War: very bad for humanity, good for heavy metal. And cult Swedish rockers Sabaton are the best of the best when it comes to militaristic concept albums
When Edwin Starr sang, “War! What is it good for?” in the spring of 1969, the northern soul legend was obviously blissfully unaware of the influence that the history of human combat would have on heavy metal.
Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’. Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’. ‘One’ by Metallica. ‘Angel Of Death’ by Slayer. It’s quite the playlist. And yet it’s unlikely that anyone will ever rival Swedish power metallers Sabaton for their commitment to writing songs about humans shooting each other and blowing stuff up. Sabaton, it should be made clear, are a band who are named after a piece of armour worn on a medieval knight’s foot. The Swedes’ fourth album, 2008’s seminal ‘The Art Of War’, was a concept album based on the writings of the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. And, on stage, they normally perform infront of a tank.
This, the group’s ninth album, and the first to feature new guitarist Tommy Johannson, is another concept album. This time round the theme is the First World War. It arrives 20 years since the band formed. If you’re a fan of this stuff – powerful, bruising, operatic, performed with absolutely no sense of irony whatsoever – then there’s no question that Sabaton are amongst the best of the best. ‘Fields Of Verdun’ gallops into a colossal hook that’s only superseded by the song’s killer chorus. Opener ‘The Future Of Warfare’ sees singer Joakim Brodén’s vocals building a path skyward, ‘while’ Devil Dogs rampages like Iron Maiden did when punk was still part of their repertoire. This is the album that could take Sabaton upwards.
The subject matter might be heavy, but Sabaton deserve credit for managing to deliver often difficult themes in a way that still manage to be fun – a quality the genre they exist within has lost sight of in recent times – while also maintaining some respect for the fallen. And did I mention they perform in front of a tank?
Release date: July 19
Record label: Nuclear Blast