Power metal from Sweden, latest full-length album released in 2019.
Swedish band Sabaton have been a major force in the power metal field since the mid-2000s, but had to battle significant difficulties to get there, which may explain their eventual creative obsession with everything war-related. Originally founded in 1999 and comprised of Joakim Brodén (vocals and keyboards), Rickard Sundén (guitar), Oskar Montelius (guitar), Daniel Myhr (keyboards, beginning in 2006), Pär Sundström (bass), and Richard Larsson (drums), the enterprising group quickly produced two demo tapes that were later released in a limited-edition as Fist for Fight in 2002.
But after inking a deal with Italian label Underground Symphony, Sabaton saw their first would-be official album, Metalizer, inexplicably kept out of the marketplace for a full two years (it, too, belatedly reached the public in 2007). Tired of waiting, the members of Sabaton (now including new drummer Daniel Mullback), once again took matters into their own hands, and financed the recording of another album, Primo Victoria, which was officially released in 2005 by the Black Lodge label. It also opened the floodgates for a slew of popular singles and battle metal LPs to follow, including 2006's Attero Dominatus, 2008's The Art of War, and 2010's Coat of Arms, all of them bursting at the seams with historic and mythical chronicles of battle set to anthemic power metal. The band became increasingly successful across Europe, as witnessed on 2011's live album, World War Live: Battle of the Baltic Sea, featuring a dozen tracks and ten different countries. The following year's Carolus Rex hit number one in Sweden and Poland, but it was the last for that lineup; 2014's Heroes featured new guitarists Chris Rörland and Thobbe Englund, plus new drummer Hannes van Dahl, alongside stalwarts Brodén and Sundström. Preceded by the rousing single the "Last Battalion," the conceptual Last Stand, the band's eighth studio album, dropped in August 2016.
After a number of live dates throughout 2017, the group put touring on hold in 2018 to start recording their ninth album. On November 11, 2018 the group entered the Black Lounge Studios with producer Jonas Kjellgren to start recording, with the specific start date being the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Inspired by the horrors of the war and the armies that fought, the resulting album, The Great War, was issued in mid-2019. That same year the group also started the online video channel Sabaton History, which charted the band's career and celebrated their 20th anniversary, while the stand-alone single, "Bismarck" -- recounting the sinking of the German battleship of the same name -- was also issued.
01. The Future of Warfare (3:26)
02. Seven Pillars of Wisdom (3:02)
03. 82nd All the Way (3:31)
04. The Attack of the Dead Men (3:56)
05. Devil Dogs (3:17)
06. The Red Baron (3:22)
07. Great War (4:28)
08. A Ghost in the Trenches (3:26)
09. Fields of Verdun (3:17)
10. The End of the War to End All Wars (4:45)
11. In Flanders Fields (1:57)
Label: Nuclear Blast
Sabaton has made singing about war nearly as lucrative a proposition as Motley Crüe made singing about their dicks. And unlike their cock rocking elder’s chosen idiom, nation on nation violence translates far better into the metal ethos. Tales of bravery, battle and death are the bloody blocks upon which metal was originally built, and it drinks deeply of that Bathoryian tub to this day. Since 2005 Sabaton has functioned as the house band for the military-industrial complex, churning out platter after platter about the horrors and glories of war, and album number nine, The Great War is another with which to plug the breech. As the title suggests, this one focuses on World War I with songs about legendary figures like Sergeant York and the Red Baron. If you’ve heard any Sabaton release, you’re properly braced for their proprietary Wall o’ Sound™ made up of bigger-than-life symphonics, chunky riffs and the raging, camo-clad machismo channeled through Joakim Brodén’s baritone vocals. Sun Tzu would lament the ridiculous predictability of the band’s battle plan, but hey, when the cannon’s arockin’ who comes aknockin’?
Opener “The Future of Warfare” quickly assures that nothing has changed at Fort Sabaton. It’s the same symphonic power metal cleverly disguised with amped up riffs and toughened vocals. The quasi-operatic choral segments are there to add bombast and grandeur and General Brodén narrates it all with his usual panache. It’s the very model of the band’s style and as such it isn’t all that gripping, as we’ve heard this exact song many times before. Things improve on “Seven Pillars or Wisdom” which while still standard issue, has enough chest thumping bravado to get the blood moving. It isn’t until “The Attack of the Dead Men” that The Great War really goes into attack mode, with a slightly different sound than usual, still bombastic as all get out, but perhaps a tad more epic than usual. The chorus is almost like a heroic Russian folk song, and it really works, sounding serious, larger-than-life and mega-catchy. I want an album of this stuff.
This isn’t it, as classic Sabaton writing prevails, though there are scattered moments that exceed expectations, like “The Red Baron” which is way more rocked out than usual, approaching Avantasia levels of hard rock glory. The Hammond organ adds a hefty Deep Purple-esque glean and this is one of the most fun songs the band’s ever written. The title track and “A Ghost in the Trenches” both show the best of their style with catchy, anthemic moments writ large, but the other tracks are less stirring, like “Devil Dogs,” which feels recycled from earlier works. The album’s epic track, “The End of the War to End All Wars” also falls a bit flat, lacking the emotional gravitas such a heavy topic requires. Things wind out with a haunting take on the classic war remembrance poem turned ballad “In Flanders Fields,” and the tragic, forlorn mood is respectfully conveyed, ending things on a poignant note while offering real world perspective to counter the gung-ho, pro-war shtick the album revels in.
The Great War is a short, tight 38-plus minutes and almost all the songs are under 4 minutes. This makes for a fast, hit and run style album that works in the band’s favor. No song overstays its welcome and things are kept moving at a brisk pace. While the writing is inconsistent, there are no complete duds or mandatory skips and it’s an easy platter to blast through. As always, Brodén’s distinctive vocals set the table for the Sabaton show and he does his usual solid job, even extending himself a bit on cuts like “The Attack of the Dead Men” and especially on “The End of the War to End All Wars,” where he dabbles in slightly darker, more somber singing. The backing music is solid enough and there are some particularly ear-catching guitar harmonies and solos scattered across the tracks courtesy of Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson. I could do without the nearly omnipresent keyboard/choral grenades, but such is life in the trenches.
The Great War is another well-executed Sabaton offering sure to please fans. It’s a fun, energetic listen with little deviation from the well worn tank tracks the band has established, and they prove once again they can keep writing the same album and still make it entertaining. I’ve experienced battle fatigue with their style since their crowning achievement on Carolus Rex, but this is an enjoyable spin nonetheless. Back to the front, doughboys!
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