to walk around once since it is a city where I probably would not come that often otherwise.
As the sun slowly sets, we decide to head back towards the harbor, as we don’t want to miss the boat. When we arrive at the boat, I see a truck driving onto the ship’s dock and a family with young children boarding. So, it turns out the boat is also used as a regular ferry between Stockholm and Tallinn. Imagine that you unknowingly book a crossing and that when you get on board you find out that there is a metal event going on and that almost the entire boat is full of metalheads. Sounds like a unique and special experience to me.
Back in the room, we warm up again and get ready for the second night of the cruise. In addition to performances by bands, there is also a side program. For example, there was already a Hardrock Karaoke in the Sea Pub this afternoon. Tonight we first take a look at Indy Neidell who plays the album The Great War in its entirety in the piano bar. Again accompanied by some of Sabaton‘s own band members, all the songs from the album come by in order. It sounds a bit like the music of the German heimorgan artist Mambo Kurt, but Indy also openly admits that it’s not that good. Nevertheless, there is a lot of fun and laughter at the piano bar.
After Indy’s performance, it’s already time for the second and final performance of Sabaton at 8:00 PM. Today’s performance will look very different from yesterday’s, as today they will only play songs that are over ten years old. This would mean that unlike yesterday, they can also open with Ghost Division. They don’t, however, and they start with the song The Art of War. Playing in a smaller setting also has its advantages, as the band is close to the audience. During the intro of the Swedish version of 1648, Joakim takes a moment to give the fans in the front row a box.
After the second song, another joke is made about playing Swedish Pagans. While the audience is singing and Joakim is happily dancing, guitarist Tommy plays the well-known melody on his guitar. Now the song could actually be played since it is over ten years old. But nothing could be further from the truth because it is Uprising from the album Coat of Arms that is played.
There is a good variety in tempo in the setlist today. After the faster Attero Dominatus comes the quieter song Cliffs of Gallipoli, after which they switch gears a bit faster with Screaming Eagels. When they reached the songs from the Carolus Rex album, Joakim asks the audience if they wanted to hear the next song in English or Swedish. The audience overwhelmingly chooses the Swedish version. The singer says that this always happens when the audience is allowed to choose. The audience has been singing along all evening, but the real goosebumps moment comes when En Livstid I Krig (the Swedish version of A Lifetime of War) is played. As soon as the intro is over and Joakim has sung half a sentence, the audience immediately takes over the singing from him. With the microphone pointed towards the audience, the lead singer conducted the loudly singing crowd. These are the kinds of things you don’t experience at a Sabaton concert anywhere else in the world. For that you really have to go to Sweden yourself.
During the cruise, there is time to play songs that are not normally included in a setlist. So we also hear 7734, a song that has not been played live for a long time. In my opinion, this song is one of the band’s hidden gems. I have never heard this song live, so I’m glad it made it to today’s setlist. A song that is often played is Primo Victoria from the debut album of the same name. As soon as the song is started, the entire audience jumps up and down so that it is no longer possible to say whether the boat is rocking because of the waves or because of the audience present.
All good things come to an end. This also applies to this performance, which is also the band’s last performance of this year. Joakim thanks everyone for their presence and says that they will close the performance with a song that they have not ended a performance with in a long time. That must be Metal Crüe, which was written as an ode to the rock and metal bands that inspired Sabaton. Metal Crüe is a song that I also really hoped to hear live someday. Luckily, today is the day. In my opinion, this is the ultimate party song where the explosive energy of the band comes out. Given that the song was rereleased last year along with some other songs from the album Metalizer under the name Metal Trilogy, I still hope it will get a spot during the European tour in 2023. Although I think the chances are small.
As the audience applauds after the performance and drumsticks, picks and setlists are handed out, Joakim says he feels like something is missing. When he asks the rest of the band members what that could be, Chris says he knows the answer. When he strums his first guitar chord, it’s not Swedish Pagans that sounds, but Highway to Hell by AC/DC. And it’s not Joakim who sings, but guitarist Tommy who takes on the vocals. We already knew that Tommy could sing well since he has another band for which he does the vocals. Despite the original by AC/DC having Brian Johnson’s raw voice, Tommy’s high-pitched power metal voice fits well with the song. As Chris does the famous Angus Young walk, the audience goes wild and screams along with all their might.
After a long wait, it is finally time for the song that Tommy and the audience have been waiting for: Swedish Pagans. While Joakim tries to get out of it by saying that they have to finish the set since it is way passed Hannes’ bedtime, Tommy announces the song himself. As soon as the song starts, the whole room sings along to the well-known melody. While singing, Joakim takes over the phone of one of the filming fans in the front row to make some nice shots from the stage. With a microphone in one hand and the fan’s phone in the other, he still manages to catch a plectrum that Chris throws at him. As soon as Hannes crawls out from behind his drum set and the other band members have put away their instruments, the performance really comes to an end. With My Heart Will Go On in the background, the band takes a deep bow towards the audience. The band leaves the stage to loud cheers and applause.
