Sabaton are one of those bands everyone is aware of, and if you aren’t, you soon will be. The Swedes have a truly energetic and engaging live performance which is truly captivating and even those of you who dismiss them musically due to the approach they take to the subjects they sing about, you cannot help but admit they are impressive. So, instead of the whole brief intro about where they are from etc, we can just crack on with the album… And for those of you who have the money you can buy the super special collector’s edition which includes A TANK!!! (and mini figurines of the band… But seriously, it has a Tank with it!!!) So, with that out of the way, let’s see if this dramatic last stand can hold out until the cavalry arrives, or will it be a bloodbath which will be sang about in years to come? Steel yourselves readers, let’s begin.
As you know, the whole theme of War is the core of Sabaton, be it historic or recent (20th century to present day) and with similar themes running through their albums, like paying tribute to the tactical aspect of war with their “Art Of War” and by individuals who went above and beyond for their country on “Heroes”, this one focuses more on the grave situations, the ‘do or die’ scenarios which either end in a heroic rescue and counter attack, or death and defeat. So, as you listen to the album, each track tells these stories in great deal, be it the famous Spartans holding the line against the Persian army (Complete with The 300’s classic line; ‘Tonight we dine in hell’) to the end of the Shogunate and Samurai period in Japan and ventures into World Wars I and II.
Musically, it is typical Sabaton. You’ve got the powerful sounding riffs which pick up the pace for the likes of catchy intro’s and bridging/transition sections and you have the clever keyboard/synth use to augment the sound, giving it a real atmospheric quality and extra dimension to the soundscape which the lyrical story is being laid out on, again in typical Sabaton fashion. It’s not something groundbreaking, nor is it a disaster, it’s just solid, bright sounding melodic Euro Metal. The vocals are the same as always, energetic and gripping in their delivery of the content and as always, the big backing vocal moments are there too, giving things a massive feel there. The rhythm section is solid as ever, switching from borderline pseudo-thrash tempo and patterns to your bog standard power metal with the greatest of ease and they provide a solid low end which isn’t too overpowering but at the same time, isn’t too buried in the mix to actually be audible.
As always though, with it being so very typical of Sabaton and not as adventurous as some might hope, it does mean it can be very predictable at times. You know that the big keyboard moments are coming, some of the riffs do have a very very familiar feel to them, almost like they were lifted from earlier recordings and tweaked a little to sound totally fresh but still recognisable enough to give it a very memorable edge (If Maiden have done it for years then why not?). Still, with these things evident, the familiarity, predictability and lack of diversification in terms of the musical direction, it doesn’t stop the likes of “Rorke’s Drift” with its pseudo-thrash power riffing, “Shiroyama” and it’s simplistic main riff and keyboard augmentation giving it a real empowering feel and it’s clever lyrics and the almost folk-like hook of “Battle Of Bannockburn”, mimicking the bagpipes on the synth and even adding some real ones into the mix to harmonize with the guitars.
In all, if this album were to find itself the situation for a last stand, it’d put up a dogged resistance. The powerful riffs, vocals, compelling stories in the lyrics and grand feel from the synths and harmonies are all real strong points, but that feel of familiarity is something which would undoubtedly be it’s Achilles heel, allowing whatever was assaulting it to strike hard and no doubt set off the chain reaction which would lead to its inevitable fall. Still, in spite of this, it’s a damn good album.