If being metal is about keeping one's poker face intact, careful to be pretentious enough, and to "look scary" at the right time, then Swedish metal masters Sabaton may be somewhat of a surprise to some. Yet if one is looking for unfailing musical talent, lyrics with depth and purpose, along with a band who is obviously having the absolute best time of their life on tour (and NOT afraid to show it...even to smile!), then Sabaton may just be the top banana.

Also, who could possibly blame them for enjoying life at this point? Sabaton has managed to take their unique form of power-driven metal to such heights that they have been blessed to be opening for one of the best bands in all of music history, the mighty Judas Priest -- a band celebrating over 50 years of making the metal.

Youngstown, Ohio, and the tank

At heavy metal shows, little hints will often whisper to fans that they are in for something quite explosive, even when those fans are metalheads and used to many elements of the extreme. One way to drop such a hint is to not have a foredrop curtain separating the stage from the fan's view. Instead, the stage set is right there, unblocked, for everyone entering to behold as they enter the arena.

Of course, it helps to set the mood when said stage set consists of a two-story backdrop of a World War One battle soldier in the midst of being shelled, there are camouflaged props peppering about the stage (even the monitors), and... oh, yeah, a tank with twin guns as a drum riser. That tends to stand out, to say the very least.

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Even so, once a band has given themselves such an aura, it is then their Herculean task to live up to it. It doesn't do a band any good to show a tank but to present a Yugo (we are looking at you, Ghost), so to speak, and this was a task that Sabaton relished from the moment that they erupted onto the stage.

Their entrance music sounded like "You Are My Sunshine" -- the kid's song -- done as if half of the notes were augmented to some chord which made the childish ditty sound like a soundtrack for a film full of epic battles and valiant deaths.

Keep in mind, it wasn't "You Are My Sunshine," but there is simply no other way to describe it. It was triumphant, but not so much "dark" as "victorious." It had a melody that was "sing-songy" and it made everyone want to rise, which they did, en masse.

Singer, Joakim Brodén, even mentioned that since the pit area had actual seats, he had been concerned that no one would stand up. He seemed surprised that the fans all did, though, with the power of their entrance, he need not have been.

With that, the mood was set

Having both earned the respect and interest of those who didn't seem to be overly familiar with a lot of Sabaton's music as well as exciting their established fans who were certainly also in attendance, it was time for bassist Pär Sundström, drummer Hannes Van Dahl, and duo guitar virtuosos Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson, along with the aforementioned Brodén, to keep the pedal to the floor and shifter in fifth.

This they achieved with a brilliant mix that of dominant stage presences, flawless musicianship, epic melodies which made the listener feel as if they had just witnessed an epic battle before the credits run, and good ol' Tom Foolery. For example, during an open segment, Brodén had his sweaty, mohawked head adorned with guitar picks, courtesy of the duo ax team, to which he smiled in bewilderment and jokingly flipped them the bird.

The burly singer also warned a 9-year-old fan named Julian, who he invited on stage along with his uncle (as the child's request) for the band's final song to headbang and to air drum, to sit far away from the "fat Swedish man" who brings death, jokingly referring to himself.

Then again, this happened at the close of the show and by then, the crowd was overjoyed just to cheer them on, so this only reinforced what an awesome bunch of guys make the metal that is Sabaton.

Julian said that out of the 20 concerts that he had already seen, this was certainly something special. (This same lucky lad in the front row would also be randomly picked by Judas Priest for their close, too)

Beyond their jovial antics, any fan of heavy metal will be hard-pressed to find another band who revels in the art of precise musicianship more than Sabaton. Songs like "Red Baron" worked to underscore this as it combined solo shredding mixed with the most infectious melodies this side of Tyr. There were melodies inside of melodies, both from the vocals as well as the guitars -- both within as well as outside of the solo work.

They swirled together and complemented one another, each melody welcoming the next, or seeming to sing along with it.

The interplay and stage presence shared between Sundström and Rörland was a comradery that could almost be felt and each lyric delivered during the night was done with enough conviction that one could easily forget that the singer had not himself been the battles which he recalled with nostalgia and clarity.

The song "Defence of Moscow" was equally moving as it delivered a tantalizing mix of blistering breaks and timing changes which helped to separate Sabaton from many of their peers in the genre. Often, keys changes worked to make an already regal song even grander, a trick which was used with perfect timing often during the night.

For "Attack of the Dead Men," Sabaton's stage went ghastly green as the fog whispered lightly and the band (sans the drummer) were adorned in gas masks. Their singers even had a WW1 trenchcoat and a chemical weapons backpack on, and Brodén still managed to sing his vocals clearly, a fact that is also a testament to their flawless sound crew.

If there was to be a downside to their otherwise successful conquering of Youngstown, it lies in the fact that Sabaton makes use of the most forceful and empowering keyboards in all of the power metal genre, and there is no keyboardist. Some of the keys are even cleverly programmed in ways that would make Trent Reznor blush in certain areas, yet the band chose to sample these rather major parts of the show instead of traveling with a keyboardist.

For this band, a live keyboardist could have really added a lot to the delivery and, with the amount of room that the band had stage right, the setup could have also added a lot to the already impressive layout of the stage.

Then again, if Sabaton continues to grow in popularity, something that seems to be all but guaranteed if they keep delivering the goods such as they did in Ohio, one would not be surprised if they traveled with a whole symphony someday very soon.

... we all just hope that they still leave room for the tank, though.