Album Review: SABATON The Great War
The Great War is solid as a tank and marks a major victory for Sabaton; 20 years of consistent, hard-hitting, epic metal music. these Swedish titans have perfected the art of military metal, releasing albums like The Art of War, based on the ancient Chinese military treatise of the same name, and Carolus Rex, inspired by the rise and fall of the Swedish empire. Covering vast continents and historical periods, Sabaton isn’t afraid to attack any conflict head-on and transform it into a pulse-quickening, headbanging, thunderous musical assault. Often playing alongside bands like Dragonforce and Hammerfall, they never fail to bring the power to power metal. They’ve won multiple awards for amazing live shows which, venue permitting, involve bringing a massive two-ton replica tank on stage. Sabaton really knows how to rally the troops and they prove it with their latest album. The Great War opens with a sense of anticipation and the first drum blast definitely sends chills. Barely a minute in and the first wave has already begun.
The Great War is a great crystallization of Sabaton’s creative vision as a band. Each song holds its own, there are no duds. This makes for an exciting, engaging album; the pace varies enough to hold attention, and nothing seems to drag. The Great War was characterized by trench warfare, and Sabaton stays true to that persistent, unrelenting ethic. There’s an underlying steady advance, a sense of duty and heroism tying the whole album together, while each individual song brings new firepower and highlights a different angle of the battle.
“The Red Baron” was written about a famous German fighter pilot. It features a faster, “shuffle” tempo that vocalist/keyboardist Broden says reminds him of “punk rock.” I’m not sure there’s any safety-pins lurking here but there’s definitely a lot of energy. Broden really makes the most of the keyboards on this track and as the song builds the music seems to climb higher and higher, just like the Baron’s infamous Fokker triplane.
The title track, “Great War,” was composed early on. When bassist Par Sundstrom first heard the music for the song he felt, “Oh, this is something epic,” but it wasn’t until he saw the completed album art that he knew, “that’s the song”. The music is as epic as the album art demands and it’s the perfect anchoring vision for this album. It’s a truly colossal song that rings out across the vast battlefield of time. It features a rousing, martial chorus and as it builds momentum, relentless heaviness is incorporated with soaring power metal and some of the most intricate guitarmanship on the album. It’s easy to see this song becoming a stadium shaking, rallying cry for the band.
“Ghost in the Trenches” is another song that they struggled to find just the right lyrics for. After stumbling across the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, Broden knew they had the perfect subject for the song. Pegahmagabow is credited with killing 378 Germans and capturing 300 more, making him the most “effective” sniper of the Great War. It’s the band’s first song featuring Tommy Johansson as a songwriter along with Broden. There was some initial uncertainty with whether or not the two could successfully blend their creative processes together, but after hearing the final version of “Ghost in the Trenches,” it was decided. Broden says, “I guess you’ll be hearing more from me and Tommy.”
The Great War is a fitting album to mark Sabaton’s 20th anniversary. The music was inspired at a notable time, November 2018, exactly 100 years after the end of the actual Great War. The energy was in the air and the band seized on this epic subject for their anniversary album. The topic was big enough and heavy enough that it allowed them to fully showcase the power of their music and their passion for history. This album proves that they’ve mastered their craft like few others, and have stayed amazingly consistent throughout their career. They put an emphasis on well-structured, dynamic songs that get you ready to lay siege or defend at all costs, and this album is no different. Each new track erupts like a grenade, bringing the past hurtling into the present in a barrage of overwhelming symphonic firepower that’s come to define Sabaton’s sound over the last 20 years.