Released by: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: August 19th, 2016
Genre: Power Metal
Joakim Brodén – Vocals
Thobbe Englund – Guitars
Chris Rörland – Lead Guitars
Pär Sundström – Bass
Hannes Van Dahl – Drums
2. Last Dying Breath
3. Blood of Bannockburn
4. Diary of an Unkown Soldier
5. The Lost Battalion
6. Rorke’s Drift
7. The Last Stand
8. Hill 3234
10. Winged Hussars
11. The Last Battle
With some bands, writing a review can be challenging, as you never know what to expect from them, except that they will never repeat themselves or do anything predictable. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum you have Swedish power metal band Sabaton, a band who nailed their sound down wonderfully on their full length debut Primo Victoria, and while they’ve made minor tweaks to their sound over the years, they’ve proven to be as reliable and consistent as a band could possibly be when it comes to sticking to their established sound and delivering a great album every time. Basically, every time Sabaton releases an albums their fans can expect epic heroic war anthems based on historical events, filled with epic vocal lines and ridiculously catchy choruses. This has been equally true on more straight-forward albums like the quick, to the point and absolutely addicting Heroes and more experimental works like the epic concept album The Art of War. Their previous album Heroes in particular has the special distinction of being my most played album of the last decade, if not longer, so I was excited as I could possibly be to hear what the band had in store with their seventh full length release The Last Stand. In short, the band didn’t quite match their best efforts this time, but they still delivered yet another excellent release,and one that I’d gladly take over the vast majority of melodic metal out there.
For the uninitiated, Sabaton is known for writing songs about historic battles, and while all their albums deal with similar themes, they tend to focus on different events or on different aspects of war each time. On the Last Stand, perhaps unsurprisingly, the songs all deal with countries fighting against insurmountable odds and struggling to hold out to the very end, some succeeding and some failing. As such, the lyrics are very epic even by this band’s standards. Musically, the band has changed very little over the years. This is still the same kind of ultra melodic power metal they’ve played since the beginning, with the occasional use of symphonic elements and occasional heavy sections, but it’s the hooks and huge vocal melodies that dominate the tracks. Recent albums Carolus Rex and Heroes saw the band dropping the tempo down a little bit in comparison to their earlier albums and this is true of The Last Stand as well. In fact, perhaps my only disappointment with the album is a lack of those blazing fast scorchers, like “Night Witches” from Heroes or “Ghost Division” from The Art of War There’s still some speed here, of course, but on most of the tracks the tempo feels a bit more restrained.
One element of the band that has never been restrained in the least is the voice of Joakim Brodén. He has a rather unique voice for the genre, as most power metal vocalists tend to have much higher main registers than him, and yet he also doesn’t fit in with the more raw, all out aggressive singers of the genre like Chris Boltendahl or Andy B. Franck. Instead, he has a very deep voice that instantly stands out, be he uses in it a very nice way, singing in a way that enhances the melodies greatly, and his style really lends itself well to the huge sing along choruses the band is known for. In short, he’s the perfect fit for the band, and one of my absolute favorite singers.
I already somewhat hinted at it earlier, but the first couple times I heard the opening track “Sparta”, I was a bit disappointed. Just looking at that name and knowing how the band usually opens their albums I had been expecting one of their fast paced, immediately gripping openers, and instead I got something that felt a bit toned down and lacking the energy I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong: It’s an excellent track, and after several listens it’s grown on me a lot, but it certainly isn’t the kind of song the band has opened all their other albums with. It’s a mid tempo track, driven by keyboards and it uses the synths in a pretty cool way, giving the track a symphonic feel, and this combined with the epic “oohh” “aahh” chants throughout certainly make for a great track. Likewise, on first listen “Last Dying Breath” didn’t do much for me, but over time it has become a favorite. It’s another mostly mid paced track, though it has more of a focus on guitar riffs, and it’s chorus is quite epic. It speeds up towards the end, and that section is fantastic.
Obviously, many fans have heard “Blood of Bannockburn” by now, and for me this is the track where the album officially kicks into high gear. It’s the first up tempo track of the album, though it still feels a little restrained, but what makes it work is the awesome marching drums at the beginning that keep building and building until the song takes off, plus the use of bagpipes throughout and the choir vocals all help give it a bit of a Scottish folk music vibe, which fits perfectly with the lyrics. The track had been an instant favorite since the first time I heard it, and it still is, though for some reason I keep thinking I’ll hear “In the name of God” at the end of it. For those who don’t get that comment, I’ll explain it in a bit.
Following a brief interlude track where a solider talks about his experiences, we get another early release track “The Lost Battalion”. This one is much slower paced and is very much dominated by the synths, which give it a bit of a retro feel. It’s a very laid back track, but man is that chorus ever something special! The chorus is repeated several times throughout the song, but it only gets better and more epic as it goes on, easily one of their catchiest and best choruses to date, which is saying a lot. Speaking of great choruses, I can’t possibly leave out the title track. It’s another mid paced track, but it feels special from the very beginning, as the verses do a great job of building up momentum, and then the chorus is just insanely good, and is in fact the best on the album. Later in the track, an amazing, breathless vocal section gives way to the highlight of the album, and something fans viewing the early release videos on Youtube would be familiar with: The absolutely glorious last 30 seconds of the track, where Joakim delivers some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard from him. And yes, this is what I was referring to earlier when I talked about “Blood of Bannockburn”.
Fans looking for pure speed can look forward to “Rorke’s Drift” and “Hill 3234”. Both of these are very fast paced tracks that are a bit heavier compared to the rest of the album, and they certainly would have fit in great on earlier Sabaton albums. Likewise, “Shiroyama” is an up tempo track that feels very similar to some of their past songs, but it’s the kind of song they do so well, I can’t possibly complain about it feeling too familiar. On a similar note, I was initially surprised by how similar “Winged Hussars” sounds to the title track of The Art of War, with its main synth line sounding very similar and its chorus also reminding me greatly of that track, but repeated listens have shown it to the kind of mid paced track the band has always been great at, so again, it’s familiarity doesn’t bother me in the least just because it’s so damn catchy and addictive. Lastly, we have the closing track “The Last Battle”. This track threw me at first, as that name and the fact that it’s the final track on the album had me thinking it would be blazing fast and full of killer riffs. Well, that isn’t the case. Instead, it’s another mid paced track, heavily dominated by synths which give it a bit of a pop feeling at points, but while I was initially unimpressed, once again it turned out to one of those super catchy tracks where the melodies won me over in the end.
At just under 37 minutes, The Last Stand is one of those albums that’s extremely easy to put on repeat and get lost in for a while, and it’s certainly a very addictive album full of catchy and heroic war anthems just like its immediate predecessor. It may not live up to that album or other Sabaton classics like The Art of War and Primo Victoria, but it’s still another fantastic album full of memorable choruses and huge vocal melodies that won’t be easy to forget. Obviously, it’s a must hear for longtime fans of the band, and it’s also highly recommended for all fans of melodic metal, especially those looking for some catchy choruses to go along with epic lyrics about historic battles. Sabaton is just one of those bands that never disappoints, and The Last Stand is no exception.
Reviewer: Travis Green