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European power metal is always very hit-or-miss for me. Any given song either sounds like the most awesome thing ever, or utterly generic and boring. It's part of the reason why I usually listen to this particular brand of metal song-by-song rather than album-by-album: too much of the stuff in one sitting, and all the choruses, synth flourishes, and drawn-out high notes blend into each other and fall flat. However, I decided to give Carolus Rex a chance – and I'm oh so glad I did.
Why? First of all, there's the excellent songwriting. Sabaton's knack for this is well-known: their choruses can be stuck in your head for weeks at a time, and the different sections within each song – granted, there usually aren't very many – always fit together seamlessly. With Carolus Rex, though, they've really outdone themselves. There is not a single song on the album that isn't exciting in its own right. From the pumped-up adrenaline trip "The Lion from the North" to the sweeping power ballad "A Lifetime of War" to the stage-villain boast that is the title track, each song can stand on its own, and most of them go well beyond that.
A loose collection of great songs doesn't necessarily make a great album, though, so let's look at what ties them together.
It isn't the historical theme. The events referred to in the songs are too far apart in time (spanning a period of more than 100 years) and too tenuously connected to give any real sense of coherency on this point. "Lion from the North" Gustav II Adolf fought very different battles than Karl XII, the titular "Carolus Rex". No, what really welds this album into a coherent whole is the strong, immersive atmosphere.
More so than other Sabaton releases, Carolus Rex is steeped in a feeling of fatalism and tragic irony. Joakim Brodén's powerful, distinctive singing style goes a long way towards establishing this atmosphere, and the production does the rest. Backing choirs are used to great effect: in "The Carolean's Prayer", which focuses on the grim Protestant worldview of the Swedish soldiers, they make the Lord's Prayer segment one of the album's greatest moments; and in the slow, heavy title track, they lend extra weight to the rolling war-drums' accents. The synthesizer is treated as an instrument in its own right, not as decoration in the background – see, for example, the brief solo in "The Lion from the North", or the vaguely Rammstein-ish intro of "Poltava". Sometimes it even feels like the roles are reversed, with guitars, bass and drums serving as background accompaniment to the real stars of the show: vocals and synths. Production values like these will turn off more purist metalheads, but they do a great job when it comes to immersion.
I'm not a fan of Sabaton's lyrics; I'm not sure there are any fans of Sabaton's lyrics above the age of 15. They're usually very dry accounts of whatever historical event the song is about, dressed up in generic "lofty" phrases, without any attempt at poetry. Fortunately, Carolus Rex provides an escape clause: you can simply listen to everything in Swedish. The Swedish lyrics are probably no less cheesy than the English ones, but as long as you don't speak Swedish (like me) you can remain blissfully ignorant of this. That's not the only reason I prefer to listen to the Swedish version, though: Joakim's Swedish vocals just sound cooler, and it's fun to try and pick up some words' meanings from the context. (Swedish words you will learn from this album include Gud, konung and armé.)
Still, on the English version of the album, there is one song where all the generic hamminess actually works: the title track. There's something about the way Joakim delivers lines like 'I was chosen by heaven! Say my name when you pray!' or 'All over Europe my rule shall be questioned by none!' that makes his portrayal of Carolus convincingly fearsome. Really, I love the title track in general; it's basically a slower, more ominous "Be Prepared". Awesome!
And it's not just the title track – the whole album is a continuous rush of intensity and spectacle, without any quiet moments. Usually, this kind of unrelenting "epicness" falls terribly flat after a song or two, but Carolus Rex manages to stay exciting throughout. This is an impressive feat, and it's only possible because the album is so full of energy and vitality: from the delicious gallop on "Killing Ground" to the driving rhythm guitar on "Poltava", Carolus Rex is best enjoyed with a double espresso and a looming deadline.
No matter where or how you first listen to it, though, Carolus Rex will have you hooked from start to finish. And you'll keep coming back, not to gain a new perspective or discover hidden layers of meaning – there aren't any – but to get another fix of the addictive glory.
