Let’s face it, 2016 has not been a great year for metal. While there’s always a lot of life bubbling just under the surface, there seems to have been a distinct drip in both the quantity and quality of high profile metal releases. While Vektor almost singlehandedly kept thrash on it’s feet with the magnum opus that was Terminal Redux (an album I would argue is an instant classic), Megadeth and Anthrax, two of the Big Four of thrash, both released underwhelming records earlier this year as well. Dream Theater dropped a bit of a clanger with a ponderous, overlong, double disc rock opera. With solid albums from the likes of Periphery, Kvelertak, and Gojira along with new records from Metallica, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Meshuggah on the horizon, there’s still a glimmer of hope that the year might round out well for the genre, but man has there been slim pickens for quality metal releases so far in 2016.
And, unfortunately, this latest collection of cornball battle hymns from Swedish power metallers Sabaton isn’t going to make the admittedly short list of the best metal records this year either. The record’s called The Last Stand and the cover art should tell you exactly what these guys like to sing about. Literally every song Sabaton have ever written is about some historical battle or conflict. I could see how they would be a ton of fun live, but on record their operatic odes to war and battle fall incredibly short for a multitude of reasons. They always take an admirable swing, but a miss is still a miss.
I was turned off almost immediately as the first song came roaring out of the traps with… a synth riff that was discovered by archaeologists dating back to 1988. This is some serious Final Countdown garbage going on here. I thought you’re supposed to lead with your best foot first? Why not go with some actual horns? At least some VST horns? The mix is all off here. The guitars seems dialed way farther back than they should be, which is a shame because there is actually some pretty sick lead work going on on some of the other tracks. And then the vocals come in, and this is where this band lose me. It’s this deep, faux-operatic accented yarl where every R is rolled, and it never changes across the entire runtime of the record. There’s no range to this style of singing, and it lacks the power needed for this type of singalong power metal. The closest I can compare them to is Rammstein, but at least Rammstein have the forcefulness and rhythmic basis under which this type of dictatorial vocal style can work. Did I mention these guys were Swedish, not German? I had to look that up because I could of sworn these guys were from Germany. It just sounds German. If this was any more Teutonic you would start to smell bratwurst being grilled off in the distance. Maybe I’m stereotyping but that’s honestly probably what the band were going for.
In order to help me explain why this doesn’t really work, I’ll use an example of really well done power metal to compare this with. Last year Gloryhammer released the tongue-in-cheek opus Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards, and even though the whole thing was sort of a piss-take on the idea of power metal, it ended up being a massively catchy, enjoyable record. The title track alone is worth the price of admission, one of those songs you would ride out to war to. It had one of the most honest-to-god epic choruses I think I’d ever heard up to that point. That album had a sense of pace that The Last Stand sorely lacks. The only song here that really has the potential to get the blood flowing real good is probably the corniest track on the album, “Blood of Bannockburn”, packed with effin’ bagpipes of all things, but it at least had the pace and sense of acceleration that broke it out of the mid-tempo swampiness that surrounds it.
I know it sounds like I’m just ripping into this, but my general impression is more that it just doesn’t really do what I think the band are trying to do. I could see how some of these tracks might take on a whole new life in a live environment, especially the aforementioned “Blood of Bannockburn”, the only song here I imagine I’ll be returning to after I finish this review, but there are plenty of much better power metal records to check out before you get to this one.
Blood of Bannockburn
Released on August 19, 2016 by Nuclear Blast Records