For 20 years, the Swedish power metal band Sabaton have been singing songs about war and battles. Most of their albums touch on a variety of conflicts, but for their ninth studio album The Great War they focus exclusively on World War I. It’s also the first album for guitarist Tommy Johansson, a veteran of many other bands including Majestica, Golden Resurrection and Symphony of Tragedy.
Some of the lyrical topics are ones you’d expect, such as Manfred von Richthofen in “The Red Baron,” Lawrence of Arabia in “Seven Pillars Of Wisdom” and the Battle of Verdun in “Fields Of Verdun.” However, they do go deeper, such as the song “A Ghost In The Trenches” that tells the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, the highly-decorated Canadian First Nation soldier that was the most effective sniper in World War I, credited with killing nearly 400 Germans and capturing 300 more.
Musically, the album is typical Sabaton with bombastic riffs, catchy melodies and singalong choruses. However, this time around they inject a few flourishes that add some variety. Keyboards in “The Red Baron” have a ’70s vibe that’s an interesting contrast with the rousing power metal.
Strings give the beginning of “The End Of The War To End All Wars” a melancholy vibe, with a chorus adding a cinematic and symphonic feel. Former guitarist Thobbe Englund makes a return appearance, adding a solo to “Fields Of Verdun.”
Closer “In Flanders Field” may be the most unique song Sabaton have done. They don’t appear on the track taken from the poem written during World War I by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. It’s an acapella song sung by a chorus with female voices in the forefront.
Sabaton have developed a very distinctive sound that has served them well, and they follow that pathway on The Great War along with adding some new elements that help add variety and move them forward. They are able to write extremely catchy songs that also are tailor made for live performances, and this album has several that will be staples of future concerts.
The subject of war that Sabaton have chosen to focus their lyrics on will unfortunately have a never ending supply of material. As bassist Par Sundstrom says, “This frantic war shook the whole planet during 1914-1918 and caused devastating consequences that still echo to this day. World War I was also supposed to be the war to end all the wars. Well, today, we unfortunately know little bit better…“
(released July 19, 2019 on Nuclear Blast)
Heavy Music Headquarters Rating:
Watch Sabaton – “Fields Of Verdun” Video