Ah, Sabaton; one of the most tremendous power metal bands of the 21st century. They were one of the first power metal bands to write songs about World War I and World War II battles and created a massive fanbase in Europe. People on Poland are just crazy about them, cos they're heavily influenced by songs like "Uprising" and "40:1", which are about Poland's citizens giving everything they had to fight the Nazis. They made history more appealing to headbangers, by really putting out some truly epic stuff that they could relate to. But as their career went on, Sabaton felt the need to pump out a concept album. Being proud Swedes, they decided that it should be about Sweden's most famous ruler, King Charles I, or Carolus Rex. Thus, the album "Carolus Rex" was born, and it might not be as good as Sabaton's previous efforts, but at least it delivers the goods in some way.
There are some nice things to say about this album, but there are also some problems with it. The biggest flaw this album has is pretty much the biggest flaw Sabaton itself has; self-plagiarism. There are a few songs on this album that have VERY uncanny resemblances to songs on their previous albums. "1648", for example, sounds like a rehashed and recycled version of "40:1". The choruses to both songs sound like direct clones of each other, you'd think that it's the same song! It is also at the same tempo as "40:1", adding more to the similarities. And, what a shock, both songs are about really intense battles. Wow! How original! Now, consider "The Lion from the North". Hmmmmmmm..........that sounds so familiar, where have I heard that song before????..........Oh, YES! That synthesizer riff totally sounds like it's plucked straight from the title track from their "Coat of Arms" album! What's more, is that that synthesizer riff from "Coat of Arms" itself is also ripped off from the synthesizer solo on "Ghost Division"! Clearly they put some thought into making that one!
Don't let that self-plagiarism that plagues the band scare you away from the good stuff on "Carolus Rex", though. There's plenty of good things to be said about this album, one of which being "Killing Ground". It's a real epic song that with a tremendous galloping riff that I would say imitates the galloping horses that were used in the battles, and really puts you in the shoes (or should I say, "boots") of one of King Charles I's soldiers. Oh, and then there's also the title track. Oh, man, epic would not be the word to describe this song, worthy of any flag-waving Swedish patriot. It's one of those majestic fist-pump-inducing anthems that really puts you in a triumphant mood. It's got a chorus and a synthesizer/guitar riff that completely capture the might of Charles I when he was crowned King of Sweden. If there's anybody that does not feel the massive power of that song, please let me know, cos I'm really feeling it, man! It's so.....beautiful!! Another song that I must mention is "Poltava", a ripping, driving song with a tasty power metal-ish riff. Because of this, I have a feeling that if a biopic of Charles I was to be made,"Poltava" would be the song to be played in its trailer, or even better, the movie itself! Wouldn't that make a perfect soundtrack!
I can understand that some people might not appreciate Sabaton that much because of their self-plagiarism problem, but with that aside, the band never fails to deliver. It's great power metal album that, in my opinion, was just one step short of being completely magnificent. The recycling of Sabaton's older songs to create new ones really isn't a good idea, cos I'm certainly hearing those older songs rather than the new ones. Oh well, I can't let that ruin a good album, can I? There's more good things to be said about this album than bad, so I must say, I'd totally recommend it.
Some things, such as movies, are supposed to be judged as what they are. Some thing, such as demo releases, are sometimes supposed to be judged as what they tried or were intended to be. And then there are things that should be judged based on... different... things... Hummmm... Yeah. Like, totally.
To make this absolutely clear, Sabaton has never been very original, innovative, serious, technically worth massive praising, or even, well, very good. But they are enjoyable in a very specifically Swedish way, and that's what needs to be explained and understood before judgement can be passed on Carolus Rex. Also, a lesson on history might be useful. Unlike the earlier albums with the general military lyrical approach, this is a rather ambitious theme album, and deserves some credit for it.
Carolus Rex tells the story of the Swedish Empire. While it might sound goofy to tell tales of the superpower status of a country that has not seen war since 1814, the silly Nordic country was indeed a regional superpower for roughly a century, in the context of this album starting with the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631, and ending with the death of Charles XII in 1718 in Norway. Sure, there were earlier times when Sweden could well have filled the definitions of a major power, and there certainly was a decline of almost 90 years with wars and campaigns, but for those demanding exact dates on things, those are nice definitions of the golden period of the northern power. And the nation has gotten mellower ever since, in a very positive sense; that is, unless you count minor opportunistic things a breach of neutrality... such as selling Hitler enough iron ore to build his panzers, or allowing a brigade's worth of volunteers to join the Finnish army and air force during the WWII, for example. But the country itself has skillfully avoided war, and that's what counts towards their economic success and temperately likable character.
