It’s the third album from Sabaton refugees Civil War (What? At least I didn’t call them “Sabaton 2.0”, “Sabaton Lite” or “Diet Sabaton” as I’ve seen them referred to by other, harsher reviewers!). So let’s get that out of the way straight away, because there may be three ex-Sabaton members in the ranks of Civil War, but they have something that totally sets them apart – they have the Dio-esque, gravelly strains of Astral Doors/Lion’s Share vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson, who always lends that little bit of class to anything he’s on.
So yes, there will predictably be references to Sabaton on any Civil War album, I mean, three fifths of this band were…well, MOST of Sabaton pre-2012, so let’s just acknowledge that there are plenty of similarities in attitude and musical style, but Civil War do like to shake things up a bit whilst taking power metal firmly by the throat. Johansson’s voice does drag things back from any tendencies toward plastic sword waving, battle metal standpoints and welcomes in fans of say, Accept, just as much as Hammerfall. Though the tongue-in-cheek fun and insanity of ‘Tombstone’ might even get Korpiklaani and Ensiferum fans interested.
There’s everything a fan of traditional heavy/power metal could want here. There’s double-kick frenzied power-fests, galloping Germanic power metal, true metal standards, NWOBHM inspired Metal and plodding battle-weary drinking anthems. All performed with the gusto and commitment you’d expect from the people involved. Dismissively, a cynic could say he (or she) has heard it all before, and to a certain extent they’d be right – Civil War aren’t out to break down new boundaries – they are just putting their own stamp on proceedings. And as I said earlier, for me it’s Johansson’s delivery that makes it all stand out from the crowd, along with some interesting song-writing too. With further analytical listens, different elements of the music shine through nicely, but that initial difference is down to the vocals for me. Choruses that could sound cheesy handled by a soaring typical power metal voice are restrained and given that classic metal pedigree sound by Johansson.
Lyrically we’re fighting battles throughout history (there are no dragons though…sorry), rather than sticking to one period which is refreshing. We’re not messing around with ballads either, there’s fast tracks, a couple of faster ones, some that are a bit slower and then just as a token gesture there’s a power ballad type thing tagged on to the end. But even then it’s more a sing-along anthem. If it’s high octane, none-stop power metal with a true/classic metal edge and a few unexpected twists that you hanker for then you can’t go far wrong with Civil War. And for an album released in the same week as the new Hammerfall…well, for any fan of the genre that’s this month’s purchases sorted isn’t it?
(7.5/10 Andy Barker)