Are Sabaton the most typecast band on the planet? They certainly could be given how every one of their releases to date has been centred around war in some capacity, but it’s not like the band themselves don’t welcome it. Considering they’ve become known for bringing a drum riser shaped like a tank onstage with them (and subsequently having their likenesses featured in World Of Tanks, no less), they’re clearly embracing their reputation, as well as playing into the power-metal mindset of ‘go big or go home’ with everything they do. Thus, The Great War feels as like the next logical stepping stone on their particular journey, with each track based around individual events and figures in the First World War, and executed in typically bombastic and on-brand fashion. It’s about as revelatory as discovering that bread and ham can make a solid sandwich, but Sabaton’s track record ultimately speaks for itself, and they’ve been able to yield good results with this sort of material almost consistently in the past, regardless of how flagrantly cheesy it all is.
And honestly, we could simply leave it there, because how much really needs to be said about what is essentially the eleventh iteration of this very album? Sabaton aren’t exactly pushing the boat out or highlighting any diversity in their approach, and when they’ve been reasonably good at it for the last decade-and-a-half, there’s really no reason The Great War should be anything different. And really, it’s not; for as reliant on explicit formula as they are, Sabaton know how to make the most of what they have, and it makes for the sort of overblown yet reliably listenable album that’s become their distinct norm.
Because, make no mistake – in no way, shape or form is The Great War any sort of departure or even expansion on the sound that Sabaton have pretty much burrowed themselves into for life. There’s still an emphasis on huge, galloping guitars polished to a fine sheen, while Joakim Brodén brings the sort of operatic grandeur to Devil Dogs and Fields Of Verdun that the stabs of symphonic backing vocals only punch up higher and harder. It’s exactly the sort of clear shunning of subtlety that this band really do thrive on, and in all fairness, they can be exceptionally good at it when they lean into the ludicrousness of it all. As much as the a cappella rendition of John McCrae’s 1915 poem In Flanders Fields feels thematically appropriate, it feels like the band trying a more serious tone that they’re not equipped to tackle, and it feels more like a ham-fisted coda than the generally triumphant, tongue-in-cheek heaviness that so effortlessly characterises everything else. It’s why the blown-out synths of The Future Of War and the Eurodance stomp of 82nd All The Way are as enjoyable as they are; Sabaton take the imagery of large-scale battles and come out with a sound that feels like a suitable pairing. And yes, it’s all pretty much the same trick pulled over and over again, something that’s all the more noticeable when the same huge crescendos are pushed forward at pretty much every turn, but when it’s played with the weapons-grade swell and gusto that Sabaton are so good at, that’s not really much of a complaint. It doesn’t necessarily elevate this beyond a fairly standard Sabaton release either, but it’s far the slog that a lot of power-metal can be, especially with the brisk pace that’s always a pleasantly consistent factor.
And besides, at the end of the day, what anyone really goes to Sabaton for is the sort of over-the-top power fantasy that they always deliver in spades, and The Great War is yet another good example to add to their ever-growing crop. At this point though, that’s generally to be expected, and when a band like this is currently eleven albums deep with the sort of concept that doesn’t look to be budging anytime soon, there’s a usually watermark of competence and familiarity, and Sabaton being able to hit that is far from being newsworthy. As more of the same though, it’s definitely good, and when everyone actively seeking this out will already know exactly what they’re going to get before they even press play, it’s always good to have that assurance.
For fans of: Amon Amarth, Dragonforce, Rammstein
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Great War’ by Sabaton is released on 19th July on Nuclear Blast Records.