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Sabaton - The Great War

Label: Nuclear Blast
Format: Download
Released: 2019
Reviewed By: Mark Gromen
Rating: 8/10

Rarely does a concept album receive a recommendation solely for its lyrical content, but the military history obsessed Swedes have concocted a learning tool that elevates metal above a mere musical phenomenon. With the recent centennial celebration surround the first World War, the time was right to reexamine a conflict few every really get to study. Sabaton provide a musical primer, highlighting some of the better known incidents/personalities, as well as the idiocy of horse drawn artillery and single shot rifles blindly charging into machine gun nests and first generation tanks. Surely more will pay attention to The Great War than high school history classes. As with their past efforts, the Sabs also shine a light on lesser (if at all) known characters, compelling real life stories, worthy of veneration. Unlike other thematically connected albums, each composition is a stand-alone song, typically an up-tempo, high energy number, but always with a poignant message.


Rousing kick offs are a Sabaton hallmark, and ‘The Future of Warfare’ has a familiar feel, a bit of ‘Night Witches’, albeit not as frenetic. ‘Seven Pillars Of Wisdom’ concerns the Brit, Thomas Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia, yes, as in the Peter O'Toole movie), who got involved in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, during the bigger global conflict. Most of the over-too-quickly compositions last around 3:30, with only a trio of the eleven cuts cracking four minutes and none are longer than five. ‘82nd All The Way’ recounts the exploits of Alvin York, credited with killing 25 Germans and capturing 132 others, a single action that earned him the Medal of Honor. Adopting a decidedly Russian melody and staccato vocal delivery, ‘The Attack Of The Dead Man’ deals with grunts defending the Osowiec Fortress, confronted by deadly gas and repeated futile forays, both momentum killers and psychological landmines.
‘Devil Dogs’ is still a name associated with US Marines, a phrase coined by German soldiers. Here the battle of Belleau Wood is the backdrop for their deeds. Singer Joakim Brodén is backed by gang vocals throughout. A 70s Jon Lord (Deep Purple) meets Moog synthesizer solo introduces ‘The Red Baron’, the German fighter pilot who is probably the most globally recognized figure of WWI. A bouncy rhythm throughout, the keyboard underpinning persists, even with a brief return of the opening flourish. The mid-paced title track is more orchestrated, big choir to begin, then Brodén provides a lyrical overview, to marching/military cadence timing, with recurrent backing choir. Fans will notice a reference to “Price Of A Mile” (about the stalemate surrounding Passchendaele).
First of two Can-Con moments, the all but forgotten Francis Pegahmagabow. A member of the Native Tribes (not considered a citizen of Canada, by his race), yet volunteered for service (to the crown), becoming not only the most deadly sniper of the war, but able to infiltrate the German trenches and barracks, undetected. Thus he earned the nickname ‘The Ghost in The Trenches’. Musically, a nod to The Last Stand's “Shiroyama”. First single, ‘Fields Of Verdun’ recounts the 300 day battle, opened by a million shell volley from German cannons. Piano and violin commence ‘The End Of The War To End All Wars’ (at 4:54, the longest track), very orchestral. Guess all those dates with Nightwish rubbed off!
The 1:59, disc concluding ‘In Flanders Field’ is named after the Canadian veteran penned poem. It's imagery of red poppies on soldiers' graves has gone a long way to symbolize Remembrance Day (November 11th). An unaccompanied choir of female voices sings the well known verse, eventually joined by larger, dual-sexed ensemble. There is no instrumentation (and I dare say, no Sabaton involvement, whatsoever) on the finale. As is often the case, in warfare, at the end there's no noise/bombast, just quiet (church service/burial): a fittingly solemn memorial to close things out.

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