Deciding to open their newest album with filler, you know Sabaton is going to take you for a heckin roll through The Great War. The Swedish power metal outfit release their ninth full length with volleys of thunder and sprinkles. Fortunately, the production is changed for the better since The Last Stand (2016). The sound is heavier, more metallic, and the pop metal stylistics and over the top keyboards have been toned down in favor of more crunch to the guitars, giving a sound more akin to that on Coat of Arms (2010). There are choral arrangements that help lift the choruses and give a more epic feel which is a welcome touch. Upbeat tracks like 82nd All The Way do their best to show the flair in power metal the band takes their initial inspiration from, but ultimately fail because they short runtime doesn’t allow for anything to actually develop within the song itself. Obviously, they do know their way around a short, effective and catchy track, and The Great War is capped with a handful of them.
First single Fields of Verdun grows with a few listens, and has some neat guitar work care of former lead axe man Thobbe Englund putting in a guest appearance. Seven Pillars of Wisdom also has its moments. The problem is the lack of any depth or staying power; the tracks just roll by in three and a half minutes and then you forget them. Moments of rollicking power metal glory are strewn throughout, mostly in a few intros and solos where guitarist Tommy Johansson (ReinXeed, Majestica) gets to finally show off a little, but they never last longer than a few seconds at a time. Lyrically, the album has just as much depth as you’ve come to expect from the last few Sabaton albums, every three minutes is about some specific soldier, company or battle, with Brodéns line ripped straight from the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article. A song title like A Ghost in the Trenches could be the perfect moment to take a darker approach and go into the pervasive dread, horror and lingering, impending death hanging above the heads of the young men waiting to die in the trenches, but really it’s about some guy who fired guns, I guess?
Really, the only worthwhile song on the album is the title track, and goddam, for four and a half minutes, Sabaton show that they can write a good, solid power metal tune. As an anti war anthem it doesn’t really go far, but the buildup and the musicianship sticks out, with the choral arrangements lifting the big setting to heights unheard of since Carolus Rex (2012). It’s no revolutionary life changer, but it’s one track that sticks out and if Sabaton were about putting as much effort and work into each of their songs, they might just be on to revitalizing some of that former glory that seems to have been lost into plodding through the same old for three albums now. The Great War is better than its two predecessors - in no small part due to the shift to a more metallic sound, the heavier guitars and keys that build rather than lead - but nowhere near the capability, and really, if you’re craving a great Sabaton song on the First World War subject, hit up The Price of a Mile or even better Angels Calling, anything here is far from that quality.
Standout tracks: Great War, Fields of Verdun