Swedish band shows regard for IDF at Ammunition Hill

Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton's songs recount historical battles including Israeli victories in the Six Day War.

Sabaton 370 (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
Sabaton 370
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
Gal, a cadet in an IDF officer’s training program, arrived at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill on Thursday morning with his class for an “education day.” In addition to hosting obligatory visits by IDF groups, the museum at the site of one of the pivotal battles of the Six Day War also attracts numerous visitors from around the world.
But the last people Gal expected to run into on his way to learn about Lt.-Gen.Motta Gur and the Harel Brigade were the members of one of his favorite bands – Swedish heavy metallers Sabaton.
“I’m trembling, I can’t believe I met them,” an emotional Gal said after getting autographs and being photographed next to a tank with the five band members, who were preparing to perform that night at a sold-out Reading 3 club in Tel Aviv.
“I knew they were in Israel, but what were the chances they’d show up here?” Those chances were higher than with most visiting artists. Because not only are Sabaton’s leaders, vocalist Joakim Broden and bass player Pars Sundstrom, knowledgeable students of the miraculous Israeli victory in 1967, they even wrote a song about it – “Counterstrike” – on their 2006 album, Primo Victoria, that touted the reunification of Jerusalem with lines like “Three nations fallen in six days of war/Traitorous neighbors/Received as deserved/Under the sun in the dust of the war/One nation standing stronger than before.”
Chronicling historic battles in song is Sabaton’s thing, and that rather unique niche has helped make it one of Europe’s most popular metal bands over the past decade.
Albums such as Attero Dominatus and Coat of Arms focus on historical periods like World War II and the Falklands War, while The Art of War is based on a book of the same title that was written in the sixth century BCE by Chinese strategist Sun Tzu.
On its latest album, Carolus Rex, the band tackles the history of Sweden’s military conflicts.
“Early on, we decided to write songs that people would care about. There are so many bands that write lyrics only because they need to have something to sing,” said Sundstrom, who writes the band’s lyrics together with Broden.
“At some point, we decided to focus on the topic of war, because wherever you live in the world, you have some kind of contact and impression from war. Even in Sweden, which luckily has been free of conflict for some time, but we are also aware of what’s happening in the rest of the world.”
That fascination with history led Sundstrom to research the Six Day War, and when he learned about the against-odds victory of the IDF, he was impressed enough to write “Counterstrike.” The song became an underground hit among Israeli metal fans upon its release in 2006, and since then, Sabaton has appeared in Tel Aviv twice, in 2008 and 2010. The band regularly praises Israel on its website and even posts information in transliterated Hebrew.
It is that sense of empathy and identity with Israel that has helped generate a rabid following for Sabaton among young metal heads in Israel, including soldiers like Gal who know all the lyrics to its songs.
“They identify with Israel, and you can tell by the way they’re so eager to be photographed with us in uniform,” said Gal.
“They’re Swedish and don’t have any connection to Israel, but they make us proud to be Israeli and defending our country.”
“They’re like family,” added Yishai Sweartz, the Tel Aviv lead of Raven Music, which promotes metal shows and albums and brought Sabaton to Israel on its previous trips.
“They love Israel. The last time they were here, they asked to visit Latrun, and this time they asked me where else they could visit, so I suggested Ammunition Hill.”
The IDF fought Jordan’s Arab Legion at Latrun during the War of Independence; today it is the site of the Armored Corps Memorial and Museum.
The band’s unique relationship with Israel and its fans here has even prompted a writer and photographer from popular British magazine Metal Hammer to accompany the group here for a four-page color spread in a coming issue.
Walking around the underground bunkers of Ammunition Hill on Thursday, the band and its entourage – uniformly wearing black, and sporting various tattoos, earrings and facial hair – received a fair share of bemused stares from visiting soldiers, who apparently didn’t possess the same musical affinity as officer-in-training Gal.
But when they were offered the chance to pose for pictures with the band, Israel’s fighting finest were reduced to nervous school kids, stealing a moment with the “bad” crowd.
“Ah, girls in uniforms with big rifles, what could be better than that?” joked Broden, surrounded by a group of young, eager female soldiers. They just giggled, and moved in closer.
The band was herded into the screening of a 20-minute filmed presentation of the history of the Six Day War, including descriptions of the battles lit up on a 3-D map. They were silently rapt throughout, following every word and picture.
“When you read about something, which is what we did before writing the song ‘Counterstrike,’ you get your own images in your head,” Sundstrom said afterwards. “So even though I knew most of the information already, I like the movie because it helped me visualize better what went on.”
Taking their leave of Ammunition Hill, the band headed out to an army base near Maccabim for lunch with more soldiers.
It seems like they can’t get enough of the military. And the feeling may be mutual.
“I never heard of them,” said Adi, another officer-in-training watching them walk away. “But I’m sure going to look them up now.”