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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Heroic tales and massive musical muscular landscapes from Sabaton

HISTORIAN Peter Hart tells the historic sweep of battles such as the Somme and Gallipoli, interspersing each tome with the words of the individuals caught up in the horror and turmoil of the battlefield.

Through their words, their tales, their fears and their raw courage a reader can gauge a sense of what it is like for the ordinary citizen, civilian or solider, when bullets are rending flesh and bombs tearing limbs apart.

In the past Sabaton have recounted the broad sweep of history through mighty muscular music, even going so far on their last album, Carolus Rex, to relate the Swedish Empire's rise and fall from 1561 to 1721, helped by an historian to ensure accuracy.

One this, the band's seventh full-length album Sabaton have turned, like Peter Hart, to the stories of the individual caught in apocalyptic conflicts.

Joakim Broden's vocals are as robust as ever, an edge to each melody, with sing-alongs on the likes of 'To Hell and Back' as if he had a Viking horde chanting behind him. Indeed the template of Sabaton's success has been built on with Joakim's distinctive sound, replete with multi-layered production and well arranged songs.

The core of the band (Joakim and bassist/manager Par Sundstrom) have been added to with guitarists Chris Rorland and Thobbe Englund and drummer Hannes van Daal, which keeps faithfully to the Sabaton sound while adding touches that enhance but don't exaggerate. Indeed, Chris and Thobbe's twin attack (such as on 'Resist and Bite') add to the subtleties many miss amid the strident stomp of Sabaton.

The opening of 'Soldiers of Three Armies' has a Priest like flourish before Hannes powers the pass along with Par's precision playing nailing the tempo down.

It is this musical precision that works together - perhaps better than before - for Sabaton. The entire feel of the band is flamboyant in their 'epic' power metal sound, and as such precision in playing matters more than individual playing. When it suits that flamboyance is there; when it does not the sum of the parts more than exceed that which one could hope to expect.

Lyrically, this is where 'Heroes' stands out. On Inmate 4859 the mid-tempo story of Witold Pilecki, a Polish soldier who walked into Auschwitz voluntarily to ensure the horrors and atrocities could be told to the world, captures the listener through the music as much as the tale, both woven together appropriately and sensitively.

Equally the 'Ballad of Bull' is the story of Corporal Leslie Charles 'Bull' Allen. This piano heavy song is about an Australian stretcher bearer who behaved with unselfish courage in recovering the injured in campaigns from Libya to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on to New Guinea, walking six miles in one case to ensure transport was available to the injured, and carrying wounded comrades through disease infested jungle. He earned the US Silver Star amongst other citations. He paid through ill-health, what we would now call PTSD and many other issues in later life until his death in May 1982. What Sabaton do with this tale of raw courage is to highlight that it is not just killing that makes heroes, sometime saving men is just as heroic.

Producer Peter Tagtgren manages to balance the tapestry of sound across all the songs, from the delicacy on the 'Ballad of Bull' and the more straightforward 'No Bullets Fly'.

In releasing this album Sabaton have stuck to their own sound, enhanced it, and recorded thought provoking lyrics and a musical landscape worthy of challenging themes.

To assume that battle or power metal is all one-dimensional has always been a mistake, but the Swedes from Falun have once more proved that they can produce powerful sounds and powerful themes; again on Heroes they have set their own agenda and it is one that we can happily join in with.

Come, let us gather round the mid-summer fires and listen to the tales of Heroes!

Heroes is now available on Nuclear Blast Records

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