Saturday, February 6, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1447: Sabaton

The dice gods have seen fit to reward me with my second straight foray into heavy metal. Yeehaw!

Disc 1447 is…. The Art of War

Artist: Sabaton

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover?  This cover should come with a label: “Warning: sharp edges.” All manner of pokey bits protrude from around a helmet with a very uncomfortable looking faceguard.

How I Came To Know It: I fell hard for Sabaton when I checked out their First World War themed album, “The Great War” in 2019. Since then I have voraciously dug into their back catalogue.

How It Stacks Up: I have seven Sabaton albums and I’m currently on the lookout for two more. Of the seven that I have, I put “The Art of War” in at #5.

Ratings: 3 stars

Sabaton is a power metal band from Sweden that likes writing songs about war…a lot. With the exception of some very early releases that is pretty much all they sing about. “The Art of War” is a relatively early record for them, but as you can guess from the title, not so early they haven’t entered their “total war” phase. If you don’t like songs about military history, this record is not for you.

If you do, then you’ll be glad to know that Sabaton is amazing at writing songs about battles. They aren’t warmongers, and the songs have a strong focus on the senselessness of war, and the individual heroism of those who have to suffer through it. Think of their approach as midway between the interest of a military historian and the wide-eyed wonder of a 10-year-old.

The music has a galloping urgency to it, driven by Daniel Mullback’s killer drumming. Daniel Myhr’s keyboards add an element of drama and theatricality, and the double guitars provide every song with a simple but compelling power riff.

Joakim Broden’s vocals are big and bold, inviting you to sing along with every chorus. Every word is filled with majesty and drama as he sends you back in time with lyrics that are very specific. There is not a lot in the way of metaphor and imagery – for Sabaton war stories are dramatic enough on their own.

As for topics, these guys go in for a lot of World War Two stuff. “Art of War” they cover such memorable topics as the German blitzkrieg into France (“Ghost Division”), the Winter War between Finland and the U.S.S.R. (“Talvisota”), the Poles desperate defence of their homeland (“40:1”), the Battle of Kursk (“Panzerkampf”) and the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy (“Union (Slopes of St. Benedict)”. Later on they tag on a general piece on carpet bombing (“Firestorm”).

In telling these tales, Sabaton employ an equal-opportunity narrative, with the songs being told from the perspective of Germans, Poles, Finns, Russians and Americans.

They also cover World War One, and the best of these is “Cliffs of Gallipoli” which has a more complicated arrangement and melody than most Sabaton songs (usually, they jump pretty quick from galloping guitars to sing-a-long chorus). “Cliffs of Gallipoli” is no “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” but Sabaton still do a strong job of highlighting the horror and pointlessness of that failed campaign.

“The Art of War” gets its name from Sun Tzu’s famous book on how to wage war. That’s a cool thematic device, but Sabaton takes it once step too far, having a bunch of 30 to 60 second interludes of a woman quoting from the book. Sometimes these are their own tracks, and sometimes they are tagged onto a song, but they are universally annoying.

My copy of the album is also a re-issue, and has a few extra tracks, including a song about Vikings (“Swedish Pagans”) a demo version of the title track, and a live version of the Swedish national anthem. These songs added very little to my enjoyment of the record, serving chiefly to push it to a bloated 17 track, 64-minute beast.

Despite these frustrations, there is no denying the infectious music Sabaton delivers. Like ACDC, their songs may all sound similar, but they are all good. I had this album in the car for a full week (a function of giving it multiple listens and it being so damned long) and I enjoyed it every time. I even started singing along as the songs became more familiar. I hope onde day to do the same at one of their live shows, when this damned pandemic ends.

Best tracks: Ghost Division, Unbreakable, Cliffs of Gallipoli, Panzerkampf

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