Sabaton comes panzering along for the ninth time with The Great War. But is this the war to end all wars?
Whenever Sabaton releases a new album you know exactly what’s going to happen: the righteous, true metal crowd will complain about how this is not metal and how every single album sounds exactly the same whilst the loyal and still growing fanbase will lap it up eagerly. It’s the circle of life. I used to lap it up very eagerly myself, although with increasing trepidation since the release of Carolus Rex in 2012, where the Swedish panzer division reached their high water mark with a near-perfect bombastic power metal assault. Heroes and The Last Stand after that were fine albums in and of themselves, but Sabaton seemed increasingly uninspired, rehashing their own material more often than not without bringing anything new or particularly great to the table.
Perhaps Joakim Brodén and Pär Sundström, together with whomever might be playing with the band from album to album, should concentrate on writing and recording concept albums, because for some reason they seem to bring out the best in Sabaton. The Art of War was a concept album of sorts, loosely based on the Sun Tsu treatise of the same name, and on Carolus Rex, an album about the rise and fall of the Swedish empire, they really knocked it out of the park. Now, with The Great War, the band has managed once again to deliver an album with nothing but heavy hitters and absolutely zero filler.
Of course, nothing much has changed when it comes to Sabaton’s signature sound. The Great War still sounds like a typical album for the Swedes, except the material is better than usual. The songs are short, piecemeal power metal bursts which hardly exceed the four minute mark, all of which sound like vintage Sabaton. The Great War starts off with perhaps its weakest song, The Future of Warfare. Whilst not a bad song, it’s a rather rote opening track in the vein of the tracks which started the last two albums off; wholly serviceable yet unremarkable, missing the punch these guys know how to deliver on other songs. Things really pick up after that which Seven Pillars of Wisdom. A rousing song about T.E. Lawrence (yes, of Arabia), it boasts a massive chorus, some good guitar solos and a big helping of keyboard-infused bombast. Things get even better with The Attack of the Dead Men a little later on, which is a darker song than we’re used to from these guys. It stomps on and on with an uncharacteristically gruff chorus that somehow works really well.
Other highlights on The Great War are The Red Baron, a fast rocker with a big Uriah Heep-vibe because the generous use of a Hammond organ (if you listen closely the entire track has such an uncanny resemblance to Heep’s Easy Livin’ that it borders on plagiarism) and the fierce Fields of Verdun. The semi title track Great War tries to add some gravitas to the bleak subject matter, but lacks a certain solemnity to really make it work. The End of the War to End All Wars fares a lot better as the album’s closer. Driven by militaristic drumming, the mid-tempo song features huge orchestration and choirs throughout to give the song a truly majestic feel. Sabaton has never sounded bigger than this, and that’s saying something.
With The Great War, Sabaton has released an album that’s a true return to form after two middling albums. Of course it’s still a symphonic power metal album full of songs about war, but somehow the band has found its voice again and written a cohesive set of tracks that are driven by a sense of urgency and purpose. The only thing missing on an album about such a bleak subject as the first world war is a big, epic track that cements the gravitas of it. The Great War ends wonderfully with a children’s choir rendition of John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields, but I would like to see Sabaton try and do a big opus somewhere along the likes of Iron Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Blind Guardian’s And Then There Was Silence. On a closing note, out of the different versions of The Great War out there, I would like to recommend the History Edition, on which every song is preceded by small spoken word intros, each describing the events that song is about. It really enhances the lyrical concept of the album, which might very well turn out to be the second best album in Sabaton’s discography.
Label: Nuclear Blast, 2019
- The Future of Warfare (3:26)
- Seven Pillars of Wisdom (3:02)
- 82nd All the Way (3:31)
- The Attack of the Dead Men (3:56)
- Devil Dogs (3:17)
- The Red Baron (3:22)
- Great War (4:28)
- A Ghost in the Trenches (3:26)
- Fields of Verdun (3:17)
- The End of the War to End All Wars (4:45)
- In Flanders Fields (1:57)
- Joakim Brodén – lead vocals
- Chris Rörland – guitars, backing vocals
- Pär Sundström – bass
- Tommy Johansson – guitars, backing vocals
- Hannes van Dahl – drums, backing vocals
Review by Ralph Plug