Sabaton hail from Falun, Sweden in 1999. This Power Metal 5-piece have repeatedly turned heads with their melodic hooks, powerful vocals, grandiose choir and orchestral sound, and often-controversial historical lyrical themes. After the ever increasing success of their first seven albums ‘Primo Victoria’ (2005), ‘Attero Dominatus’ (2006), ‘Metalizer’ (2007), ‘The Art of War’ (2008), ‘Coat of Arms’ (2010), ‘Carolus Rex’ (2012) and ‘Heroes’ (2014), this August saw the release of their eighth studio album ‘The Last Stand’ (2016).
Where this album may not hold the same creative uniqueness of the ever-hard-to-follow previous 2 albums, and could be argued that it sounds very much a imitation of ‘The Art of War’, it’s sheer grandiosity, musical diversity, and general epic Sabaton-ness more than makes up for it’s faults. Launching straight into the heroic keyboard motifs, thunderous riffs and primal chanting of the first track ‘Sparta’, we feel once again whipped up into the battle-rage of ancient wars, reminiscent of the title track of ‘Carolus Rex’.
‘Last Dying Breath’ then falls into the familiar Europe-esque keyboard riff and vocal cadence styling of their ‘The Art of War’ period, but adding a brilliant cascading quality and warm bridge-pickup-tone to the solo section.
Then in a sudden change of pace, ‘Blood of Bannockburn’ opens with a bagpipes motif, followed by a fast, almost poppy, down-picked guitar riff, accompanying bass line and simple-but-effective drum beat that will surely get the crowds jumping and crowd-surfing at the live shows.
‘Diary of an Unknown Soldier’ acts a short interlude and introduction to the next song, utilizing a short speech of (of course) military themed horror, accompanied by ominous background keys and drums, echoing the track ‘Sun Tzu Says’ from their previous album (yes, you guessed it) ‘The Art of War’. I will point out here that usually the, frankly overused, use of voiceovers in metal albums make me roll my eyes with sarcastic boredom, but in this case it’s the ominously rising backing music that causes this mini-track to be very effective indeed. This then dives headfirst into the epic choral intro of ‘The Lost Battalion’ and rising minor strings (well, keys). The vocals of this track are somewhat repetitive, however as always; the faults are redeemed by the elaborate splendor of the piece.
‘Rorke’s Drift’ is a difficult track to form a long lasting opinion of, as the riff is immediately gripping; however the rushed-sounding and slightly cheesy vocals in the verse are a little off-putting. But just as you decide this song isn’t for you, the pre-chorus kicks in with fantastic staccato minor guitar licks and then lands candidly in a chorus that you can just see the crowds singing along to. This sets up the title track ‘The Last Stand’ nicely as it is very evocative of ‘Coat of Arms’ and is possibly the most Sabaton like song on the album, with the almost lilting poetry of it’s chorus.
Before even listening to ‘Hill 3234’, the recollection of one of ‘Heroes’ titles surfaces, ‘Inmate 4849’, I will let you form your own opinion there on the repetitive title naming technique… Nevertheless, the track kicks off with a thrash riff that will surely invoke many a headbang. This is clearly going to be a track for the gigs, especially with the break in the middle, which shall surely get the fists in the air chanting “Hey! Hey!” along to the harmonic minor riff…(*ahem* Creeping Death *cough, cough*)
Even though ‘Shiroyama’ boasts a catchy melody and vocal parts that are easy to sing along to, it seems odd to have a song with Japanese lyrical themes, but not have that echoed in the music with any oriental qualities, given that ‘Blood of Bannockburn’ had obvious bagpipes echoing the Scottish theme on the same album.
‘Winged Hussars’ again heavily carries the backing melody with the Europe style of keyboards. Also, it is on this track the most that if I said the words “Pain” and “Lindemann” the penny would suddenly drop, as here the production is very clearly spearheaded by Peter Tägtgren.
The album comes to a close with the final track ‘The Last Battle’ (I’m sensing a pattern here with the uses of ‘last’ and ‘lost’ in the titles). The melody of this track is extremely memorable and the minor lick is perhaps the most emotional on the album. This track is a fitting ending to the album, tying it off nicely with the old familiar Second World War lyrical themes of victory and solidarity.
My overall opinion of this album lies in the cognitive dissonance somewhere between a shameless rehashing of ‘The Art of War’, wearing a “we are all about to die lets go out with a bang” subject matter skin, and a brilliant, catchy and thoroughly Sabaton (yes, it’s an adjective) addition to their epic blood-soaked discography, that will, no doubt, create an incredible response when added to the setlists of their already mind-blowing live shows.