REVIEW: SABATON – “The War To End All Wars”
I’ve always had many loves and interests that comfortably run alongside music. The oldest of these is storytelling and history. And the beautiful thing about music, and metal especially (in terms of modern music) is that these three things frequently appear together, very often in the form of concept albums, which as I’ve often mentioned, I love. It was a pleasure then, to receive the upcoming Sabaton album ‘The War To End All Wars’ which is another concept album, that combines history, and storytelling with driving power metal. Now I will readily admit that I’m not the biggest power metal fan, a lot is pretty cheesy. But Sabaton, and their war-themed music, is assuredly not cheesy and has a degree of sophistication, and technique that makes my prog-filled heart happy. And there is plenty of this new album to make fans of the band, and genre quite happy.
As noted, this is a concept album, and like all their albums it is war-themed. It’s a follow-up to their 2019 album ‘The Great War’ and like that album deals with stories about WW I. I must here admit to not being very familiar with that album, as in truth it’s only recently that I bothered to finally give the band a listen, I knew the name, and their themes, of course, but hadn’t gotten around to giving them a listen. My oldest son, however, loves the band and got an album for Christmas, so I spent some time with him listening to ‘The Last Stand’ and I found myself impressed with the music, the passion, and obvious research that the band put into it.
The album begins with “Sarajevo” and spoken word from a female narrator. It’s a short song and tells the story of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and the start of the war. The narration merges into the fast heavy riffing that power metal is known for the minimal lyrics set the stage that this will be “the war to end all wars” as it was hoped to be at the time.
It is followed directly by the first proper song “Stormtroopers” which like most songs is driven by the strong baritone voice of lead vocalist and keyboardist Joakim Brodén. The song is about Germany’s Stormtrooper units who were formed towards the end of the war, whose specialty was quick infiltration, and speed in attacking trenches on the Western Front. The song is highly melodic and features a quite catchy chorus as well. Much of the music on the album is anthemic and obviously meant to stir the emotions of the listener. On a whole, they achieve this quite effectively, and the dual guitar work of Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson makes for a heavy, yet infectious sound.
Moving ahead a bit we come to one of my favorite songs on the album, and the song for the most recently released music video “The Unkillable Soldier” which is about British soldier Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart who quite deservedly earned the nickname. If you look up the term “bad a**” you should find a picture of him, during the course of his battles he was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; was blinded in his left eye; survived two plane crashes; tunneled out of a prisoner-of-war camp, and tore off his own fingers when a doctor declined to amputate them. He then continued to serve after the war, seeing service in the second world war, and eventually died at the age of 85. The song itself is straight driving metal, with the steady bottom end being held down by Tommy Johannson (bass), and Hans Van Dahl (drums), and has an incredibly catchy chorus that has been stuck in my head all week.
It would be easy enough to go song by song for this review, as most have things worth writing about, but I’m not going to do that. I will however talk about the follow-up song “Soldier of Heaven” though because it’s a stand-out song. The most obvious, and most striking reason is the heavy use of keyboards, and electronics to begin, and drive most of the song. It has a nice Kraftwerk vibe to it, which is something I’m always in favor of. The guitars come back during the chorus, but the electronic beats continue throughout, making it one of the more unique songs on the album. The song itself deals with “White Friday” an event on the Italian front when a series of avalanches killed an estimated 2,000 troops on various sides. The song is told from the perspective of a ghost that remains lost and trapped in the ice and snow, telling his story, and looking down as time moves on.
I’ll now jump ahead to “Christmas Truce”, which is arguably the best, and certainly most powerful song on the album, and the one that has been released the longest. The incredible video for it came out at the end of October, so most fans are probably already familiar with it. As the title makes clear, it is about the Christmas Truce of 1914, during which time there were multiple cases of soldiers in the trenches (French, British, German) coming out to no man’s land, and joining together. This was still fairly early in the war, and the animosity wasn’t yet what it would come to be. The song tells of these men coming together, relieved to set down their guns and be human again. They drank together, sang Christmas songs, held religious services, buried the dead, and most famously played soccer together at several battlefields. The music is driven to a large degree by piano, and orchestrations, particularly bells. The melody of “Carol of the Bells” can be heard running throughout. The big guitar-driven chorus sung by the whole band of course comes through strong with the lines ‘And today we’re all brothers/Tonight we’re all friends/ A moment of peace in a war that never ends’ it’s really quite an emotional piece of music and serves as a fitting climax. An additional highlight is the guest background vocals by Nightwish vocalist (and wife of Van Dahl) Floor Jansen who as she is wont to do, does a simply beautiful, and emotional job.
The album ends with the bookend to the first song, largely narrated “Versailles” which explains the peace treaty ending the war in the Palace of Versailles in France. Musically it largely consists of the band singing that it’s the end of the war and ‘will this war really end all wars?’ The answer was of course not, in just under 20 years the second World War would begin, in the same places, and with the same participants. It is both joyful for the end of the first war while remaining darkly realistic of the reality of what would come, and that war tragically will never die.
Sabaton has with their 10th album released another work that metal fans will find a lot to enjoy, and a lot to delve into and read about if they so choose. The stories and history told in ‘The War To End All Wars’ are not only engaging, and well-told musically, and vocally, but are important to remember as well. Heavy, highly melodic, and with multiple very memorable songs this is a worthwhile addition to any metal fan’s music library.