The times of the Swedish Empire were, depending on the source, either a glorious century of might and wealth, or, alternatively, bloody, useless, and an enormous burden on the finances and flesh of the Swedish people - who, at the time, included Finns, Pomeranians and other assorted collections of dirty and less civilized folks. And, surprisingly for a band with lyrics focusing on heroism and valour, Sabaton manages to illuminate both sides of the equation on Carolus Rex. Sabaton's music has always aimed at serving a singular purpose, a galloping, epic, heroic and uplifting anthemic glory and goosebump-inducing triumphant pomp; they manage to do just that on their best moments, especially live. And that works on Carolus Rex, as well, but perhaps with a new approach to songwriting when the situation calls for it: "The Carolean's Prayer", for example, is a solemn prayer of the Carolean, a trooper in the king's army, who during his often brief lifetime had to subject to one of the strictest disciplines in any army at the time, reinforced by heavy emphasis on religion and blind obedience to the majesty. And those were the most important characteristics that enabled a northern country with limited natural resources, scarce population, and harsh winters to triumph on the battlefields of the 17th century Europe. A similar, somber approach can be found on "A Lifetime of War", a song describing the life of Charles XII from his ascension to the throne at the age of 15, and ending with his death just 22 years later.
There are glory rides, of course; this is Sabaton after all, a band that has wallowed in the muddy footsteps on the fields of Flanders in the WWI, flown in the Battle of Britain and fought the vicious blitzkrieg battles in France, all on the galloping path set by Iron Maiden's works with Bruce Dickinson writing the lyrics. And while the tempo might occasionally be slower than what the listener is used to or could perhaps expect, the slightly more serious character of the album, in comparison to the earlier works of Sabaton, gives the band more leeway, and the choice of the mildly darker atmosphere suits the thematic approach quite well. While the core of of power metal is still intact, Carolus Rex is a more ambitious project, and that calls for more spectrum in the songs. A century that holds both the rise and the fall of an empire depicted in less than an hour needs variance, and here the band succeeds better than the first spin might indicate. Getting to know the lyrics and the historical facts behind them might be necessary for a thorough understanding of the whole.
The pure power metal is limited to occasions where it fits the theme. On "The Lion from the North", the epic charge to glory in war, Sabaton's foundation, finds an outlet that resembles their main body their works. "1648", the story of the Battle of Prague, has an almost equally dramatic atmosphere. The rest have a more serious approach, and perhaps signal the fact that the historical story-telling has reached a new level of dedication, and a serious fraction of the album is epic heavy metal, rather than pure-strain power metal; that's probably connected to the fact that they received some, ummm, "professional help" during the creation of the album, namely from a local famous historian.
The most enjoyable way to enjoy Sabaton is definitely in a live setting. The "Swedish" thing on this album, apart from the historical context, is the way the Swedes manage turn everything into sort of innocent fun; seeing good Swedish bands like Sabaton or Therion live is always an enjoyable occasion with a difficult to define Swedish twist, and while certain other bands spring to mind, Turisas for example, the honest frolicking and joy of performing is a rarity that's almost exclusively limited to Swedish acts. And what would better suit the live atmosphere than songs that have immense, unquestionable, epic, military shout-along quality. Yes, that is the point of Sabaton's trademark songwriting style, and that also gets them classified as a poppish band. And while a pure, lowest-common-denominator, brainless pop is an abomination and, in the metal context, often leads to nu metal-tinged pseudo-gothic crap, the sing-along character of Sabaton is a different experience. They bow to the Holy Grand Tradition, and the influence of the great masters from Iron Maiden to the best the power metal scene has ever had to offer is readily audible. And it's even better with plenty of beer.
