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Album Reviews : Sabaton – The Last Stand

By on August 21, 2016

13445415_10154262929499868_918458514645819003_nIf there’s anything that can be said about today’s power metal scene, it’s that there’s one band dominating stages across world with their epic and unique take on the sub-genre, and that band in question is Sweden’s Sabaton. Since their 2005 full-length debut ‘Primo Victoria’, Sabaton have been on an exponential rise to become the prominent figures of metal in its purest form – packed with themes and lyrics of historical battles and conflicts, with instrumentation to match the epic scale of such thematics. Eleven years into their career and despite a number of line-up changes throughout their career, Sabaton have held together like a well-disciplined battalion to release their latest full-length effort ‘The Last Stand’. Focusing on the last-stand battles of mankind throughout the millennia, Sabaton have truly cemented their position as the most metal historians of all time.

Right off the bat, ‘Sparta’ builds up a climactic section of keys and power chords, a clear omen of what to expect. Following a percussion-emphasised style, reminiscent of their 2012 song ‘Carolus Rex’, the verses transcend oneself into wherever the track takes us. The chorus completely grips and doesn’t let go as vocalist Joakim Broden’s voice soars through the orchestration and crunchy guitar chords, it becomes harder and harder to not fall into a sense of wonder with the band as they retell the historic Battle of Thermopylae. ‘Sparta’ is everything one can expect from a Sabaton track, and I couldn’t agree more with the idea that this track is one of the best ever openers for an album. A brilliant retelling of the tale of Major Dragutin Gavrilovic, ‘Last Dying Breath’ is where we start to really get an understanding of how technically proficient guitarists Chris Rorland and (now former member) Thobbe Englund really are, with incredible shredding throughout the latter half of the track.

As we approach ‘Blood of Bannockburn’, sounds of bagpipes set up the listener for what is to be a well versed and well written musical narrative of Scottish history. I personally found this exact track to be the weakest of the album, as I really struggled to differentiate it from another generic power metal track, but this is in no way a bad thing, as Sabaton’s method of delivering “generic” power metal is truly incredible itself. My faith is this album’s potential is reinvigorated as the spoken word introduction of ‘Diary of an Unknown Solider’ leads straight into lead single ‘The Lost Battalion’ – Hearing this track as a single prior to the album release, the song’s mid-tempo, choral-heavy delivery was something I wanted to hear a lot more from Sabaton, and this track delivered and then some. ‘Rorke’s Drift’, whilst possessing a similar style to ‘Resist and Bite’ from their 2014 effort ‘Heroes’, holds enough of its originality for me to only see the similarities as the trademarks of any Sabaton song. We are once again treated by incredible guitar playing from Rorland and Englund; listening to these two completely dominate the frequencies with their playing has become somewhat of a fascination for me, and I’m so glad that their incredible skills are being shown in full force with this album.

As we approach the half-way point of ‘The Last Stand’, one thing becomes increasingly noticeable – The large use of keys and orchestration, an element used heavily in the early days of Sabaton, but largely toned down towards latter releases. Whether this decision to bring back old-school sounds was a decision of wanting to revisit nostalgic sounds or simply out of necessity to compliment the ever-epic lyrics of bassist Par Sundstrom, I’m seriously loving their re-introduction of keyboard-heavy Sabaton. Title track ‘The Last Stand’ is a perfect example of an old-school Sabaton experience, filled to the brim with those prominent keyboard and orchestral elements. ‘Hill 3234’ gives me an almost Judas Priest vibe to it towards the first half of the track, before bringing us back into the signature Sabaton sound. ‘Hill 3234’ is a shining moment of Sabaton’s musicianship as it truly showcases their ability to carve their own sound into the heavy metal landscape whilst paying homage to their idols of old.

What is my stand-out track of the album, ’Shiroyama’ is a perfect amalgamation of keyboard leads that long-time Sabaton fans are so accustomed to hearing and the magnificent vocal power of Broden. What is sure to be a live show staple, ‘Shiroyama’ delivers in every aspect that I wanted from a song like this – perfectly structured, historically deep and musically epic. As I approach the final two tracks of this album, I can’t help but think that this may be one of Sabaton’s best works yet. ‘Winged Hussars’ wastes no time in delivering choral power and intensified heavy metal rhythmics right from the get go, only adding to the senses of epic-ness and wonder that this album is giving me. ‘The Last Battle’ – an aptly fitting title as the final track of the album is another standout track for me, with seriously catchy melodic hooks and uplifting, upbeat riffs present throughout the track. As the track builds up and breaks down in perfect sequence, the well-composed instrumentation of the lead work of Rorland and Englund seem to be complimented incredibly well with the low end brilliance of Sundstrom and the signature percussive technicality of drummer Hannes Van Dahl.

For some, the album doesn’t stop here, as I was greeted with two bonus tracks – covers of Stan Ridgway’s ‘Camouflage’ and Judas Priest’s ‘All Guns Blazing’. Whilst I didn’t find anything extremely impressive about their rendition of ‘Camouflage’ I still enjoy it greatly, but maybe that’s just because in comparison, I found their cover of ‘All Guns Blazing’ to be absolutely amazing. Not only did Sabaton do the song justice, note for note, but they made their own in their unique style – an ability seen very rarely with most metal bands when they attempt covers. And if that wasn’t enough praise for this cover, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Judas Priest vocalist and the metal god himself, Rob Halford, even featured on this song, supplying backing vocals.

As the album eases to gentle silence, I’m left completely gobsmacked at the level of quality Sabaton have achieved with this album. Looking back from war march-like intensity of ‘Sparta’ to the climactic choruses of ‘Shiroyama’ and ‘The Last Battle’, it became painfully clear to me that I struggled to find any significant flaw in ‘The Last Stand’. Whilst some tracks did not grasp my interest as much as others, I felt a consistent level of amazement and awe in Sabaton’s delivery of their one-of-a-kind blend of heavy metal and high school history lessons. Sabaton have truly matured into one of the front runners of the world-wide heavy metal scene and ‘The Last Stand’ is a shining beacon of proof of that statement.