So, Swedish giants of the power metal scene, Sabaton, have just released their newest record, aptly titled ‘The Great War’. Dealing with the stories and overall bloodshed of, well, the First World War, it’s already a bittersweet listen before we’ve even pressed ‘Play’.
Sabaton are actually very good at merging grisly battle and sombre images with the epic and symphonic, distinguishing them from other, more fantastical bands of the power metal genre as a whole. You learn about heroes from all sides of the war, and you get to bang your head at the same time. Result.
So, without further ado, we’ll see if the Swedes manage to pull it off yet again with their newest release. ‘The Great War’ opens with ‘The Future of Warfare’, a Sabaton track if ever there was one, talking about the introduction of tanks to the battlefield. It’s not a bad song by any means, it just sounds a bit generic at this point, and there were plenty of different gems from the track listing that would have made for better openers. Still, it has a grand chorus, and that’s what Sabaton is good at. The same goes for the next two on the album.
‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ and ‘82nd All the Way’ are just awesome, instantly making up for the relatively lacklustre aftereffects of their predecessor. Lead singer, Joakim Broden, sounds amazing here. His vocals are just brutal and harsh and fit the subject of war (and the music) so well. The former discusses the fabled Lawrence of Arabia and his mission in weakening the Ottoman Empire. The latter is pure All-American propaganda, exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to see in Sabaton’s earlier release, ‘Heroes’. They’re tracks full of clattering drums and infectious synth.
‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ is probably the stand-out highlight of the album for me. From its eerie opening to the subject matter itself. The ‘Attack of the Dead Men’ was a charge in which a hundred or so remaining allies tried to fight back an invading German force after being shot and gassed. The result was a small mass of practically dead men scaring the living daylights out of them. It’s a traumatizing image that’ll stay with you, and so will the song’s chorus.
‘Devil Dogs’ is another ‘The Future of Warfare’ for me here, it just sounds like Sabaton filler, and while that’s no bad thing, it certainly doesn’t live up to the foes it’s wedged between. ‘The Red Baron’, released as the second single from ‘The Great War’ is charged with awesome moments. The lengthy synth intro crashed into Broden’s fastest vocals yet, discussing the legendary German Valkyrie himself; the, well, Red Baron. It’s a fast-paced, three-minute shot of adrenaline, and definitely one of the future live staples here. The organ-riddled solo is also one of the band’s magnus opuses in general.
And finally, we have reached the title track. Latin chanting and orchestral maneuvers fuse into the most Powerwolf-esque song on the album. And yet again, Sabaton knock it out the park. ‘The Great War’ builds into this epic, symphonic triumph of lament and tragedy at the millions who died for, what, exactly? The irony of the title is never clearer, and leaves you wandering whether any side was truly ‘right’ here.
‘A Ghost in the Trenches’ and ‘Fields of Verdun’ are more classic Sabaton tracks, with weighty choruses and fast guitar work from new(ish) member, Tommy Johansson.
But then, the hidden behemoth of the album rears its beautiful head. In a song only akin to that of ‘Cliffs of Gallipoli’ from the band’s album, ‘The Art of War’, ‘The End of the War to End All Wars’ crescendos from piano to thunderous guitar. ‘Death! Hard to ignore!’ opens the song strong, and it only gets better from there. The band, backed with full choir, explode into an almighty chant that brings a chill to the spine. This is the last real stop on the rollercoaster that is ‘The Great War’, and the band make sure to make it memorable. Gas attacks, innocent’s dead, armistices drawn up… it all makes an appearance here. Sabaton’s own ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ theme is just epic. It just is.
And then, if you weren’t overcome with grief and emotion already, an orchestrated musical arrangement of John McCrae’s beautiful war poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’ acts as the album’s climax. It sounds deafeningly beautiful and incredibly poignant. A moment of reflection that despite all the epic music and battle stories, the ‘Great’ War really happened. And it was terrible, and it bore a scar to the earth we can never truly heal. It must never happen again, for to allow such would be to forsake the world entire.
And with that, ‘The Great War’ is over. It has a fair bit of filler, but even they’re tracks not worth skipping. All in all, Sabaton perform some truly epic anthems here, and treat such delicate subjects with the utmost care and respect throughout. They bring light to the true horror of human hatred, of death and destruction. And by God do they do so with power.