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Album Reviews : Sabaton – The Great War

By on September 9, 2019

Swedish metal giants Sabaton have returned with their ninth album The Great War to deliver their usual fare of anthemic war-themed power metal. The album is themed around the First World War, telling a variety of short tales that encompass some of its more famous moments. Another noteworthy feature is that this album has two editions – the standard edition that features just the songs and the ‘History Edition’ that features short narrations before each song to introduce the main ideas and themes of the track.

These narrations are something of a mixed bag; the initial idea of a ‘History Channel’ style intro to the songs is a great idea and is the logical progression of Sabaton’s war-themed lyrics. However, the execution is somewhat muddled, as is often the case when a band does not commit to their artistic vision. While giving your audience options for different editions isn’t bad on paper, in practice either essential elements are missing, or non-essential elements are tacked on, weakening the overall product. Such is the case with The Great War: on songs like ‘The Future of Warfare’, ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ ‘The Great War’ and ‘The End of the War to End All Wars’, the narration does an excellent job of framing the narrative and lyrical theme, adding depth, atmosphere and interesting detail. At times though, the narration establishes an excellent atmosphere that is immediately undercut by the actual music: ‘Attack of the Dead Men’s narration establishes a creepy atmosphere with its description of the horrors of gas attacks, yet the following riff enters full of the upbeat, almost happy vigour of conventional power metal. Likewise, ‘Ghost in the Trenches’ undercuts tales of sniper fire with a poppy song that appears to have no connection to the opening narration. In some cases, such as the one-line opening of ‘Fields of Verdun’, the narration works well as an artistic decision but adds little else. Ultimately, these complications with the narrations are a disappointing execution of an otherwise interesting idea.

Setting aside problems with the narration, the actual music on the album is generally good if a little uninspired at times. Sabaton has a very well-defined style of power metal that is largely structured around colossal, anthemic choruses, of which The Great War has plenty. ‘Great War’ was supposedly written early on in the process of this album and it is clear why they decided to structure the rest of the album around WWI after this song – it is very much the strongest song on the album from the epic introduction, to the serious verse that describes the shattered dreams of frontline soldiers, to the emotional pre-chorus and the huge chorus that will surely be a crowd anthem for years to come. While ‘Great War’ may be a perennial classic for the band, few other songs on the album reach these heights. There are a few strong songs: ‘The Red Baron’ features an energetic polka-pop shuffle vibe that sustains the entire song and has some nice atmospheric and textural moments; ‘Devil Dogs’ is a punchy track that will also work well live; ‘Fields of Verdun’ is a fun power metal song featuring an earworm of a chorus riff that resembles Judas Priest’s ‘Electric Eye’ and; ‘In Flanders Fields’ is a moving, beautiful rendition of the famous poem that is a perfect closer to the album. While these songs lack the ‘X Factor’ that sets ‘Great War’ apart, they make a strong latter half of the album.

Unfortunately, many of the other songs on the album end up feeling a bit samey. ‘End of the War…’ has a strong chorus with some nice orchestral moments but is generally underwhelming. ‘The Future of Warfare’ and ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ open the album fairly well but are fairly standard Sabaton songs, with little more than catchy choruses. ‘Attack of the Dead Men’ and ‘Ghost in the Trenches’ are decent enough songs, if a little undercut but the narration, both featuring strong guitar solos. ‘82nd All the Way’ has a strong opening riff and an engaging verse, but the chorus feels like a rejected Eurovision song and the Europop vibe feels a little dissonant against the serious subject matter of the rest of the album. It is important to note that many of these elements are appealing to fans of Sabaton, and many of these songs are good examples of Sabaton’s typical style.

Overall, The Great War is a fascinating idea let down by uneven execution. I would recommend those interested in the album purchase the standard edition without the narration, as more songs are harmed by the narration that those that benefit from it (and those that benefit were generally already good songs). Fans of Sabaton will likely find that they enjoy the bands next output, but those looking to be converted may find themselves unconvinced beyond the tug of a few strong songs.

Band: Sabaton
Album: The Great War
Year: 2019
Genre: Power Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Origin: Sweden

About

Ben is a metalhead originally from Sydney, who has now moved to Hobart to pursue a PhD in Australian extreme metal. When not studying, writing about or playing metal, he can be found playing video games, browsing Reddit, knitting, fending off his cat or helping out at his local church.