Released By: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: July 19th, 2019
Genre: Power Metal
Joakim Brodén – Vocals
Chris Rörland – Guitars
Tommy Johansson – Guitars
Pär Sundström – Bass
Hannes Van Dahl – Drums
- The Future of Warfare
- Seven Pillars of Wisdom
- 82nd All the Way
- The Attack of the Dead Men
- Devil Dogs
- The Red Baron
- Great War
- A Ghost in the Trenches
- Fields of Verdun
- The End of the War to End All Wars
- In Flanders Fields
Sometimes, even my favorite bands will leave me a bit disappointed, which happened with Swedish power metal band Sabaton in 2016. They’ve been among a short list of my few absolute favorite metal bands for close to 10 years now, so I always have sky high expectations for them, which means even an album that could merely be called “very good” instead of “incredible” will leave me feeling somewhat disappointed. Sadly, that’s what happened with their sixth full length release, The Last Stand, as while it was still a highly enjoyable release, with a few particularly amazing tracks, it felt a little low in energy and inspiration compared to normal, and it had some songs that simply never grabbed me the way the band usually does. Despite that slight setback, I was excited when I heard the band had a new release coming in 2019, and I was hoping they could get back on track and blow me away once again. Early indications, from the first single as well as hearing the concept of the album, had me very optimistic, and now that I’ve listened to their seventh full length release, The Great War, 20+ times, I can officially say that whatever happened last time did not happen again, as this release represents the Swedes at their best, most energetic and most fun, while also having some truly powerful and awe inspiring moments!
There was a slight lineup change in between albums, with guitarist Thobbe Englund departing and being replaced by Reinxeed singer/multi-insturmentalist Tommy Johansson, who of course does a fantastic job, as always. I’m not sure if it’s specifically because of his presence, or just a general burst of inspiration, but the performances on this release feel even stronger than normal, with some otherworldly good melodies at times, as well as some of the most inspired solos I’ve ever heard from the band. They’ve always been known to have some incredible memorable choruses, but on The Great War, even the verses are infectious, as well as the bridges. In fact, there really isn’t a moment on the entire album that isn’t memorable or epic in some way or another. With all that being said, though, it’s still fairly similar to their previous few releases stylistically, in that the tempos are generally a bit more restrained compared to some power metal bands. In fact, the tempo rarely goes full speed on this release, aside from on a couple tracks, but instead, most tracks end up feeling fairly upbeat and move along at a pretty nice pace, without fully speeding up. It very much reminds me of Heroes, with how the songs are short, straight to the point and move along at a good pace, with each track having plenty of memorable moments, while all going by quickly enough to let the album flow from highlight to highlight.
As with many of their previous releases, The Great War is a concept album, and in that regard, the band has really gone above and beyond with how well they’ve covered their main theme. Obviously, all Sabaton songs (with a few exceptions) are about historic battles in one way or another, with most albums tending to focus on one specific theme. This time around, they’ve chosen to make an entire album focused on World War I, which is obviously a very important, logical topic for the band to tackle, and they’ve done it perfectly, covering many important moments, as well as historical figures, units and the like. While all their albums have very good lyrics, I think this one might have their best yet, just due to the important of the topic, as well as because of how well they’ve covered it. The album really feels like it flows together perfectly, and the concept helps everything to feel unified, while still allowing each track to stand out in their own way, which is pretty much exactly what I want from a concept album. Obviously, the production is as perfect as always, all musicians do an amazing job as always, and Joakim Brodén’ deep, powerful yet melodic vocals are as epic and amazing as always.
While I’ll always love Sabaton’s core sound and Joakim’s voice, their songwriting tends to be one of their biggest strengths, as well, so I was hoping The Great War would deliver in that area, after The Last Stand was a bit disappointing, and thankfully it does. Similarly to Heroes and The Last Stand, it’s a fairly short album, containing 11 tracks and clocking in at just under 39 minutes, which causes the tracks to fly by in a hurry, and of course that also makes it very easy to play the album several times over in one sitting, to really dig deep into it. Kicking off the album is “The Future of Warfare” a fairly slow paced, atmospheric track with some excellent keys throughout. The verses move along fairly slowly, but are filled with some very strong vocal melodies, while the chorus opens up and is very fun and epic, as always, while the solo section in the second half is very energetic and a lot of fun. It’s a very catchy, very enjoyable opener, and it kicks the album off quite well. Next is “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, a slightly speedier track, with a very classic feel to it, including a main melody that feels like it could have come straight from the band’s “Metal” trilogy of songs, spread across their first two albums and Coat of Arms. This feel is especially true for the main keyboard melodies, and it sticks around for most of the song, while the guitar work is a bit heavier than on the opening track, the verses move along at a pretty nice pace, the chorus is extremely infectious and catchy, the bridge is awesome and very inspired, and of course the guitar solo in the second half is excellent. It’s an awesome track, overall, and an early album highlight.
