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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/]