In my opinion, it was a very good performance from Sabaton this evening. After seeing them live several times in different places, it is also nice to see them play in a smaller setting with a setlist that also includes the lesser-known songs. Despite the fact that the guys have had many concerts, it is still clear that they have a lot of fun performing. I always find it nice to see that when I go to a concert. If a band on stage is not enthusiastic themselves, it can sometimes be difficult for me as well to get excited about it. In addition to playing Sabaton‘s own songs on a night like this, I thought it was very cool that there was room for the band to do something else, like the cover of Highway to Hell. With pieces like this they prove in my eyes that it is a band that knows how to make a party. If Sabaton were to give a concert where they only played covers of well-known metal songs from other bands, I would definitely go there too. All in all, nothing but praise for Sabaton‘s performances on this cruise.
Just because Sabaton is over doesn’t mean the night is over. In fact, the night is just getting started! The next band is Dynazty, a Swedish power metal band from Stockholm. Although I’m not very familiar with this band, it sounds good. On the other hand, the audience seems to know the band better. Hits such as Heartless Madness are sung along from start to finish by the crowd.
The last band tonight and also the last of this cruise is the band Civil War. The band was founded in Falun and, like Sabaton, sings about historical events related to wars and battles. If you pay close attention, you’ll see a few familiar faces on stage. There are now three former Sabaton members playing for us. Namely, Daniel Mullback on drums, Daniel Mÿhr on keyboard and Thobbe Englund on guitar. Unfortunately, they’re no longer performing with original singer Patrik Johansson, but with vocalist Kelly Sundown. As a result, the older songs that were characterized by Patrick’s rough voice sound very different all of a sudden. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it takes some getting used to since I don’t immediately associate Kelly’s power metal voice with the sound of Civil War, since I haven’t really followed the band after 2017. Because the band mainly consists of former Sabaton members, I had expected, especially during the Sabaton Cruise, that it would be busy at this performance. However, it turns out to be fairly quiet in the room. I’ve noticed that all the performances, except for Sabaton‘s, have been relatively quiet in the room.
There’s no shortage of enthusiasm among the members of Civil War either. For example, drummer Daniel Mullback is drumming shirtless and with a big smile on his face and headbanging keyboardist Daniel Myhr is on the loose. After Civil War classics I Will Rule the Universe and Bay of Pigs, the performance is extended with an encore consisting of Tombstone and Rome Is Falling. Especially with the last song Rome Is Falling I miss Patrick’s characteristic voice. Nevertheless, current singer Kelly knows how to give it his own twist with his higher voice. Civil War was a great closing performance of this cruise. It was nice to see these three former Sabaton members work in another music group.
When we wake up on Friday morning, the port of Stockholm is already almost in sight. After we have packed our bags and left the ship, we look for the bus stop. Not for the bus to the airport to go back to the Netherlands, but to a hotel in the city center, to tack on another weekend in Stockholm. After a visit to the ABBA museum, among other things, we go into town on Friday evening to discover some nice bars. There are plenty of them in Stockholm. Around 01:00 AM, I decide I’m calling it a day. I say goodbye to my friends who are with me on this vacation and walk back to our hotel, unaware that a few minutes after my departure, Sabaton‘s bass player Pär Sundström and some crew members would walk into this bar and ask precisely to my friends if there are any open seats at their table. Later I hear that they spent a few hours together at the bar drinking and talking and had a great time. If you ask me, the perfect way to end the Sabaton Cruise.
All in all, the Sabaton Cruise was a very special experience. In that respect, a metal cruise cannot be compared to a normal concert or festival. I definitely recommend everyone to do one at least once. In addition to the performances of the various bands, the day in Tallinn is a great addition to the program. Unlike some previous years, there was no signing session with the band during this edition of the cruise, but in return we received an exclusive live episode of Sabaton History with Indy Neidell.
Since the cruise was in Sweden, I was worried that all communication on and around the cruise would be in Swedish. Fortunately, everything was in English so that it was also easy to follow for people from other countries, like us in this case. I was also pleasantly surprised by the line-up. Before the cruise Before the cruise, I assumed that besides Sabaton there would only be some small local Swedish bands that I would never have heard of. However, the line-up turned out to be well filled with other well-known metal bands. If you are still not convinced or do not want to travel to Sweden just for the cruise, combine it with a few days in Stockholm like we did. It is a beautiful city with many interesting museums, including the secretly quite fun ABBA museum, and many nice bars (if I may recommend a few: Vikingbar Aifur, pirate bar Lasse i Gatan, and the medieval bar Sjätte Tunnan). This was the first time Sabaton Cruise for me. And if it’s up to me, not the last time!
Setlist – Sabaton (December 14):
- The Red Baron
- Steel Commanders
- Soldier of Heaven
- Race to the Sea
- Fields of Verdun
- The Last Stand
- Resist and Bite
- The Unkillable Soldier
- The Attack of the Dead Men
- Christmas Truce
- To Hell and Back
Setlist – Sabaton (December 15):
- The Art of War
- Attero Dominatus
- Cliffs of Gallipoli
- Screaming Eagles
- Carolus Rex
- A Lifetime of War
- The Carolean’s Prayer
- Gott mit uns
- Primo Victoria
- Metal Crüe
- Highway to Hell (AC/DC cover)
- Swedish Pagans
Date and location:
December 15, 2022, Baltic Queen, Stockholm / Tallinn
Niek van de Vondervoort – niekvandevondervoort.com