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Civil War are a power metal band born from the former members of Sabaton, in fact most of the band (both guitarists, keyboardist and drummer), who left the History-loving Swedish metallions in 2011. While there are plenty of acts that break up and reform as a totally different act, Civil War definitely aren’t straying far from their trademark Sabaton style (which isn’t surprising considering that the people responsible for writing 90% of the music are present). This being said, I actually think they have added enough different elements to their debut, Killer Angels to create some sort of border with their former band.
When it comes to the general overarching idea of the sound, yes, it’s Sabaton. Huge, powerful, fauxoperatic singing over fast, melodic, triumphant riffing and bombastic, militaristic drumming – all glued together by epic keyboard and lead guitar work. Their ballads tend to go in a similar direction to their former band as well, consisting of that 1-2 smashing drum patterns leading the heavier, bombastic riffs, choir-keyboards and vocals, as the singer belts out the chorus verse behind the bands melodic mash of panzertank-paced power metal. What’s different this time around, however, is that with their tremolo-picked power metal assaults, the band has also managed to sneak in some more thrash-friendly riffs as well, steering away from triumphant and epic, melodic riffs, and turning towards more aggressive, head-bang friendly passages that hint at something a bit more sinister and aggressive then Sabaton’s usual fair. The lead work on this also feels like it has a bit more variance in style, as well as a bit more spotlight, getting to lead the main chorus melody more often, which in Sabaton was more directed by the vocalist or keyboard/riff combos, with the lead guitar only generally getting to introduce it at the beginning of the song.
Another big difference here is vocalist Nils Patrik Johansen, of present(?) Wuthering Heights fame. Sabaton vocalist Joakim Broden has a very low-ranged voice for power metal, and tends to give off a performance more akin to a European-Opera General ordering an army to war. Nils on the other hand comes from the Ronnie James Dio school of power and snarl, which he adds with Blind Guardian singer, Hansi Kursch’s style of vibrato and upper-range. The keyboard work on this record doesn’t seem more apparent, with Daniel Mhyr given maybe a few more guitar-like keyboard solos to himself (but definitely not much more then on Sabaton’s work). He has his choir/midi/game tones and layers weaving in between all the other instruments and serves as addition to the melody, not the overarching provider of it, which is just fine. He’s not overly present, but he’s definitely there, which I think is a good dynamic, as a lot of keyboard power metal bands sometimes lose control over the layering that goes in, and it tends to hinder and overpower the rest of the music, which this team up has been really good at avoiding for awhile.
The themes and moods on Killer Angels is definitely the same to their previous band, being based around actual historic examples of war, injustice and revolution. I suppose the only difference on this record is that they tend to focus on more well known events from various periods, instead of mostly World War II, such as the fall of Rome and the removal of the Druids in Ireland (Saint Patricks Day), to some of the more modern events, such as the American civil war. A lot of the songs have a tends to follow more grim perspectives and subject, yet Civil War do manage to insert an element of triumphant inspiration to their music so that it gives it that battlefield-picturesque element that made Sabaton so great. The drumming is also bit more aggressive as mentioned, to go along with the more thrashy material. A lot more focus on d-beats and simpler pounding, using double-bass blasts sparingly as to give the thunderous pounding a bit more flair and appreciation when they do appear.
I think considering this IS Sabaton right here, these guys have managed to do a good job in starting the seeds of a different animal from their former act. While it’s not AS present here now, and really who can blame them, I think if Civil War we’re to focus on adding more grittier atmospheres and low-end, aggressive riffing along with their signature, historical power metal awesomeness, they could have a beast that has the potential to maybe trump even Sabaton. Most of the choruses are instantly embedded in your mind after you hear them, and there’s quite a few fresh melodies for those who may feel a little tired of the same power metal tropes. Fans of Sabaton will undoubtedly love this record, and I for one think it competes very heavily with a lot of Sabaton’s work. If you can guess how many times I said Sabaton with out actually counting them you win a gumball.
[Originally written as Adam for AXIS OF METAL.com http://axisofmetal.com/2013/06/civil-war-the-killer-angels-review/]
The sudden breakup of Sabaton into two separate projects was met with a fair amount of surprise, given that the supporting musicians that jumped ship essentially did so in the midst of said band's zenith of popularity. And with such an eventuality came all the questions of what will they sound like, will they stick to what they know or go for something completely different? The answer is largely found in the affirmative insofar as the former question is concerned and a definite no in the case of the latter, or in other words, this band could be likened to a slightly better version of Sabaton in many respects. While this might be something of a bold assertion, it proves to be the case given the heavily consistent and powerful material that was gradually unveiled (literally to the point of half the album being released before hand as a rather interesting promotional approach for a new project).
