Sabaton have not only matched the exceptional quality of their previous album, The Great War, but they have created a sequel concept album, The War to End All Wars, which might be the album to silence much of their competition.
They had already set a live show benchmark for many other acts to aspire to with their over the top production, as seen on their most recent tour, but this tenth album cements their reputation as one the best bands in the genre.
Similar to the previous release, there are alternate formats but the History Edition is the best option as each song has introductions from narrator Bethan Dixon Bate, and some atmospherics, which add to the impact of the lyrical content. Sabaton have again managed to find rare, enlightening and extraordinary vignettes from various theatres of war that might have otherwise gone unknown to the wider public, unaware to the extent of losses incurred to all sides during World War One, historically once known as the ominous War to End All Wars.
There is no glorification of warfare within this music, contrary to what the uninitiated might believe on first glance. It is not the stuff of fantasy either, as seen in the artwork to a similarly titled album from over two decades ago by a fellow Swede and neoclassical guitar pioneer.
As Sabaton’s latest album begins, the first track Sarajevo delves into the events that invoked the outbreak of war. A brooding muted guitar riff and some well-placed snare cracks from drummer Hannes Van Dahl ushers in a full bodied chorus. Joakim Brodén is assisted by solid backing vocals from all band members, which is a great chorus embellishment throughout the album. As the verses build, guitarists Tommy Johannson and Chris Rörland work together in unison as the pace intensifies into a fast musical interlude before some tasty, melodic half time soloing ensues. Bassist Pär Sundström is also audible in a truly great mix from Jonas Kjellgren of Black Lounge Studios.
Having set the scene with the opening track, Sabaton are soon off and racing with the galloping Stormtroopers, with cutting guitar chords and Brodén’s pronunciation front and centre as he effectively takes the dual role of storyteller and front man. Some singalong backing vocals, ideal for live performance, provide a small change of pace before fleet fingered guitar soloing gets underway. Dreadnought is a mid-paced marching track. It includes dramatic instrumentation, backed by Brodén’s keyboard skills that vary in intensity and tones.
Four tracks in delivers the simply brilliant Soldier of Heaven. The Swedish melodic pop sensibility is evident but the song itself relays the remarkable and tragic story of White Friday, when induced avalanches wiped out numerous soldiers of the Alpine Front at Italy’s Mount Marmolada in late 1916. An album highlight with a pulsing synth bass feel, a great chorus and production that is untouchable. The guitar solo from Rörland is brief but deftly executed with a display of guitar techniques mastery without being overbearing. A key change is also used to great effect at the right juncture.
The Unkillable Soldier gets the charging galloping underway again and sees the band rip through a bouncing track. A breakdown section takes listeners back into the climbing chorus, followed by twin guitar harmonies. The song itself is about Victoria Cross awardee Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart, who fought in three major wars and miraculously survived them all, enduring imprisonment, injuries and plane crashes.
Sabaton’s deeper metal background comes to the fore with the Megadeth sounding track Hellfighters, another standout track on the album as it hammers through with Judas Priest styled riffing. The rhythm section parts throw in entertaining fills without detracting from Rörland’s excellent solo that includes whammy bar purrs reminiscent of King Diamond’s guitar wizard, Andy La Rocque.
Big vocal melodies with keyboard washes and a driving rhythm section feature in Race to the Sea, covering the First Battle of Ypres. The mix is superb as are the arrangements, with a muted breakdown bridge launching back into the chorus. Sure to be a live performance singalong.
Retaining the album’s pace, Lady of the Dark, about highly awarded Serbian soldier Milunka Savić, has a definite metal vibe and a nifty guitar solo. It is another song that is sure to fit well into the live set, complete with a key change at the end.
If Brodén’s signature trills appeal, then The Valley of Death is a linguistic treat. A swift pre-chorus guitar solo hints of Rush guitar stylings with chordal figures, subtle delay and vibrato effects. Christmas Truce commences the wrap-up of the album, celebrating a unique moment in 1914 that evidently displeased generals of fighting nations. The gentle piano and vocal driven track demonstrates Sabaton’s depth of song writing skills. The power ballad has a soaring chorus and a powerful sentiment about the madness of conflict, something strikingly apt at this time in global history.
World events currently transpiring certainly make this a interesting time for the album to be released, offering commentary on the never-ending folly of war and how wielding power continues to destroy innocent lives, as it did all the years ago when the first world war broke out and killed millions. The opening narration on the final track on the album, Versailles, asks, ‘What is the price of peace? How many more must die?’ The concluding track has both a triumphant feel in celebrating the Treaty of Versailles whilst acknowledging future events, now known in hindsight. It is suitably melancholy with a marching arrangement, layered chorus and haunting guitar lines, all done with a jubilant, anthemic approach.
Sabaton have continued to improve on each release and that upward trajectory leaves the competition behind. If this is not the album of the year then the world is deaf as a post. The War to End All Wars is an utterly flawless masterpiece.
- The Unkillable Soldier
- Soldier of Heaven
- Race to the Sea
- Lady of the Dark
- The Valley of Death
- Christmas Truce