Historically, given the fact that Sabaton hasn’t recorded one song I’ve ever liked, it’s safe to say I am not a fan. Power Metal, as I suggested in a Burning Witches review last year, lives or dies by the quality and proportion of cheese a band chooses to employ. I have always found Sabaton’s particular brand of cheese to be of the Wal-mart Sandwich Mate variety, complete with individually wrapped plastic slices, processed to the point of tastelessness. Joining the likes of Powerwolf, HammerFall, and Rhapsody of Fire in the awesome-cover-art/shitty-music subdivision of heavy music. Making a sport out of missing the mark, failing miserably at their attempts to be anywhere near as fantastic as Primal Fear or Sanctuary.
Still, upon hearing about their upcoming release, “The War to End All Wars,” I found myself wondering if a world existed where I could appreciate Sabaton for what they are instead of hating them for what they are not. The short answer is an emphatic “fuck no!” But whether I like it or not, Sabaton is a part of the Metal conversation, of which I am grateful to participate on a somewhat regular basis. The fact that they, and many of their ilk, possess millions of fans world wide, means to me that their work is worthy of discussion, if for no other reason than to remove myself from the blind hatred that so often keeps Metal fans divided. Though I can’t say you’ll agree with me by review’s end. Here’s hoping.
Current Sabaton lovers, as well as current Sabaton loathers, are not likely to find anything new to love or loath within the forty-five minutes “The War To End All Wars” attempts to keep ears piqued. It’s all there. The obnoxious, faux-orchestral keyboards. The un-inventive, plastic sounding rhythm guitars. The ho-hum pub drinking, sing-along choruses that somehow make songs about death and destruction sound like the war horns of Lego Land. These elements are present on all of Sabaton’s previous nine efforts, rarely stopping for a rest on this unintentionally hilarious double decade road trip through Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.
Two of these records stand out as Sabaton’s best. Those would be Carolus Rex (2012), and The Great War (2019). For the possible exception of Heroes (2015), I am doubtful that many fans of the band would disagree with this assessment. Carolus Rex, which was released in both English and Swedish, stepped up the production, filling out both the drum and guitar sounds, and showcased a full on choir which helped those aforementioned ho-hum choruses sound less… Hobbity. Heroes changed up Sabaton’s lyrical content by focusing on individuals rather than battles fought by nameless thousands, and The Great War was a surprisingly successful amalgamation of both.
In Sabaton’s defense, following up an ambitious album like The Great War would be no easy task. Not to mention the fact that they’re running out of ways to remain in the same musical lane, as apparently swerving too far from it is a risk they’ve been completely unwilling to take. At this point it would be too late anyway. If they changed anything now they’d sell less t-shirts, wouldn’t they?
But the point of Sabaton seems to be less about music and more about the themes they explore, and the already proven success of the formula they implemented on album number one. They’ve got fans to continue making happy, after all, and no shortage of war stories to sing about. What they do works, despite the obvious absurdity that runs rampant within the veins of modern Power Metal bands. To put it another way; do fans of Ancient Aliens want The History Channel to change the way Ancient Aliens covers ancient aliens? No, they do not.
Album opener “Sarajevo” is a good tune, by Sabaton standards, as are “Stormtroopers” and “Hellfighters,” the latter of which may or may not be about the criminally historically overlooked Harlem Hellfighters, an African American regiment that kicked all sorts of ass in World War I. Top tier production, fairly regular use of dynamics, and a slightly less offensive keyboard sound all help make The War To End All Wars just as listenable as Sabaton’s “best.”
The thing is, Sabaton’s best doesn’t sound a whole lot different than their worst. “Race to the Sea,” for example, is a complete throwaway track, while “Christmas Truce” and “Versailles” come off sounding like a cartoon version of The Incredible Hulk singing “Carol of The Bells.” This is really a shame because the stories Sabaton is trying to tell are both important and inspiring, depending on your perspective of import and inspiration. This makes me think the people behind the cardboard tank called Sabaton should maybe try their hands at graphic novels, or writing scripts for Ken Burns films.
Now that we’re on the subject of filmmaking, there are videos for “The Unkillable Soldier,” “Soldier of Heaven,” and “Christmas Truce.” These find the band band, among other things, standing camo-clad on snow covered mountains, instruments unplugged, going through every “metal move” in the book, as computer generated explosions surround them. Oh, look! The soldier who’s lying on the mountain in front of them has died. This one, as it turns out, was quite killable. These videos do not do the music any favors, as they play to every stereotype that should be shoved forcibly to the back. Truly horrible. Here. Watch one.
I’d say this Sabaton album is the forth best of the ten horrible Sabaton albums now in existence. Putting a numerical value on well polished turds shouldn’t be much more difficult than rating putrid turds. Turds, as is often said, are turds. But if I had to choose between turds, I would place The War To End All Wars close to the top.
Long story short, if you’ve gotten this far, you have successfully spent as much time with Sabaton as any human should. You’d be better off googling their song titles in hopes of finding well written articles on the subject matter.
The War To End All Wars will be released on March 4th, via Nuclear Blast Records. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.