REVIEW: SABATON – “The Great War”
“1914. How peculiar is that a single bullet can trigger a chain of events that would change the World forever. Nations would be torn apart, empires would fall and an entire continent would be set ablaze in the wake of this event. Alliances are triggered in a chain reaction, resulting in a War that sweeps across Europe like a merciless plague. Armies would destroy the land, soldiers dig endless trenches, and the shells would leave scars on Earth for generations to come.”
On that grim, yet sadly accurate note, Sabaton display their ninth full-length album, a conceptual epic piece that – in the form of music – tells tales of one of the most devastating and cruel events of mankind’s history: ‘The Great War’.
Fittingly (and most definitely thought of), Joakim Brodén and fellow brothers in arms chose the 100 year anniversary of this most peculiar of wars to grace us with yet again bombastic instrumental, catchy as hell choruses and heroic tales, this time around from a century-old catastrophe.
(Because this is a conceptual album and by the high level of details contained in each song, I’ll take the liberty to do something that I don’t do often, which is review ‘The Great War’ track by track. Please note that the version reviewed here is the “history edition”, hence the small quotes before each song. By the way, I had no lyric sheet whatsoever to guide me, so sorry about possible miswording.
“We would also see the birth of some of the most devastating inventions mankind has ever conceived. Born in factories, delivered by engineers, immune to the bullets of the regular soldier, unbothered by the burdens of the land; the Tank: the future of warfare”.
A prime start to the album, a dense, dark and powerful aura surrounds “The Future of Warfare”, which plays in a cadenced way. Similar to songs featured in ‘The Art of War’ (2008), it fits the profile of being a bombastic, yet serious opening to the effort.
“Far from home, and far away from the European fronts, one man joins forces with an unlikely ally with whom he conducts raid after raid, and forces the enemy to redistribute his armies. The sun burns the desert sands as the legend in Arabia grows. The man is T.E. Lawrence, and these are the Seven Pillars of Wisdom”
Providing good elements of melodic power metal and featuring a more laid back approach when in comparison to the thunderous opener, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, but not without the right amount of passion. The epic choirs in the chorus fit well with the pompous track and Lawrence’s peculiar history, making it yet another cool tune here.
“All men are forged from a single mold, but not all soldiers are equal. Sort them not by medals, nor by rank: the difference lies in their actions under pressure. Some men crumble, some men go far…some men go all the way.”
Not my favorite track of the bunch, “82nd All the Way” borrows too much from the pop-ish side of themselves, with layered keyboards and a bit too much of a nonsensical Battle Beast-esque style of playing. It’s overly sugary, but well, it’s Sabaton, so I should have seen it coming.
“Gas, the ultimate weapon of cruelty. Highly effective delivery of a slow and painful death. This time, a fortress and its few defenders would suffer its horrible consequences. Out of the poisonous cloud came an army of men who should already have been dead”
Once again, Brodén and company are not at their best here, utilizing dangerous amounts of radio-friendly instrumental. However, “The Attack of the Dead Men” feels crunchy and war-like, and the atmosphere compensates for the lack of creativity in the songwriting department; an improvement over the last track.
“One combatant may have arrived late, but not too late to be able to change the outcome of the war. Unexpectedly, it seems that this unit is actually excited about entering the conflict. And while their allies are in retreat, hell has just arrived.”
“Devil Dogs” is just as fierce musically as it is in the name and story. Resembling brutal and quality efforts like “40:1”, “Panzer Battalion” and “Smoking Snakes”, this is one of the fastest and raw tracks in the album, and it features every aspect that made Sabaton the giant that they are today. The mid and last portions of the album are where the best tracks are, and it starts here.
“High above the blood and mud of the battlefields, there was another war going on; a war for superiority in the air between the daredevils of the sky known as the aces. Among them, one man and his plane stand out: the Red Baron.”
High-paced and trigger-happy, “The Red Baron” is yet another thrilling and fun track to listen to, and once again Sabaton hits the jackpot in terms of atmosphere. The chorus is monstrous and the solos here are prolific and objective. Killer tune.
“Passchendaele, 1917, no-man’s land. Not a great place to be. Upon command, thousands of soldiers will march straight into the crossfire of thousands of guns, while the endless rain keeps pouring down. Perhaps it will raise a question: What is so great about war?”
Perhaps the most epic piece here, the title track tries to be as grand as the Great War itself. Following the approach used mainly in ´Carolus Rex’ (2012), Brodén is at his most emotional self here vocal-wise, while the backing vocals are prominent and the bass and drum lines are heavier (and slower as well) than in past songs, providing a most welcomed sense of chaos and perdition. If not for the last moments of the record, “The Great War” would definitely be the best track here.
“Raid after raid, men charge straight into the fire, laying their lives down for a few feet of the ground. It is a costly and destructive tactic. Some men have found out that a single shot can be more efficient than a hail of bullets when directed from a sniper’s sight. Like ghosts, they sweep across the trenches with deadly precision.”
“A Ghost in the Trenches” is in a middle ground between melodic and straightforward. Once again Sabaton borrow from their early works like ‘Attero Dominatus’ (2006) and ‘The Art of War’ in the songwriting and instrumental parts. Using a cheesy, yet fun and upbeat approach, the song fits well between so many denser and darker moments.
“This is Verdun. Here, they shall not pass!”
Simplistic, heavy, direct and catchy. “Fields of Verdun” has perhaps the most sticky chorus in the album and the guitar work by Thobbe Englund and Chris Rörland is killer here, and the solo is a show of its own. My favorite Sabaton moments are exactly when they leave the more melodic parts aside and focus on heavy metal, which is exactly what they do here.
“All things have a beginning and an end. Four years have passed since the first shots were fired, four empires are no more. The machine of war is resting…for now. For this was not the War to end all Wars.”
A classical piano and violin intro paves the way to the most rhapsodic track of the album, a song that bursts into a symphonic piece of blood, mud and bullets. It is somewhat schizophrenic music-wise, but it’s so well constructed that the small issues with it are muffled easily. I was actually surprised of how mature Sabaton managed to be in this particular track, because almost all of their epic songs fall under a cheesy place. This is the exact opposite, though, being the most rich and powerful track of ‘The Great War’, only bested by the beautiful epilogue that comes after.
“In Flanders Fields” is a beautiful, beautiful rendition of Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s war poem of the same name, and it closes the album in the best way possible. I don’t tend to use the word “perfect”, but there’s no other way to describe how wonderful this ending to an album is.
‘The Great War’ is easily one of the strongest efforts of Sabaton’s already rich discography, and their best since the awesome ‘Carolus Rex’. The atmosphere, musicality and especially the band’s maturity are what make this such a good homage to those who have fought and fallen 100 years ago in the hope of a better World. Emotional, compelling and energetic, this is a must-listen-to all Sabaton fans, and all heavy/power metal fans out there.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”