War! What is it good for? A huge amount of subject matter for lyrical content apparently. Not just in Metal either. Something as world consuming as warfare can’t be ignored by anyone and a whole swath of musicians over the course of time have sought to have their say about the atrocities. Whether it be lives lost or governments greed it’s an interesting if not overplayed idea that is pretty easy to draw influence from, especially if you’re in a Metal band. I mean let’s be honest what is more brutal, catastrophic and Armageddon-like than all out battle? Even the imagery of bullets, barb wire, tanks and bombs is all very Metal, all these things filter into the artwork and aesthetic of the genre as a whole.
One such band whom take this to the next level are the Swedish Power Metal legends Sabaton. The bands 2005 debut Primo Victoria exploded into the Metal world with lyrical content derived from warfare. Sabaton went upon their charge taking countries by storm and headlining festivals right across Europe. Their fan base only grew ever larger with albums such as The Art Of War, Coat Of Arms, Carlos Rex and Heroes. Yet now we come to 2019 and the follow up to their 2016 release The Last Stand. The latest offering The Great War is put out through Nuclear Blast and focus’ upon the first world war telling the tales throughout. The album is released in both a standard and ‘History Edition’, the later telling narrated tales of this whirlwind concept.
Opening track The Future Of Warfare sets the scene in it’s epic, building, keyboard heavy delivery with the signature vocals of Joakim Brodén amping up the overall sound. It is a typically catchy number that settles us in for the rest of the album. Now looking closer at the vocals this is my only issue with Sabaton, for a Power Metal band Joakim doesn’t display great range, becoming atonal and drab, yet at the same time it is these very vocals that make Sabaton the distinct band they have become. Seven Pillars Of Wisdom and 82nd All The Way come to pack a further punch and speed things up. Their almost Eurovision sound is both appealing yet totally cheesy and not for everyone. None the less it’s entertaining, the only disadvantage is that they come across as hook heavy yet once they’re over it is all but forgotten, this is a release that certainly takes a couple of listens to fully acclimatize the listeners ears.
Devil Dogs becomes the next all out cheese display and whilst it has some stand out moments, including almost choral vocals it suffers the same fate as its predecessors. Following this comes The Red Baron with some powerful keyboards and guitar work but it plays out as another forgettable track. I think that the main issue with this album and Sabaton’s sound in general is the song structure, every song is catchy yet they all sound the same and before long they simply clump together and become too much for the listener to take in. The titular track Great War is perhaps the albums strongest point, its pace is a mixture of slow and fast with an anthem heavy chorus, striking keyboards and an overall Power Metal might that should be felt throughout the rest of the release. Closing the album is the haunting yet apt In Flanders Fields a slow choral track that encapsulates the devastation of the wake of the first world war.
So how do I feel about The Great War? Well I’m in two minds, on the one hand I loved it, big bombastic cheesy Metal at its finest. Yet on the other hand I’m left drained, drained from the barrage of simplistic tracks that have mostly all failed to worm their way into my brain, save for maybe a couple. However that said I would state that with a good few listens this album is a sure fire win, and if you’re an existing Sabaton fan then this is possibly some of the bands best work to date. If you’ve never heard Sabaton then this is also a brilliant place to start and arguably better than the bands classic debut Primo Victoria.
(7/10 George Caley)