Sabaton – The War to End All Wars Review

After our monthly Zoom meeting/Holdy-inhaling-eight-beers session, I learned that other AMG writers1 hate enlightening stories while listening to music. Which means they’re all idiots2 because that’s my life in music. I wouldn’t be King Diamond‘s greatest stalker if I didn’t like storytelling music.3 And that’s why I love Sabaton so much. Being a big fan of researching history, I learn something new every time I dive into a Sabaton release. Sure, the release of The War to End All Wars is poor timing with the bullshit happening over in Ukraine but, for me, listening to these tributes to people braver than me is inspiring. Though, a tad depressing. I hate war, but I’m always impressed with those willing to sacrifice everything for a cause. And Sabaton‘s newest record doesn’t disappoint with their storytelling. Oh yeah, then there’s over-the-top power metal, too.

The War to End All Wars penetrates your trenches right away with “Stormtroopers.” The opener is a catchy, over-the-top slab of power metal that utilizes my favorite of the Sabaton vocal styles. The chorus is a full-band effort with Joakim’s quick syllables introducing the chorus lines before the band joins in the racket. And the song gets more massive with each passing chorus rendition. “The Unkillable Soldier” also follows this bigger-as-it-goes structure. But, this time, the band does it with a fun gallop and razor-sharp chorus, a fitting tribute to Adrian Carton de Wiart, a one-eyed, one-handed soldier who fought in three wars across 60 years. But, the most massive chorus on the album goes to the mighty “Race to the Sea.” Its mid-paced march and perfectly-placed syllables make it an instant Sabaton hit. The song follows the soldiers at the Battle of Yser as they flood the Yser river and repel the German army, keeping the only remaining five percent of Belgium out of enemy hands.

For fast numbers, we have “Hellfighters” and “The Valley of Death.” “Hellfighters,” inspired by the African-American 369th regiment, who fought more than any other American infantry unit in WWI. The Iced Earth qualities of this ripping song set the mood as we stand alongside the troops at the Meuse–Argonne campaign. The booming baritone chorus is also the perfect backdrop to the horrific hundred-day offensive that nearly wiped them off the planet. “The Valley of Death” is the most epic of the album. After starting fast and strong, it navigates through a melodic passage before finishing with frenzy of soloing.

On the ballady side of things, you’ll find “Soldier of Heaven” and “Christmas Truce.” Like too much of The Great War, “Soldier of Heaven” is all about the keys. In this case, cringing techno leads that don’t quit until it’s over. It’s a solid track, but its approach is somehow distracting and makes it stand out like a sore thumb. “Christmas Truce” is gentle, with lullaby keys, smooth vocals, and orchestration. It’s also well crafted to match its lyrical content. The song focuses on the Christmas Truce of 1914—a short, unexpected truce as British and German soldiers climbed from their respective trenches to share carols, presents, and good cheer.

As with most of Sabaton‘s catalog, fans will appreciate the output, and haters will continue to hate. The War to End All Wars contains a handful of great tracks, some solid ones, some filler, and tracks that run too long. So, what you get is another solid outing from these Swedes. It’s probably impossible ever to top Carolus Rex, but when compared to newer output, I like The War to End All Wars a smidgen more than The Great War. But that’s not enough to bump this up to a score it doesn’t deserve. That said, Sabaton continues to release fun albums that have me scouring the web and discovering history stories.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: Don’t worry about it | Format Reviewed: ALAC
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: sabaton.bandcamp.com | sabaton.net | facebook.com/sabaton
Releases Worldwide: March 4th, 2022


Holdeneye

Few things bring a smile to my face more reliably than the sweet, sweet sound of Sabaton. Over the years, these Swedish pagans have become one of my favorite acts by mastering the heavy/power metal sound that I love so much, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what makes them so great. While I’m not necessarily a theme, concept, or even lyric guy when it comes to consuming music, it’s hard not to be caught up in the stories that Sabaton tell. In an age where it’s increasingly easy for me to lose my faith in humanity, Sabaton‘s music has become a dependable balm. The stories of selfless sacrifice, perseverance, and bravery never fail to raise my spirits, and I found myself reaching for my “Sadbaton” frequently last year to beat back the sorrow of depression and stressful life circumstances. Will the band’s tenth full-length, The War to End All Wars, restock my ammunition for the ongoing fight against hopelessness and despair?