To digress a bit... During one of the International Ice Hockey Championship tournaments, a game between Sweden and Norway turned into a temporary brawl. That was unnecessary, as it's unlikely that Norway will ever beat Sweden in ice hockey, and turning an early game into a sniffer-punching contest was utterly retarded for both sides. But while the brawl itself was entertaining, a historical fun fact slipped into the Finnish commentary by the legendary Antero Mertaranta, a sports commentator in his own class: "The atmosphere in the rink is like from the Norwegian campaign of Charles XII, except that the field is not littered with dead Finns!" And that says a lot about the status the subject matter of Carolus Rex holds on the Finnish side of the Gulf of Bothnia. Finns were recruited into the ranks of the Caroleans with an ingenious tax break system. Providing and supporting a fully equipped cavalry soldier with a horse removed all other tax burdens from a group of six farms. An infantry soldier's worth was lower, but it's easy to deduce that whenever a group of farmers got together to draft a tax evasion plan, the most useless and probably also slow-witted fellow was chosen to join the Carolinian ranks, because it was unlikely that he'd ever return, and that way the loss was as minimal as possible. The result? The Hakkapeliitta brand of cavalry, a ragtag group of utterly fearless and savage Finnish cavalry, the ones who scattered the troops of the famous cavalry commander Pappenheim in the Battle of Breitenfeld, and charged whenever they were told to charge, against whatever they were told to charge... No brain, no pain.
As a second purely separate point without any connection to the album itself, there's a peculiar personality cult on Charles XII, Carolus Rex himself, among the Swedish far right and neo-nazis. They even celebrated some obscure festival of their own during the 1930s Nazi era on the anniversaries of his death, and rejuvenated the celebration in the 90s. As could perhaps be expected, the highly effective mellow non-violent resistance by the general populace led to the few local hairless imbeciles to take their drunken parties elsewhere from his memorials, and the tradition died. Except, of course, the silly idea that Charles XII is something to worship by the current holders of the Fascist sceptre in Sweden. The idea itself is idiotic, as the fellow was interested in incorporating new areas in the Swedish Empire, and thus bringing in new ethnicities to the realm, instead of preserving some alleged Nordic purity. What's more, he was not particularly successful in that, either, and it could be said that his decisive defeat at Poltava marked the beginning of the terminal decline of the empire. And what's even more, what did he do after his loss? Any ideas? No? OK. Our Nordic hero decided to pack his stuff, take along his 1000 favourite Caroleans and other followers, and head to Turkey, for some voluntary exile in the Ottoman Empire. He was welcomed there, and even got his expenses covered by some homies around. He was finally forced out by a mob fed up with his extreme cost, but not before enjoying some quality time with plenty of cash, smoking trees and screwing bitches. The jolly good fellow returned to Sweden, only to be killed by someone in Norway a while later, but it's not completely unfeasible that the unmarried king might have had some fun with local hoes in Turkey, and that whatever out-of-marriage offspring he might have had there might count as his legal heir, were one to surface with enough documentation of his roots... and that would mean that the legit current king of Sweden might not actually be the cocaine-fueled Carl XVI Gustav with his tendency to visit titty bars and disregard speed limits, but a fellow selling kebab in a kiosk in Alanya... How's that for a role model, dear Nazis?
TL;DR: This is a very good album, if you forget any ideas of musical ambition, and look at it as it was meant to be, a semi-serious display of Swedish merry fiddling with an added tangent of a pretty convincing theme album of a specific historical perspective. It's not anything ground-breaking, but sticks to your brain like meningitis in the walking wounded marching home from Poltava. Recommended, if you like your history lessons biased and your metal FUN!
In recent years, few acts in the metal scene have been able to enjoy the amount of success and polarization at the same time as the Swedes of Sabaton have. For the better part of a decade, they have been playing every stage, club and rathole from the polar circle to the southern coast of Italy, and they have never once compromised their style and always delivered action-packed live shows and entertaining performances. However, if there is one thing one could critizise about Sabaton, then that their musical radius is about the size of a bottlecap. Now don't get me wrong - most bands tend to develop their own style and formula, and then stick to that through the years; the problem that I've been having with Sabaton however is that their particular style and formula are inherently so very limited, that it almost makes it hard to comprehend how they manage to release album after album and still get people to regard every one of those records as a "new" album.
