Civil War bears an amusingly ironic moniker as they’re made up of four fugitive members of Sabaton who fled the mother ship and essentially created Sabaton‘s evil twin band. They even appropriated the exact same sound, song structure and overdone military/battle shtick before launching a struggle for Cheesy War Metal supremacy using their former act’s own sound against them. While it’s still startling to hear how completely they’ve ripped off Sabaton‘s sound, and to many it may seem exceptionally bush league, I suppose the former members feel as entitled to it as anyone. Their The Killer Angels debut was decent, but didn’t really win me over to their side. Gods and Generals takes the same approach, but jacks up the schlock factor and charges full speed ahead, damning the torpedoes and criticisms of unoriginality along the way. Whether or not that fits in your foot locker is a highly subjective question.
Opener “War of the Worlds” certainly shows these cats can play the war game and play it well. It’s a fist pumping barn burner designed to make you enlist and it gets things off to fine start. It packs in heavy doses of keyboards alongside the chunky riffing and established the same wall of sound you’ve heard before by a certain someone. This is the best song on Gods and Generals and it’s as good or better than anything on the last Sabaton album. “Bay of Pigs” also delivers the martial punch with a song bigger than the battle it examines. I especially like the vaguely Russian sounding segment at 3:20. The title track is a punchy, moving song about the dilemma faced by many soldiers in the American Civil War, knowing they would be crossing swords with friends and even family and the writing makes the material stick.
Elsewhere, “The Mad Piper” incorporated bagpipes for a bombastic winner that reminds a bit of Edguy and Avantasia, “Back to Iwo Jima” conjures the best of Sabaton‘s adrenaline addled charm, and “Schindler’s Ark” is an interesting blend of WhiteSnake-like hair metal and their typical overblown war-themed bombast.
There are some land mines here though that undermine what is a pretty respectable platter. “Braveheart” demonstrates why there should never be a Braveheart inspired musical, because that’s what this is: A Broadway ready retelling of the epic William Wallace saga, and let me tell you straight up, medieval warfare, sing alongs and jazz hands do NOT go well together. That said, the chorus itself is quite catchy and memorable, and if I could just get the images of dancing Scots out of my head, I might love it. “Admiral Over the Seas” exists in that grey zone between good and bad, and while it isn’t bad enough to skip, it doesn’t add much to the album. Since things feels a bit long at 56 minutes, it wouldn’t have killed anyone to drop this one off entirely.
The main difference between Civil War and their progenitor are the vocals of Nils Patrick Johansson. While his “Dio in a ball vice” approach is a love or hate proposition, I’ve enjoyed his work with Astral Doors, Wuthering Heights and Lion’s Share, and though he sounds a bit more shrill here, he does a good enough job fitting in amongst the cheese metal fury. The rest of the band does their duty too, with some nice guitar work from Rikard Sunden, Oskar Montelius and Petrus Granar and some exceptionally cheese-tastic keyboards from Daniel Myhr.
Now, let me also take a moment to address something about their image that troubles me. As a student of American history and a citizen of the United States, I take issue with the band wearing Civil War era Union and Confederate army uniforms in their promo photos and videos. It’s one thing to wear generic military uniforms, but I find it exceedingly distasteful and disrespectful to take the uniforms from one of the darkest period of American history and pimp them out for a “cool” look. A word of warning to the band: you might just run into trouble if you wear those uniforms on stage while touring southern segments of the U.S.. But I digress.
While I’m not sure the world needs two clone bands spouting overly dramatic power metal tales of battles, bravery and brotherhood, Gods and Generals is as good as the last Sabaton outing, so who’s to say Civil War shouldn’t have a place in the war room. If you like what their predecessor band does, it almost guarantees you’ll get behind at least some of this. I guess metal fans can deal with a two-front war for the time being.