Sunday, 18 May 2014

Album Review; Sabaton - Heroes

Track Listing:

1. Night Witches
2. No Bullets Fly
3. Smoking Snakes
4. Inmate 4859
5. To Hell And Back
6. The Ballad Of Bull
7. Resist And Bite
8. Soldier Of 3 Armies
9. Far From The Fame
10. Hearts Of Iron

Sabaton's brand of Power Metal stands very high in todays Metal scene. This Swedish band has built a massive following since their formation in 1999; their music has connected with many people in many countries, a fact that is aided by the use of war history as a subject matter for the vast majority of their songs, mainly drawing from World War I and II. This, combined with their energetic and fun live shows and dedication to their ever-growing fan base is elevating them through the upper echelon's of Heavy Metal. This year sees the release of 'Heroes', their seventh full-length studio album. There have been a lot of line-up changes since 2012's stunning 'Carolus Rex' album, so some people may be apprehensive before going into this album. They needn't fear at all.

Album opener 'Night Witches' combines the tale of the Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment with dynamic, bombastic Power Metal to astonishing effect reminiscent of the band's classic song 'Ghost Division'. It's a A-grade Sabaton song, an S-grade album opener with a chorus that goes beyond such bizarre rating systems. It's very easy to imagine this song standing strong in their live set, which is always important for this band's material. Great guitar leads and strong riffs weave together Joakim Broden's inimitable vocal style with punctuating and powerful percussion from new drummer Hannes Van Dahl.

'No Bullets Fly' proves equally as sing-along, as energetic as one would expect from this band, another guitar solo acts as a stand-out point in this song. It's worth noting at this point that the over-the-top orchestral sound of 'Carolus Rex' is not present; there is still orchestration, just not as much. This is not particularly a low point, but it is a difference between the two albums that is worth noting. So, those looking for something in the same vein as 'Carolus Rex' will not find it here.

'Smoking Snakes' packs plenty more vocal hooks and is a great display of the epic edge that Sabaton pull off so well, with a chorus backing up the frontman's formidable singing to great effect. So far, it's largely Sabaton as we've known and loved them, but a curveball comes in the melancholy and heavy song 'Inmate 4859', a song about Witold Pilecki; the Polish soldier who deliberately became a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp during World War II, who then went on to lead the resistance against the Third Reich from within Auschwitz and wrote the first reports about the terrible atrocities happening there. The song is a stirring piece; epic in feel with a certain sadness within the composition that captures the tragedy of the events that the song recounts. It's a bit different from songs that Sabaton have written before and at the same time, still showcases everything we love about the band.

Following that is the pumped and powerful first single from the album; 'To Hell And Back' which tells of Audie Leon Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of WWII. It's a triumphant and upbeat salute to a one man's deeds. A dead-cert for Sabaton's live shows from here on out. The catchy headbanger is followed by another curveball in the form of 'The Ballad Of Bull'. It's a piano led power ballad that sees most of the Metal elements of Sabaton giving way to poignant strings and a backing choir, with very little guitar being heard at all. The song works a lot better than you'd think, and it shows off Joakim Broden's great singing voice and his ability to deliver lyrics with great emotion. A stunning stand-out track on the album.

The second single from 'Heroes' is 'Resist And Bite'. The guitar lick that plays through the verses may seem somewhat influenced by AC/DC's 'Thunderstrike' but it's a catchy-as-hell song that is somewhat minimalistic until the choruses come in, which will no doubt make many people want to jump in time with the beat as they sing along. In spite of the line-up changes, Sabaton have not changed musically and the quality of the material they release stays high. Fans will be more than pleased with songs like this. 'Soldier Of 3 Armies' continues in this fashion. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, after all!

'Far From The Fame' is one of my favourite songs on this record, and even one of my favourites that Sabaton have yet recorded. It might be the melody, the pace, the riffs, or even the drumming. More likely though is the fact that it's Sabaton at their very best! Oh, that chorus! I challenge anyone not to be at least humming it for days! A homage to Czechoslovakian hero Karel Janousek, a remarkable soldier and war pilot who proves that some of the most admirable men in war times are not the politicians and generals that the history books speak of every day. A great song with a memorable subject; just what makes Sabaton so special.

'Hearts Of Iron' is an epic closer, about the end of World War II, from the point of view of the German 9th and 12th armies who chose surrender to the West rather than certain death at the hands of Soviet forces on the Eastern Front. They helped fleeing soldiers and refugees escape with them over the river Elbe. It's fitting that this song, which also emanates a slight feeling of the kind of relief that one would feel at the end of a conflict like WWII was. So there is a feeling of sadness and futility coupled with triumph and celebration. Such feelings make for a suitable album closer. This stands as my favourite song on 'Heroes', and one which I would love to hear live!

Any reservations held by those who were worried that Sabaton would be a pale shadow of the band we know in the wake of all the line-up changes will be blown apart by this album, which is nothing less than bloody brilliant. Power Metal again gives 2014 a brilliant album, this time from Sweden's most promising band. Sabaton have already achieved big things that many other bands could only dream of, but if they keep making albums as sharp, enjoyable and memorable as this one, then they're trajectory will remain ever upwards. A stalwart effort from a deservedly celebrated and cherished band.

Rating: 10/10

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