And that is also the main issue I have with "Carolus Rex". It was clear from the get-go that after the band skyrocketed in the wake of the release of their "The Art of War" album back in 2008, that not only the very particular style of Sabaton - a combination of oratorical vocals by a less-than-talented singer, lots of cheesy keyboards and huge, huge sing-a-long choruses - had struck a nerve with metal fans all over the world, but that this success also meant that Sabaton would never really be able to move away from that unmistakable style ever again.
One could argue that defining your own "sound" is what makes a great band in the first place, and there is certainly some merit to that. However, once you've heard the umpteenth incarnation of one and the same song, even a supposedly tried-and-true formula can and will get boring.
To Sabaton's credit, the new album "Carolus Rex" at least tries a few new things. In "Gott Mit Uns", they employ some folk elements into their sound that hadn't been there before, and "A Lifetime of War" is actually - believe it or not - a bona fide ballad; arguably the first in the career of Sabaton, and not at all a bad one at that. However, where there's light, there's also shadow - and in the case of "Carolus Rex", that shadow comes in the shape of several songs that have just been heard over and over again from the Swedes. The title track "Carolus Rex", while able to once again deliver a big chorus, just sounds like a remake of the title track of "The Art of War" at times, and songs like "Killing Ground", "Poltava" and "The Lion from the North" leave an equally recycled taste in your mouth.
On the funnier side, though, Sabaton have recorded a set of interesting cover songs for the limited edition of the album, namely "Twilight of the Thundergod" by the mighty Amon Amarth, and - a bit less surprisingly - "In the Army now", the undying classic by British rockers Status Quo. Another interesting fact that deserves mentioning is that the band actually recorded both an English version of the album, and one entirely in Swedish. However, the song "Ruina Imperii" is available only in Swedish on either version of the album.
All in all, "Carolus Rex" certainly isn't a bad album; it would, however, be considered a much better album if there hadn't been several Sabaton albums before it, all of which sounded pretty much the same and had pretty much the same songs with marginally altered lyrics on them. This album is a definite buy only for die-hard fans of the band, everyone else should probably give the CD a few spins before deciding on whether to purchase the record.
There is this cliché condition that many tend to find themselves in after a long period of conflict known as war fatigue. Many are feeling it with regard to what can only be described as the longest and most ridiculously justified occupations in American history known affectionately as the wars of the Bush doctrine (aka Afghanistan and Iraq), and yet it seems to just drag out regardless to what people say or do. Cynicism is the obvious result, stemming from report after report in the corporate media about how things are moving forward as bodies pile up day by day, people whose names I will never know, yet people whose lives were ended with helped by me paying taxes. The only real solace that can be taken from this eventuality is a fool’s hope that one day people will crack open a history book and modify their politics according to the lessons that will be consequently learned in the process.
For those who haven’t the time or inclination from doing this the old fashioned way, a number of metal bands have taken on the historical narrative as a lyrical outlet, among the more well known of them being Sabaton. They’ve consistently told the tales of military history in the 1st person, giving them a sort of appeal that, when combined with the formulaic, old school heavy metal sounds that produces something very close to soundtrack music, makes for a very vivid experience where the images of fleeting life and glory abound. Though most of their albums have tended to seek after objectivity rather than outright protest over the corrupt politics that pave the way for the foolhardy heroics of so-called free men turned soldiers, things are looking a little different of late.
“Carolus Rex” tells the history of Charles XII of Sweden, among one of the more exclusively militaristic of Europe’s long line of monarchs. To be fair, his side did not initiate hostilities between itself and its surrounding adversaries (Russia, Denmark-Norway, and Saxony-Poland-Lithuania), but his insistence upon a indefinite conflict after successfully defending his empire in order to crush his enemies resulted in the absolute collapse of Sweden’s monarchy and the loss of much of its territory, not to mention the end of his own life (one has to wonder what lay in store for my own native U.S. given the massive overreaction to 9/11 that still drags on to this very day given this particular piece of history). The music accompanying the lyrics generally follows typical Sabaton fair of putting the keyboards on equal footing with the guitars, emphasizing a dense, multi-layered atmosphere comparable to the lofty terrain of the battlefields of the north that this story is set upon, and resulting in 10 very catchy and easy to follow songs that convey a sense of fatalism, as if the impending downfall was known before the first round was fired.