Things only get better with “82nd All the Way”, another speedier track with some excellent keyboards, as well as some nice melodic guitar work. It moves along at a slightly relaxed, but nice pace during the verses, with more excellent vocal melodies, and then the chorus is quite fast and it’s simply a treat, with some awesome keys, awesome vocals and some amazing melodies, and just like the previous track, there’s an excellent bridge, which gives way to a very melodic and fun guitar solo in the second half. The first real slow track on the album is “The Attack of the Dead Men”, and it has a slightly unique feel to it, with much darker, more atmospheric sounding keys, and indeed the track has a fairly grim feel to it overall, and the band pulls it off quite well, with slow, but heavy verses and a fairly strange but quite interesting build up to the chorus, which is of course every bit as upbeat, melodic and super catchy, as always. The track has a particularly inspired instrumental section, which goes on for quite a while, with some very classic sounding melodic guitar work, as well as possibly the heaviest, most technical passage on the album and it’s one of the highlights of the album for sure. Next is “Devil Dogs” and it’s yet another instant classic. It again has a familiar feel, opening with an epic tease at the chorus, before the pace picks up during the opening verse, which contains some very epic choir vocals, as well as some heavy riffs, and the song moves along at a nice pace, with another huge, epic chorus, as well as a very fun instrumental section, preceded by an epic, triumphant vocal section, which is followed by an over the top, but quite funny voice over, as well as more excellent solo work.
Next is second single “The Red Baron”, and some fans may not have heard the normal album version yet (for reasons I’ll explain near the end of the review), which contains an epic hammond organ recreation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Little Fugue in G Minor” during the intro. Following that, the track introduces a rather playful keyboard melody, that has a bit of a swing feel to it, and it carries on throughout the track, giving the track a very cheerful feel. The song moves along at a fast pace, with very fun verses, one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard so far this year, and it has yet another excellent instrumental section, with more playful keyboards and some excellent melodic guitar work. Following that is third single, “Great War”, which is one of the slowest, yet also most epic tracks on the album. It moves along at a slow pace during the verses, with more atmospheric keys and strong vocals from Joakim, and then the chorus is of course unbelievably powerful and epic, with strong symphonic elements and some excellent choral vocals, to help give it a more dramatic feel. The pace picks up again with “A Ghost in the Trenches”, which is one of the faster tracks on the album, with a nice gallop to the verses, as well as another very upbeat, very fun chorus, and more great instrumental work throughout. It’s definitely one of the catchier songs on the album.
The band did something which I think may be unprecedented with lead single “Fields of Verdun”, by having cello metal band Apocalyptica record a cover, and then releasing that cover a couple days before the release of the original track, itself. The cover was actually an amazing, very beautiful and atmospheric piece, with a nice use of varying tempos, while the Sabaton version is fairly straight-forward, very fast paced and quite fun, with an excellent, super catchy chorus, a very strong guitar solo, and fun verses. Both versions of the song are excellent, and it’s easy to see why it was picked as the first single. The last full length song on the album is “The End of the War to End All Wars” and it’s another very epic track, opening with some soft piano and slight symphonic elements, before turning into a full blown symphonic metal track, which gets more and more epic as it goes on, complete with some orchestral elements and some very epic choir vocals. It’s definitely one of the most epic, cinematic tracks the band has done, while still fitting their style perfectly. Verses are fairly dark, atmospheric and a bit heavy, while the chorus is extremely fun and theatrical, with the choirs taking full charge, and there’s a very epic, classical flavored guitar solo in the second half (I suspect it is taken from a classical piece, but I can’t figure out which it is) and overall it’s a very beautiful, powerful track, which gives way to an outstanding ending to the album. This outstanding ending comes in the form of “In Flanders Fields”, a choral performance of the classic poem, written by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. It’s a very beautiful cover, done entirely a Capella, with a choir, and it’s an absolutely wonderful way to end the album.
Before concluding this review, I’d like to point out that there are actually two version of the album: A normal version, which has all tracks uninterrupted, as well as a “History Version”, which includes some narration. The latter effectively makes the album feel similar to The Art of War, with a woman briefly introducing the topics for each track, and these narrations are fairly brief, so as not to disrupt the flow too much, while giving a bit of insight and historical context for each track. For the most part, the songs themselves are exactly the same on both versions, except that the History Version removes the Hammond organ intro for “The Red Baron”, and that’s the version the band used for their video. I generally prefer the normal version, for its overall flow, but the History Version is definitely worth a listen or two, for the narrations.
Sabaton will always be one of my all time favourite bands, with even a disappointing album like The Last Stand still managing to entertain me time and time again. Thankfully, though, The Great War is a big return to form, containing the same mix of speedy and slower tracks as Heroes, along with the seamless flow of that album, moving from highlight to highlight, while also having a very important concept, and executing it to perfection, with optional narration, excellent lyrics, and a stunning ending sequence. At the same time, there are plenty of amazing individual tracks here, as well, so anyone just looking for some addictive power metal, with little care for the lyrical themes, will also find a lot to enjoy here. It’s too early to say where it ranks among my all time favourite albums, but The Great War is definitely one of my top three favourites from Sabaton, along with The Art of War and Heroes, which is already saying a lot, and it’s far and away the best album I’ve heard in 2019 so far, with any upcoming releases having next to zero chance of topping it.
Written by: Travis Green
My Global Mind – Staff Writer
Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.