We here at AMG (mainly AMG and myself) pretty much lost our collective shit over the last Sabaton album, Carolus Rex. The combination of an interesting historical concept and inspired song writing really made that platter explode and we showered it with praise, adoration and fanboy kisses (of iron). This all came as a big surprise to me, because I always found the band to be average and despite a unique style and sound, they seemed incapable of producing consistent albums. Releases like Coat of Arms had a few awesome tunes and a bunch of others that were either forgettable or bad. The same occurred to a greater or lesser extent on their older albums as well. So what is a metal maven to expect on Heroes, the typical Sabaton or the new and amazing version? Take a wild guess, oh jaded ones. But fear not, the battle isn’t totally lost.
First thing to take note of is the return to their old “generalized war” theme. You get songs about this battle or that, that hero or some other one, not particularly connected in any meaningful way. After the sweeping historical saga of Carolus Rex, this is a tough bullet to swallow. Thankfully, the songs themselves hit the intended target more often than not and things are more consistent than on their older works. Numbers like “Night Witches,” “No Bullets Fly” and “Smoking Snakes” are typical, overblown Sabaton that pack extra bullets and bombast come chorus time, but they all work and stick in the head. “Inmate4859” sounds like leftover Carolus material and has that same infectious sense of grandeur and cheesy pomp. Closer “Hearts of Iron” also channels that larger-than-life sensibility and pays big dividends, as does the Celtic flavor running through “To Hell and Back.”
In a sure sign of growth, even the awkward power ballad “Ballad of Bull” doesn’t implode and sink the ship, and while I don’t love it, I don’t exactly hate it either. The rest of the songs slot somewhere in-between good and very good and on balance, things rock along well. It also helps that Heroes is a short album at just 37 minutes, which prevents things from growing stale, becoming filler heavy and inducing PTSD. Smart.
As with every Sabaton outing, Joakim Broden’s vocals set them apart and gives them a unique sound. He doesn’t scream to the rafters or preen about like the typical pirate shirted power diva and that makes the subject matter somewhat believable. However, his baritone delivery makes ballads a bit sketchy and they’d do best to avoid them entirely. The turnover in guitarists hasn’t made much of a dent in their armor either. Chris Rorland (Nocturnal Rites) and Thorbjorn Englund add the proper crunch and weight to the songs and even throw in some vaguely AC/DC flourishes at times that work rather well.
As awesome as Carolus Rex was, I had a hunch it was Sabaton‘s high water mark and that’s borne out on Heroes. They still have a unique sound that sets them apart from most power metal and the writing is more consistent than on the earlier albums, so that’s partial recompense for a the fall off in quality, I suppose. This is superior to The Art of War and Coat of Arms and it’s an easy, likeable listen. Just don’t approach it expecting another Carolus and you won’t step on the dreaded landmine of disappoint. Soldier on, boys.