While the message contained in this ambitious concept album is very poignant and time appropriate, the musical contents actually take the band’s underlying formulaic approach to an exaggerated extreme. There is literally no chord change or guitar solo to be found on here that can’t be predicted by simply recalling the same basic approach typified in “Primo Victoria”. A couple of songs such as the up tempo “The Lion From The North”, the down tempo coaster straight from 1980 Black Sabbath “The Carolean’s Prayer” and the happy medium experienced on “Poltava” manage to stand out as being better than much of the band’s work since their 2005 label debut, but apart from a more elaborate subject, this is the same basic song and dance. Nevertheless, this limited approach has always served the band well, and I would argue that scaling back the massive instrumentation would expose Joakim Brodén’s gruff-infused and largely limited vocal capabilities way too much anyway.
If you could stomach my anti-war rhetoric, you’ll have an easy time getting into this album as apart from the mildly preachy “A Lifetime Of War” it’s told mostly from an objective historical standpoint. But it does hit pretty close to home for anyone who spends too much time worrying about the present goings on in the world. It’s not quite Sabaton’s best, but it will definitely satisfy the rank and file who haven’t missed a song since “Primo Victoria”.
Sabaton is a Swedish, heavy-power metal band that has really seemed to take the heavy metal world by storm over the past few years. Sabaton is well known for their well-written concept albums, usually about wars from all periods of time, including my personal favorite The Art of War stemming from Sun Tzu’s writings. If you haven’t heard Sabaton’s music and as you sit here reading this think “Oh they’re power metal? That’s not heavy enough for me.” Well you’re wrong. Sabaton has always been my “gateway band” so to speak, to get my friends who think they hate power metal, to actually appreciate what power metal is about. So please, give this album a chance.
You might be thinking, Wow, Carolus Rex? That’s been out for months now, they’re a little late jumping on that bandwagon? Well you’re right, we are. This review was out of my reach for a while, but now that it’s come to my attention, I want nothing more than to publish this! I wanted to hear this album ever since I saw them live and got to hear a “sneak peak” and fell in fucking love. But hey, it’s worth the wait and I’m sure you’re all dying to hear what I have to say… right??
Well if you didn’t know, Sabaton had a VERY rocky year, since almost half of the band left. Some band members were said to be tired of constantly touring, and left the band very suddenly. Immediately the band found replacements and used recordings of keyboard parts to finish their current tour. Now however the band is complete again and with the release of Carolus Rex, is back in at full swing. This album is as strong and catchy as ever, in true Sabaton style. There isn’t a single thing I would change or criticize, I’d almost say this is my favorite album of theirs… and I am shocked to say that but I think I found something I like more than The Art of War.
There were two different releases of this material, an English version, and a Swedish version. I love the fact that they put out both to please both sides of the coin here. I will be reviewing the English version, because well… as sad as I am to admit it, I don’t speak Swedish, and though the music is badass, I really like to sing along. No one wants to hear me try to sing in Swedish. (I try to sing along with Rhapsody of Fire when they break into Italian but ugh… that ends horribly.) The album is another concept album written about the Swedish Empire. They actually had help from well-known Swedish historian Bengt Liljegren on some song lyrics. So you know it’s good!
As the album starts off, after a short intro, with The Lion from the North, upon first listen I immediately knew that my Sabaton was BACK, and I had nothing to worry about. The fucking drive and gallop in this song is amazing, with great pounding drums, fast guitars and bass, and Joakim belting his heart out on vocals. Gott Mit Uns, was the slogan of the Swedes in their 30 Year War, and means “God with Us”. This song is my favorite on the album, as it reminds me of my favorite album, The Art of War. The atmosphere on the song is like a bright fanfare, but has some undertones of anger… and it sounds just perfect.
There are moments on this album that quite literally take my breath away. The intro and chorus in A Lifetime of War are quite certainly the highpoints on the album for me. When I heard the intro for the first time I literally pictured myself in the helicopter flying to Jurassic Park and seeing the island for the first time… so that’s a cheesy fucking reference but that intro is just so epic. I could just listen to that on repeat for the rest of my life and be completely content. Then we have the chorus, which I believe is also from the 30 Year War:
“Has man gone insane?
A few will remain,
Who’ll find a way to live one more day,
Through decades of war.
