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Connected to a Song: ‘Panzer Battalion’ by Sabaton

A song that started a music journey sounds different to experienced ears.

Kevin Ashley

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If there was one song which opened my eyes to the world of music, Sabaton’s “Panzer Battalion” was it.

I discovered this song early in my teenage years, where previously I only listened to soundtracks like Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Lord of the Rings. One night, my dad came upon a YouTube video — probably long deleted by now — titled “These Are Not Your Grandfather’s Tanks” or something similar. It showcased pictures of Warhammer 40k miniature tanks, namely the Leman Russ, Land Raider, Chimera, Predator, Baneblade, and others I can’t remember.

As I had never heard of Warhammer 40k at the time, I had no idea what these were. I only knew they looked cool. The song that accompanied these pictures was Sabaton’s “Panzer Battalion.”

Hearing this song, I think some kind of switch flipped.

I had actual interest in the music at more than a passing level, and even thought of the song long after seeing the video. I finally found it on iTunes later, on Sabaton’s album Primo Victoria. I also remember iTunes’ recommended song section, with other metal bands like Hammerfall, Iron Fire, and Avantasia.

“Panzer Battalion” was my introduction to metal and pretty much music as a whole. I bought several other of Sabaton’s songs soon after: “Ghost Division,” “The Art of War,” “Nuclear Attack,” and “Primo Victoria.” Since then, my knowledge of metal has expanded exponentially, with many bands coming and going at a quick pace.

At first, I only liked power metal.

I discovered bands like Hammerfall, Eldritch, and Brainstorm. Not long after, it was off to thrash metal, with bands like Overkill, Testament, Deliverance, and more. Next, I heard some melodic death metal like Allegaeon, Cypecore, and Arsis, and am pretty sure I discovered folk metal around the same time with In Extremo, Korpiklaani, Svarga, and others.

Arsis and Allegaeon were my first real introductions to extreme metal, as they both were very technical. This led to me discovering technical death metal and grindcore in the same day, with Nile’s Those Whom the Gods Detest and Nasum’s Inhale/Exhale I also delved into brutal death metal with bands like Abominable Putridity and Pathology.

Funnily enough, I skipped over “normal” death metal entirely with bands like Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and Jungle Rot, though I finally liked them, much later. I also remember delving into oddities like avant-garde metal, jazz-fusion metal, ethnic metal, and other hyper-specific sub-subgenres.

Besides Sabaton, another band expanded my music knowledge to new genres. This was Die Krupps, a German band who mixed EBM — Electronic Body Music, a subgenre of Industrial — with metal. After discovering them, I went on another musical journey, this time with electronic music. That’s a story for another day, though. Let’s get back to “Panzer Battalion.”

The song is third on Sabaton’s debut — though technically second — album, Primo Victoria. The album covers military history through a variety of eras, from World War II — “Primo Victoria”, “Wolfpack”, “Stalingrad” — to the Middle East — “Reign of Terror,” “Panzer Battalion,” “Counterstrike” — and Vietnam with “Into the Fire” and “Purple Heart”. There is also a metal tribute song, “Metal Machine”.

“Panzer Battalion” is specifically about Operation Iraqi Freedom. This song, as well as some other songs on Primo Victoria, has a few lyrical embellishments before they fully committed to historical facts. Some examples include the references to tanks as panzers — the German word for tank — as well as the lyrics “There’s rivers of blood in our track” and the chorus “Armored tanks of mass destruction killers in the east/ rats who dare to stand before us feel our guns go live.”

This song’s lyrical mood — overblown and macho — is quite different from the rest of Sabaton’s material, even on the same album. Some songs with similar moods are “Counterstrike,” “Stalingrad,” “Reign of Terror,” and “Into the Fire.” Songs like “Primo Victoria,” “Wolfpack,” and “Purple Heart” have the historically unbiased, specific factual view that their albums post Primo Victoria have, with some tiny exceptions on 2006’s Attero Dominatus.

The production on the album is also one of the worst of the band’s career, with keyboards that almost sound like a buzzing hive of bees, both echo-y and overly metallic drums, and pretty much no backing bass, leaving each song without much of a backbone. Musically, it’s very aggressive, even more so than most of Sabaton’s newer material. Those traits make “Panzer Battalion,” and Primo Victoria,  a curiosity among Sabaton’s discography.

The song is performed by Joakim Brodén (vocalist/keyboardist),Pär Sundström (bassist), Rikard Sundén (guitarist), Oskar Montelius (guitarist),and Daniel Mullback (drummer). Of these five, only Joakim Brodén and Pär Sundström are still with Sabaton as of 2018. The other three were replaced with many other members throughout Sabaton’s career. The albums Primo Victoria, Attero Dominatus, Metalizer, and The Art of War were issued on Black Lodge Records, while from Coat of Armson forward, all records were released on the Nuclear Blast label.

Sabaton’s “Panzer Battalion” is a song that started my music journey and I will treasure it for that, as well as its musical forwardness. However, the awful production and sometimes ham-fisted lyrics put it in an awkward spot in Sabaton’s discography, regardless of how rose-tinted my nostalgia might be.

Still, it’s an enjoyable romp to my past era of musical discovery.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Kevin is a graduate from Central Washington University, where he was awarded a Bachelors degree in Professional and Creative Writing. He currently lives in Silverdale, Washington, where he explores new food and drink, goes to concerts, and works on personal projects.

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