Few people know this about me, but I am fascinated by war. I wouldn’t call myself a “buff” by any means, but I have done my fair share of research on the topic. In particular, my interests lie with the American Civil War. A fascination sparked by my family history. My mother’s side founding Manassas, Virginia and fighting alongside neighbors and friends within the ranks of Mosby’s Raiders. My father’s side hailing from Michigan and fighting for the infamous Iron Brigade. This fascination with the Civil War is due to the my interests in the politics that led to the war, the strategies that ended the war, and the bravery of the soldiers who did the fighting. But, inevitably, each time I delve into military history, I think of my grandfather and his time in World War II. Including that horrifying story he told me as a child. The one that found him and his men cut off and ambushed in the Philippines. They made a stand but only my grandfather and a fellow soldier survived the gunfire.
So it seems fitting that Sabaton‘s newest album, The Last Stand, would focus on some of history’s greatest “last stands.” And the album’s musical and songwriting strengths make it difficult to ignore the images of my family holding their lines, fighting for their brethren, and persevering—sometimes against all odds—so they may live another day. This is why I love Sabaton. Ever since Carolus Rex, this band has captured my imagination. Their riffs and vocals are powerful, and they’re greater storytellers.
The Last Stand is not a concept album like Rex, but it is an quality album just the same; filled with everything from the Battles of Thermopylae, Bannockburn, and Rorke’s Drift, to the Battle for Hill 3234. Sabaton unleashes just the right amount of emotion and passion on each song, giving them a uniqueness appropriate to the different stories. And so the album begins with “Sparta”—perhaps one of the greatest “last stands” of all time. It’s a typical Sabaton opener chock-full of crushing riffs, a strong chorus, and deep-chested “hoo haas” sure to please any live audience. It may not be the best track on the album (it also suffers from the weak follow-up, “Last Dying Breath”), but it does a fine job of setting the mood.
From here, we roll over some of the most fun shit I’ve heard all year. “Blood of Bannockburn,” “Winged Hussars,” “Hill 3234,” and closer “The Last Battle” have the catchiest choruses this side of Blind Guardian. “Blood of Bannockburn” is fucking rock ‘n’ roll and its bagpipe-soaked riffs are both cheesy and upbeat (in the best way possible). The latter is one of the simplest, yet most effective, ditties the band has ever written. The passionate chorus and staying power alone are worth the journey. “Winged Hussars” gets its fun character from its groovy keys and a climactic final chorus that falls only to “Hill 3234.” “Hill 3234” digs deep into its inner Rage and delivers one of the best vocal arrangements of the album. It even supplies a build structured around fist-pumping chants buried behind the wall of riffage that reminds me of Metallica‘s “Creeping Death.”
But the band is not without its signature melodies. “The Lost Battalion,” “Rorke’s Drift,” and “Shiroyama” all drip with emotion. At a little over three minutes, each song delivers the goods without overstaying their welcome. The latter two have fist-pumping choruses and their stories fit the music perfectly. After the Jon Schaffer narration of “Diary of an Unknown Soldier,” the band transitions smoothly into the most emotional track on the album. Unfortunately, the title track is standard Sabaton fare and it centers around some techno-like drumming that distracts from the story.
We may never get Carolus Rex, Part II but who gives a shit? Especially when you get a short, straightforward album like The Last Stand. It even has more chops than 2014’s Heroes. The subject matter will have you flipping through Wikipedia pages for the next week and the powerful vocals of Joakim Brodén will have you thanking god you aren’t deaf. “Last Dying Breath” doesn’t quite work and tracks like “The Lost Battalion” and “The Last Stand” are quite typical, but this record delivers. Give Carolus Rex rest, settle into the history stacks of your local library, and enjoy this.