It spreads like disease.
There’s no sign of peace.
Religion and greed cause millions to bleed.
Three decades of war.”
Oh my god, thank you Sabaton. Thank you for making my life just now in that chorus.
As the album continues, Killing Ground really stuck out to me because of the sheer guttural vocals that Joakim uses. Okay so he’s not growling, BUT it’s not too often you hear him in his lower octaves. He sounds just as good! But all in all, the musicianship and production of this album, in my opinion is the best yet. The drums, the bass, the keys, the guitar… the lyrics! They’re all spot on. It’s a perfect mix, and for once in power metal I’m not sitting here saying “NEEDS MORE BASS!” because I can actually hear it! Every chorus in every song is strong and catchy, and makes me want to suit up in my best armor and fight for the Swedes! CHEERS SABATON!
[Originally written for themetalreview.com]
With Carolus Rex, Sabaton not only return to the concept album format of the Sun-Tzu themed The Art of War, but offer an extra disc with the full album in Swedish. And it's worth taking the panzer down your local record store if you held out hope these boys would produce a real keeper, even after the spotty predecessor and half the band quitting. Well I reckon this is one of their most solid records yet, and that might be helped by the fact that here it is a nice case of Swedes telling stories about Swedes, rather than stories about other people as has been the norm.
The sound is as always massive. Massiver than last time round even. The guitar sound is as chunky as a Kit Kat, the drums full and heavy, the vocals crystal, and in terms of levels the album's audio is extremely well engineered - I can hear every part of these obsessed Swedes' campaign clear as a bell. There are string and also more of a choir presence than before, with the choirs even replacing Joakim Broden at times rather than backing him up. 'The Lion From the North' and others even feature some soprano female vocals. All of which helps in creating that trusty old epic metal feel. Sabaton's sound lends itself to that overused adjective "epic" in the more practically applied sense of extra orchestras and vocalists, so why not!
The record is exciting from the outset, even if the idea of a patriotic re-telling of a still slightly controversial era in Swedish history hasn't sold you before pressing play. In a welcome turn up for the books, they open with a proper power metal scorcher again rather than the more mid-paced stomp that characterized 'Coat of Arms' and 'Ghost Division' - 'The Lion From the North' is exactly what I fancied from a new Sabaton album having kept up since Attero Dominatus. Blazing guitars, impassioned rumbling vocals, and a massive choir in the chorus to boot. Later on '1 6 4 8' is basically a rewrite of all those hyperactive power metal anthems you loved - 'Hellrider', 'Nuclear Attack', 'Talvisota', all of those. But it's welcome here and you get to hear it in Swedish. More on how awesome that is later.
Once again though the album's runtime is dominated by slow and epic marches, rather than the scrappy double-bass anthems of earlier years. Perhaps more than ever. But these are some of the best "slow" songs the band has ever recorded. 'A Lifetime of War' features a great orchestral soundscape and booming vocals, augmenting the slower pace in much the manner 'Cliffs of Gallipoli' used its cute pianos. The mournful organs, classic "marching" Sabaton riffs, and amazing lead vocals (at least on the Swedish version) make 'The Carolean's Prayer' the best cut here. Not to mention choirs that remind you why sometimes they are a good idea in metal. Seriously, it's a case of getting this instead of the latest Therion because of this song. The title track and single is another mid-paced joint, epic and grinding with mystical keys and vocals, and some shouting in the background. 'Cause like, there's a war on you know.
It isn't all killer though, there's a small share of filler in the album's second half. 'Killing Ground' is the biggest Iron Maiden rip off I've heard this band do (although not the biggest Iron Maiden rip off I've heard). Galloping drums, Somewhere In Time style leads, only the chugging guitars and Broden's voice mark it out as anything other than a tribute or cover. 'Long Live the King' gets pretty draggy too, a fairly dry slow song in the vein of 'Panzerkampf'.