As with any breakoff project, there are naturally some differentiating nuances to consider, but for the most part, the heavy number of former Sabaton membership are up to their old tricks. The music largely opts for a simple yet massive approach right out of the "Primo Victoria" mode, placing a heavy emphasis on memorable melodic material, tasteful and fleeting technical displays that don't really go beyond a typical mainline 80s metal band, and an overall dense atmosphere. Keyboards play a heavy role in the overall equation, though they are a bit less overt of a sticking point and do a slightly better job of sharing the stage with the guitars. In a nutshell, this is slightly more of a rock-based approach to this sound with a greater level of mid-tempo grooves and a slightly lighter guitar sound, hence a slight familiarity with singer Nils' principle project "Astral Doors" that is particularly apparent on slower works like "Brother Judas" and "King Of The Sun" where his Dio-like gritty shouts are quite exposed in spite of the sizable number of instruments backing him up.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this album is that in spite of leaning a bit more towards a lighter, rock/metal character in comparison to the last couple Sabaton albums, there is also a greater degree of faster material than typical to said band. The lead off speeder "First To Fight" was one of the singles that previewed the album and speaks for itself with its fist-pumping, "Stand Up And Shout" character, but surprisingly enough it is accompanied by two other cruisers that all but scream 80s German speed metal with maybe a slight helping of Stratovarius. Both "Sons Of Avalon" and "My Own Worst Enemy" are sure to set well with fans of the earlier 2000s European power metal sound as heard out of Gamma Ray and Iron Savior (and the earliest works of Sabaton a la "Metalizer"), featuring an epic overture to conflict and glory that would likewise rope in many of the Manowar faithful. Perhaps the only thing out of character here is the heavy emphasis on keyboard leads, though the guitars get an impressive go at it on "My Own Worst Enemy" as well.
While Civil War may not reach to the same level of popularity as Sabaton, it could be argued that they've eclipsed them in terms of putting out a consistently strong album in every respect. One could speculate that this project exists as much to supply a songwriting outlet for musicians who were largely stuck in a supporting role before as to display this sort of simplified yet power sound with a vocalist that is more suited to showcase its possibilities. Nils is essentially the quintessential power metal vocalist, whereas Joakim Brodén is something of a stylistic anomaly that manages to work well considering his strong songwriting, yet ultimately proves to be far less capable in going beyond a one-trick pony sort of novelty as a gritty baritone in a world dominated by soaring tenor impresarios. And while Civil War may have some lingering identity issues with regards to their 2 related projects, powerful mid-tempo epics like "Gettysburg" and "Rome Is Falling" are pretty well beyond the scope of said bands. If nothing else, it confirms an old cliché of "Why have 1 good thing when you can get 2?" that seems to serve people in the marketing profession quite well. But don't worry, this isn't one of those products that inspired Bill Hicks' "Kill Yourself" routine.
After four singles and an EP, the buzz is high across the globe for this monstrous album. Using American history themes, and an obvious connection the the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels, Civil War is branching out into typically untrodden waters. American history is hardly ever on the radar for European bands, or even American bands to be honest because it is apparently not nearly as exciting as vikings and crusaders. That being said, the band pulled off the concept quite well. The Killer Angels definitely lives up to the hype, so fans, brace yourselves for this onslaught of true heavy metal.
The gritty and piercing vocals of Nils Patrik Johansson are the first thing that truly set out to define the album on the opening track “King of the Sun”. Those remarkable and memorable vocals meet fantastic musicianship all around from keyboard accompaniment, moving guitar and bass lines, and simple yet fitting drums. In songs like “First to Fight” and “My Own Worst Enemy” the pace picks up and the drums feature more fills and bring a true punch to the music which I think is where the band truly shines. Then there are moments on the album where the keyboard truly shines along with the bass. “I Will Rule the Universe” and “Rome Is Falling” which are catchy and unforgettable moments on the album that stick with you all day. The album’s end, “Gettysburg” is one hell of a song. It shows off amazing vocal range and ability from softer tenor lines to high and coarse power metal wails. Hymn-like choral features, unique guitar riffs with an amazing solo, and perfectly accented bass lines and drums make this one hell of a power metal track to it’s core. This depiction of pure talent is definitely not short throughout the album.
It is extremely hard to differentiate between the music produced on certain moments of the album and let’s say… Primo Victoria (but when three fifths of a band leave to form a new one, that is somewhat expected). The instrumentation and choir layers especially have a true telltale Sabaton sound. To me, it can’t get any better than the epic, off-to-battle style of metal that these guys managed to write in the past. It’s a unique blend of melody and roughness; so not only are you singing along, but you’ll also be swinging a beer. From start to finish this album is non-stop heavy metal with no filler in between. The songs have a way of getting under your skin, making it nearly impossible to turn off or skip a track. Simply put, the guys have managed to break away from their past while still influenced to a great extent in that style of music. This is absolutely a powerful debut album and any fans of heavy and power metal should be excited to hear it.
“Just as sure as Rome is falling, I’ll be rising again.” couldn’t be a more fitting line for this band. Cheers to you Civil War!
[Originally written for TheMetalReview.com & Metalholic.com]