During an interview with Sabaton frontman, Joakim Brodén, a decade ago, he gleefully told me, "We love war". I immediately pulled him up on that, "You love singing about war rather than loving war, I guess! You said “we love war”!"; to which he replied, "Oh yeah! Ohhhh….you caught me there! Damn! No, I don’t love war! I really like writing lyrics about it." A relief to hear, and no surprise to learn that, ten years later, the primary aesthetic of these Swedish non-warmongers has remained firmly rooted in war. World War I provides their lyrical inspiration this time around, and 'The Great War' is being released in both a standard edition, and 'History Edition', with the latter embellished with a few moments of narrative-based voice overs between songs (a rather stern sounding lady), to contextualise each of them with brief history lessons. This version is just under four minutes longer than the standard edition, so we're not talking overkill on the narration; it's all kept to a relevant minimum - straight to the point, if you will.
To be honest, I've always preferred Sabaton as a live band to their recorded output. I've enjoyed their albums, but I've always found their songs truly come to life in much more invigorating ways in a live setting, such is the energy and passion they've always put into each and every performance. So it's zero surprise to me they've come so far since my first live encounter with the band back in 2009, as support act to Dragonforce, amassing a big enough fanbase to move into headlining huge venues around the world. Very nice guys they are, too, so it's success that's been well-earnt and well-deserved. And now, in 2019, we have the imminent release of their ninth studio album in what is the year of their twentieth anniversary.
So, what of 'The Great War'? Pretty damn good. It's loaded with a ton of melodically fuelled, keys-imbued, anthemic sing-along choruses and general heavy/power metal idioms for which they've become renowned, along with a few moments of poignancy. And it doesn't get more poignant than the closing piece, 'In Flanders Fields', whereby John McCrae's WWI poem is beautifully sung, a capella, by a choir, in what proves to be an incredibly emotional end to the album. Before that rather moving climax, it's pretty much business as usual for Sabaton. The musicianship is great, Brodén's voice is as it ever was, and the songs themselves are infused with just the right amount of hamminess. It's refined cheese, in places; and a passionate overspill of emotions on others. They even step into epic symphonic metal territory in penultimate track, 'The End of the War to End All Wars'. A very nice surprise, this one, which acts as a perfect prelude and primer for the McCrae finale.
Despite the seemingly "glorifying" nature of the largely up-tempo, melodically driven music, it ultimately feels like an album loaded with remembrance rather than one of celebration. There's respectful contemplation here, for sure. Just take a listen to 'In Flanders Fields' for such. And lessons still to be learned. The narration on this 'History Edition' certainly helps. All in all, a nicely crafted suite of songs, but I bet they'll sound even more engaging on stages around the world.
THE GREAT WAR (HISTORY EDITION)
Review by Mark Holmes
19th July 2019
1) The Future of Warfare
2) Seven Pilars of Wisdom
3) 82nd All the Way
4) The Attack of the Dead Men
5) Devil Dogs
6) The Red Baron
7) Great War
8) A Ghost in the Trenches
9) Fields of Verdun
10) The End of the War to End All Wars
11) In Flanders Fields
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Despite the seemingly "glorifying" nature of the largely up-tempo, melodically driven music, it ultimately feels like an album loaded with remembrance rather than one of celebration. There's respectful contemplation here, for sure."