So the songs are pretty great and the first half especially is a powerhouse. But the main thing that sets this beast apart from all other Sabaton releases is the Swedish version of the album. Since I first heard it I haven't even been able to go back to the English version. Hearing these songs in Broden's native language makes the whole thing ascend from a worthy discography entry to a career highlight, and every single song sounds better on this version. 'Gott Mit Uns' is somehow only interesting in its Swedish version - once those lyrics are in Swedish, they turn an average, stomping Sabaton ditty into a passionate as hell metallic paean to all things soldiery. Plus Tagtgren's involved on guest vocals. 'En Livstid I Krig' and 'Karolinens Bon' are nothing short of beautiful, particularly the latter which might move the unbraced to tears. Whereas in English (for 'The Carolean's Prayer') he sounds pretty standard, the guy's voice acquires a whole new element of vulnerability and empathy in his native language.
Overall it's a pretty tight package that makes up for the lacklustre Coat of Arms and has set me on a search for more power metal in Swedish. The sound is bigger and better and the songwriting matured and re-wired. Take heed though - if you don't get the Swedish version, or the set with both Swedish and English discs, you're wasting your money. This album can only be properly experienced in Swedish. The bald blogger has spoken.
At the end of the Last Battle of the World War tour, the tour supporting Coat of Arms (2010) in Antwerp (Belgium), Sabaton told the fans that the band would start recordings in a few weeks. As a teaser, the artwork of what now is the special edition was shown to the audience. The snippets and fragments we heard throughout the following weeks and months all sounded very promising and finally the title song of the album was released. It was a song that easily matched previous material in quality, so the rest of the album would turn out fine. And it did.
What I want to tell you right away is that Carolus Rex is pure Sabaton: the same ingredients, but the mix and the sound are spiced up. Expect 45 minutes of heavy power metal characterized by Joakim's harsh, but powerful vocals and some keyboard tunes in the background. The entire album is built of this elements, but the band sounds more epic than before. The returning use of choir singing (o.a. Long Live the King), the use of Swedish and Latin lyrics (Lion from the North, Ruina Imperii)...it all adds to the grandeur of this album. And next to that, the band sounds as always, even recycling some of its own music, but Carolus Rex doesn't sound like a makeover of an older album. Sabaton proves that music can be interesting without complicated melodies or difficult riffing. Let's be honest here, Sabaton makes really simple music, but it works and that is what counts. Shout-along choruses, lots of verses that allow for headbanging...that is what Carolus Rex offers.
Carolus Rex is a concept album about the life of the Swedish king Charles XII, and has a clear story in both music and lyrics. The album begins with a short keyboard intro which vaguely reminds me of Nightwish, and continues with something hard and fast. That is starting to look like a habit of the band: open with a firm song that allows for some shouting ("Libera et impera!") and the fans are captured throughout the length of the album. It worked on The Art of War and on Coat of Arms, and it works on Carolus Rex. And after that, the band takes you with them for 45 minutes of fun (or a multiple of that).
A few times I get the impression that Sabaton has been listening to The Art of War during the recording sessions, which is something good. There are no spoken interludes, but the "atmosphere" of the songs is at times reminiscent of TAoW. You can clearly hear traces of Union in Gott Mit Uns for example.
But there also are a few new elements: the fast Killing Grounds is a Sabaton song the like we have not heard before, and producer Peter Tägtgren can be heard as guest vocalist in Gott Mit Uns (which is definitely a plus for the song). And then there is the more dramatic A Lifetime of War: Cliffs of Galipoli and The Final Solution were two songs that showed a more "emotional" side of the band, and A Lifetime of War nicely fits in with these two songs.
But even better than that is the melancholic Long Live the King: Carolus is dead, what happens now? With despair in the verses and even more despair in the chorus, where Joakim is supported by choir vocals, this songs earns the band good grades. Both in A Lifetime of War and Long Live the King you can still hear power: the day Sabaton writes a ballad is still far away (luckily!) but they can provide us with these type of powerful and more emotional songs.
The songs are of course carried by the instruments, and there is nearly no change in those. I do have the idea that some changes have been made to the sound of the keys more on the background and some changes in the sounds themselves, like the solo in Lion..., the strings in A Lifetime..., the organ in The Carolean's Prayer). Joakim's voice still is the most important characteristic of the band, and it has not changed. As always, the vocals are harsh but clear, powerful and compelling. It is a pity that four out of six band members left Sabaton after the recordings, so I'm curious about how the new album will turn out live. But if the coming concerts are bad, it will not be due to bad material.