After releasing what will almost certainly forever stand as their magnum opus in the form of Carolus Rex back in 2012, Sabaton have settled into a fairly consistent and predictable routine of releasing simple, short, yet effective albums every few years, and The War to End All Wars does nothing to change that. You’ve heard all of these songs before, albeit with different lyrics, but the band’s conviction and talent makes them enjoyable anyway. Sure, “Christmas Truce” is a cheesy take on one of the most powerful and interesting moments in human history, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t still move me every time I hear it. Joakim Brodén’s gruff, emotive voice effectively conveys the confusing feelings that the combatants must have struggled with as they emerged from their trenches to stand together as fellow humans, and the use of piano, along with the appearance of the oft-used “Carol of the Bells,” adds to the mournful, haunting atmosphere.

This time around, Sabaton have eschewed outright heaviness in favor of pure anthemic glory. Don’t get me wrong, “Stormtroopers” and “Hellfighters” kick ass, “Dreadnought” harkens back to the band’s early days by channeling the sinister vibe of their classic “Rise of Evil,” and “Lady of the Dark” tells its Serbian Mulan story in heavy fashion, but most of the tracks here trend towards the bombastic. The one-two punch of “The Unkillable Soldier” and “Soldier of Heaven” has subjected my mind to an incurable earworm infestation, and “The Valley of Death” has resulted in me waking up each morning with “They attack! Bulgaria held them back!” running off the tip of my mind’s tongue. Closing number “Versailles” is a bit of a departure for the band, as a spoken-word description of the war’s aftermath is weaved into a mostly upbeat, triumphant march that asks if a war can really end all wars. Obviously, we know the answer.

The War to End All Wars proves that Sabaton—like their countrymates in Amon Amarth—have likely entered the stage in their career where they will go on producing good-to-very good albums until they are eventually decommissioned and take up residence in an assisted-living museum. Their greatest, most inspired works are probably behind them, but they are far from phoning things in. Their focus on delivering compelling stories covers over a multitude of musical sins; I don’t really care if I feel like I’ve heard this exact song before as long as it’s telling me about some awesome event that I know nothing about. It always takes me months to decide how I really feel about a new Sabaton album, but its safe to say that this is probably the weakest of the band’s post-Carolus Rex output—but it still lives squarely within “good” territory. My favorite tracks are “Stormtroopers,” “Dreadnought,” “Soldier of Heaven,” “Hellfighters,” “Lady of the Dark,” and “Christmas Truce.”

Well, as long as I have ears, Sabaton‘s music will have a place to reside rent-free. Are they cutting down on musical waste at this point in their career by reducing, reusing, and recycling riffs and melodies? Yep. Are the cheese levels overwhelming at times? Yep. Don’t care. Sabaton rules not only because they make fun heavy metal anthems, but because they show us example after example of humanity rising to the occasion and transcending its own darkness. We need these guys now more than ever.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Editor’s Note: I (Holdeneye) got my hands on the CD version of this, and it is significantly different. Not only is there a narrated opener entitled “Sarajevo” that stands as counterpart to the above-mentioned “Versailles,” every other track also has a short narrated intro that gives more detail into the story that follows. These additions make the CD version far more immersive, and it reminds me of the flow of The Art of War. I’m not sure why Nuclear Blast opted for different versions—probably to cut down on runtime—but it certainly didn’t do the band or their fans any favors. The additions probably wouldn’t have changed the scores that we’ve given, but they do make the album more coherent and enjoyable in my opinion.


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