Review: Sabaton – The Great War

Chances are that if Sabaton don’t do it for you, then ‘The Great War’ won’t change your mind about the Swedish Heavy Metal outfit. There are no sudden left turns in style, or no rash decisions to suddenly add electronica to their sound. Sabaton always had bouncing keyboards, and they still have them. The galloping metal is still present and correct, as is the show-stopping choir. Sabaton’s next tour is a full-on arena tour, what they do – they do well, and they do this very, very well.

Instead of opting for an album based on a single thread throughout centuries, Sabaton have went with one period in history; The Great War from 1914 -1918, or as it was foolishly called – ‘The war to end all wars’. ‘The History Edition’ of the album features a brief spoken introduction about the background of each song, kind of like Alexa, but without the technology snooping on you.

Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, often referred to as “the single bullet that killed 16 million”, and the chain of events that followed on, the tale takes a dark turn as it details the mass production of the tank – ‘The Future Of Warfare’. As the narrator fades out, the choir comes in, and in some style. With the unmistakable brogue of Joakim Brodén in the foreground, the choir lifts the track to another level. Sabaton drummer Hannes Van Dahl is of course married to Floor Jansen, and Floor has teased a few cryptic social media posts that she appears on the album; the choir sounds like 100 Floor Jansen’s! The production on this track in particular, given the subject matter, makes for an explosive few minutes that should stand out in the live show.

‘Seven Pillars Of Wisdom’ deals with Thomas Edward Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia. Hannes Van Dahl puts in an almighty shift behind his kit, the famed scene in the Lawrence of Arabia movie is the epic horseback attack on Aqaba, and here, Van Dahl makes the listener feel like they are galloping alongside Lawrence. The larger-than-life ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ is massive, the layered chant-like vocals are highly effective and give the track a sense of urgency. ‘The Red Baron’ features a pulsating keyboard sound in the background as the band barrel along at full-speed, the keyboards are crucial to the song and help with the pace. Is it okay to call a song about warfare fun? If it is, then ‘The Red Baron’ is great fun.

The title track is a stirring, anthemic piece of music; the choir is incredible, the guitar harmonies are on point, and the end result is perhaps the catchiest track on the album. The closing ten minutes or so of the album are note-worthy for different reasons. ‘Fields of Verdun’ is epic-Sabaton, full of heart, then ‘The End of the War to End All Wars’, the arrangements are huge and somehow the choir sounds even bigger. At five minutes plus, it’s the longest track on the album, everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in, and the artillery shells exploding at the end add a sense of horror. This has to end the main set on the tour? Yeah? A poignant rendition of ‘In Flanders Field’ ends the album, just the choir (including Floor?), no instruments, it’s a fitting, respectful way to end the album.

‘The Great War’ is a bold concept which taken as a whole works well, like most Sabaton albums, it doesn’t take sides, choosing instead to commemorate rather than preach. The forthcoming arena tour promises to be the largest Sabaton production to date, and ‘The Great War’ is the perfect album to compliment such an epic show.

‘The Great War’ is available now through Nuclear Blast, Sabaton will headline Friday night at Bloodstock Open Air 2019, their only UK show this year. All tour dates available here.

Review – Dave

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