Civil War, with their fitting and ironic moniker, are by now safely sailing the waters of European power metal without being looked upon as Sabaton’s evil twin; or are they? It’s been six years since ‘The Last Full Measure’ and, after some lineup changes with the addition of a very competent Kelly Sundown Carpenter (vocals, Adagio, ex-Iron Mask) and – surprise, surprise – another former Sabaton member Thobbe Englund (guitars), here we are with the band’s fourth full length, ‘Invaders’.
Making music that is once again heavily inspired by war themes and historical moments, from Viking invasions to Native American battles and even some fiction with Arthurian fantasy, the Swedes make use of epicness and guitar-driven atmosphere to tell their stories. While the keyboards still play a pretty important role in the songs, they seem to have moved yet again a little closer to pure power metal, which works very well overall.
Tracks such as “Oblivion” “Andersonville” and “Carry On” offer a different, more exotic songwriting style to which we are used from Civil War, ranging from a middle eastern style riff fest to a semi-ballad with a large emotional charge. Cleaner, straightforward tunes like the title track and “Soldiers and Kings”, in turn, provide a familiar place to Sabaton enthusiasts, with less of a need for being cheesy and radio-friendly.
The truly great moments of the album, though, are when the band is bold enough to have their own take on the power metal world. “Dead Man’s Glory” and “Warrior Soul” are good examples of that, counting on killer vocal performances by Carpenter and less formulaic, more organic riffs by Petrus Granar and Englund. But it is with “Heart of Darkness” that these guys managed to surpass their limits and deliver one of the best moments of their short careers. Vicious, chaotic and evil all at once, it shows the band at its finest both songwriting and personality-wise.
Of course, there are some land mines here that undermine the overall work a little bit. The aforementioned “Andersonville” and generic, unflavored moments like “Slaughterhouse 5” demonstrate why there should never be two Sabatons in the World. These passages exist in that grey zone between good and bad, and while they aren’t bad enough to skip, they also don’t add much to the album. Misplaced songs like these drag the length of the record and can definitely make the listener lose focus.
To be completely fair, aside from the minor hiccups Civil War continue on doing a good job distancing themselves from their Swedish counterpart; now they have a better defined sound and core elements which are easier for us to capture, all while managing to also perform outside of the box and do some decent surprise-damage. ‘Invaders’ was worth the 6-year wait from ‘The Last Full Measure’ and it easily obliterates its predecessor in terms of quality and “metalness” in general. This is clearly a great, if at times a little on the soft-side, power metal album that lives off its swag and cohesion and has the potential to be their most significant album to date.