Style: Power Metal
Release Date: 19 Jul 2019
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Is it a compliment or an insult to suggest that The Great War, which is the ninth studio album from one of Sweden's most recognisable power metal bands (and HammerFall's album comes out next week) is just like the first eight? I think it's a combination of both, because Sabaton score low on ambition but high on consistency. They're one of the most recognisable bands in the metal genre today because you know exactly what you're going to get every time.
For those new to the band, that means that the ten tracks proper here each last three or four minutes, contain a collection of strong hooks and catchy choruses and recount some sort of historical story about war. There's also a further theme to link them, which is particularly obvious this time because it's in the title of the album. For those not paying attention to all those anniversaries over the last few years, The Great War was World War I or the First World War, which ravaged Europe and changed everything.
It seems appropriate to call it here The War to End All Wars and add that it took place from 1914 to 1918 and I'll explain that. While some Sabaton fans rave about the band's knowledge of the history of warfare, this is legend as much as it's history and it's dotted with numbers to make it sound more detailed than it is. It's just the sort of simplified history you might read about in grade school books. Take these stories as rabbit holes and give them worth.
For instance, Alvin York was a real soldier and his deeds certainly deserve to be recounted (he attacked a German machine gun nest, capturing a hundred plus enemy soldiers and killing a couple of dozen). That story isn't 82nd All the Way, which is as shallow as the spooky tales a new parent might read their baby to send them to sleep. But hey, it's chock full of details like 8th October, 1917, the 338th, Hill 223 and the 82nd all the way to make it feel like more than, say, the Gary Cooper biopic.
It's fluff, folks. But it's insanely catchy fluff that attaches its hooks to your brain and refuses to release it until the next song has taken over. The band are so good at these hooks that others bands might kill for the secret. They're so good that every one of the songs here has a real shot at being a single. Four have made it so far: Fields of Verdun, The Red Baron, Great War and 82nd All the Way, and I can't argue with any of those, even if I'd call out The Attack of the Dead Men as the catchiest thing here.
But hey, there's so much that's catchy that we could each compile a top five and still not come up with any of the same choices. Most of it is the vocals, where the verses are catchy, the bridges are catchier and every chorus is a deadly earworm. Some of it is choral, nesting multiple voices together, The Future of Warfare seemingly just as easy for Van Canto to cover as Primo Victoria from their first album in 2005. There's plenty of it in the guitars too and the keyboards bolster those, occasionally going solo, with a lovely Hammond sound at points. The drums do a great job of both accompanying and sounding like rifle shots in the background.
The line up is mostly the same as it was last time on 2016's The Last Stand. Vocalist Joakim Brodén and bass player Pär Sundström have been there all the way from the band's beginning in 1999. The rest of the band changed at once in 2013, with drummer Hannes van Dahl and guitarist Chris Rörland joining at that point. New fish Tommy Johansson replaced Thobbe Englund (who just put out a solo Judas Priest tribute album last week) on second guitar just after that last album and this is his recording debut with the band.
I highlight that because a new guitarist is at least a change. I think it's fair to say that everything else here is exactly as you remember it from any previous Sabaton album. And, as I said at the beginning of this review, it's both an insult and a compliment to point that out. No, there isn't anything remotely new here. Yes, it's just as good as you remember.