Review by David Araneda
Album: The Great War
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: 19th July 2019
1. The Future of Warfare
2. Seven Pillars 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
Swedish heavy metal titans SABATON strike again with their ninth studio album entitled “The Great War”, celebrating also their twenty years of existence. With time, this band has quickly climbed up their way in terms of popularity and sales in the international metal scene, playing as a headliner at renowned European festivals and even launching their own festival, the Sabaton Open Air, which is held annually in August, with already twelve editions to date. This speaks of the commercial impact of one of the few European heavy metal acts emerged in the recent couple of decades able to achieve this level of attention and devotion by their fans.
On this occasion, the Swedes embarked themselves on the ambitious mission of recording a conceptual album about First World War, one hundred years after the end of this conflict. Throughout their career, SABATON have put great emphasis on the historical content of their songs, including a YouTube channel dedicated exclusively to this. As proof of the above, “The Great War” is available in two versions, a History Edition with narrations before each song, and a normal version without them. Another novelty of the album is the studio debut of guitarist Tommy Johansson, who replaced Thobbe Englund in 2016 and has toured with the band ever since.
The album starts with ‘The Future of Warfare’, opening with a sneaky keyboard intro, giving then way to a rather progressive rhythm section and also including more modern sounds than what we usually hear from this band. The song focuses on the new warfare technologies developed during this conflict, specially the role of tanks in WWI. They continue with ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, based on the story of Lawrence of Arabia. It is a song of almost galloping pace, quite dynamic structure, featuring great guitar work by Tommy Johansson and Chris Rörland. The precision and short length of the tracks draws my attention, advancing at a firm pace without any d-tours.
‘82nd All the Way’ is about an American airborne infantry division and brings back the “party metal” elements inherent to the band, a mix between disco, pop and eighties metal. Maybe it feels a little too light-hearted compared to the rest of the album, but as we mentioned before, the tracks pass by so quickly that you don’t have the chance to get bored. ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ moves towards the eastern front, where the Soviet and German armies clashed. Musically it is a somewhat more solemn song and includes certain elements of industrial metal that add variety and freshness to the record. The guitar solo and vocal performance of Joakim Brodén stand out as well.
With ‘Devil Dogs’ and it’s marching pace and merry melody, they return to the western front, specifically to The Battle of Belleau Wood in France. The song leaves me with an indifferent feeling, being perhaps my least favorite track in the album. ‘The Red Baron’ is of course about the famous German pilot Manfred von Richthofen, and delights us already a few weeks ago with its contagious rhythm and particular retro keyboard sound, including a touch of seventies hard rock à la URIAH HEEP. Although I first thought it was a bit of a silly song when I first heard to it, it has managed to grow on mi with every listen.
‘Great War’ is a song that synthesizes the spirit of the album, exploring the circumstances and consequences of this conflict through a dark glass. It is an epic track with a chorus that demands to be sung with the fist in the air, including a final section that stands out with a faster pace and an amazing guitar solo. Next, we have ‘A Ghost in the Trenches’, which is definitely my favorite song on the album and which tells the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, the famous Canadian sniper. From the beginning, it feels like an injection of energy that forces you to bang your head, with a catchy melody that sticks with you. Great success!
‘Fields of Verdun’ starts like a punch in the face with Hannes van Dahl‘s powerful drums, giving way to a series of Kai Hansen-inspired riffs, featuring strong influences from some GAMMA RAY classics. The instrumental performance is impeccable and the chorus is very contagious, becoming another of the highlights of the album. ‘The End of the War to End All Wars’ is a more introspective song, with multiple orchestrations and big choirs that help to close the album with an epic and triumphant note. Finally, we have the outro ‘In Flanders Fields’, a Gregorian chant that serves as an epilogue to this conceptual work.
“The Great War” is a solid record that flows from beginning to end without any boring moments, but it doesn’t bring many surprises either. There are some interesting experimental elements that draw your attention positively, but in general the band remains faithful to the recipe that has made them famous. The History Edition stands out because of the atmosphere created by the narrations, putting the themes covered in the lyrics into context. Maybe it’s not the album of the year nor the best of their discography, but without a doubt it contains more than one epic anthem that will be spinning in your head for weeks. All Hail Sabaton!
Sabaton – “The Great War” videos: