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There was a young man in the land of the Middle Kingdom, whose name was naverhtrad; and that young man was heavy and solid, and one that worshipped metal, and eschewed poseurdom. And there was given unto him a massive appreciation for all things metal. His substance also was a great library of traditional and melodic metal numbering over two hundred and fifty albums. He was perhaps not to be counted amongst the greatest of metalheads, but he was nevertheless respectable.
Now there was a day when the sons of the Great Lord Dio came to present themselves before him, and Sabaton also came among them. And the Great Lord Dio said unto Sabaton, Whence comest thou? Then Sabaton answered Dio, From going to and fro in the earth, from Greece to Norway, from Bastogne to Midway, collecting stories of modern warfare and setting them to power metal tunes. And the Great Lord Dio said unto Sabaton, Hast thou considered my servant naverhtrad, that is a respectable and upright metalhead, and escheweth poseurdom? Then Sabaton answered Dio, doth naverhtrad worship metal for nought? Hast thou not made an hedge about his ears, and about all he hath on every side? But put forth thine hand now; and allow him to listen to Coat of Arms, and he will curse thee to thy face! And the Great Lord Dio said unto Sabaton, Behold, he hath bought a copy of thine album; his listening is in thy power. And Sabaton went forth from the presence of the Great Lord Dio.
And there was a day when naverhtrad listened to Coat of Arms, prepared to reap yet another dose of solid, perhaps a bit flowery, perhaps a bit thematically problematic, but ultimately enjoyable power metal. Whereupon Sabaton fell upon him, and threw those hopes mercilessly aside. For behold, here was indeed an album which wasted so much of what had made Sabaton great in Primo Victoria, and yet somehow managed to retain all of the former album’s flaws. And lo, naverhtrad did cry unto the thundering heavens,
The bombastic operatic and choral elements which had proven effective on Primo Victoria are pumped up well past the acceptable Turisas threshold on tracks like ‘Coat of Arms’, ‘Uprising’ and ‘The Final Solution’, and ‘Wehrmacht’ to a lesser extent (which upholds the rule that if you sing in Latin and you aren’t Rage, you are going to come off as a tool). The basic riff on ‘Coat of Arms’ is actually not particularly terrible, but one’s attention is drawn invariably to the much-overused synthesiser effects, which make the whole thing sound completely poncey. When you’re writing a song even only tangentially about the Battle of Thermopylae, the last fucking thing you want to do is sound poncey… well, given the NAMBLA-approved proclivities of ancient Spartan society, perhaps that might not be entirely inaccurate… but it still makes for a horrible idea on a metal album! Both ‘The Final Solution’ and ‘Uprising’ also have shamelessly overused choral effects and Dan Mÿhr’s synthesiser work. Perhaps the band meant to make the songs sound more atmospheric? But unfortunately that didn’t seem to have worked, since both just come off flat. The choral bridges sound so pitch-perfect, subdued and saccharine, it’s like it came off a recent Nightwish album. Come on, man, where’s the emotion? You’re talking about the Warsaw Ghetto and the fucking Holocaust, for Chrissakes, not elves and faeries!
The reverse problem holds true for ‘Midway’ and ‘Metal Ripper’, which have been stripped down to the point of utter inanity. When ‘Midway’ started up, I was expecting a Paragon-flavoured balls-to-the-wall boot-to-the-face, so powerful was the riff. But the riff never went anywhere, unless it was to yield completely to Sundström’s bass and Mÿhr’s damnably omnipresent keyboards whilst Brodén mumbled his vocals into a ham radio with an echo filter or something. Speaking of the lyrics, they go beyond cheesy to fucking ridiculous: ‘Midway! Midway! Naval war!’ Um, congrats, Joakim, you can do a Wikipedia search. ‘To win the fight, tactics are crucial?’ Nooo… you don’t say? I never would have guessed! What, are you trying to follow in Kenny Loggins’ footsteps to get in on the next Jerry Bruckheimer soundtrack? Oh well, at least that song’s the shortest one on the album. And speaking of heinous songwriting, the descendants of the foreign pilots highlighted in ‘Aces in Exile’ ought to sue. The thematics of that song are completely inappropriate! Listen to the rhythm – however metallised, it’s a jig! Aye, we be the fightin’ Irish Poles, Czechoslovaks and Canadians, God bless ye, sir, aren’t ye proud of us now? Why not just write a fucking limerick and be done with it? Ooh, ooh, I’ve got one!
There once was a band from Dalarna,
Who were cursed with bad songwriting karma.
They tried to be solemn,
But the label fell on ‘em,
Said you’ve got to write airs with more charm-a.
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit unfair here. ‘Screaming Eagles’ and ‘White Death’ are unavoidably awe-inspiring, taking all of the best bits from Primo Victoria and distilling them down to their basic essences: ‘Screaming Eagles’ exceeds ‘Into the Fire’ in its sheer aggression and overbearing momentum (can anyone say ‘faster than a laser bullet?’), powered by the unrelenting pounding of the double-bass, and ‘White Death’, with its decidedly expert lead guitarwork (particularly on the chorus), has a definite old-school vibe which would make the Great Lord Dio grin broadly from his heavenly throne. This is powerful power metal which in some part restores my faith in Sabaton’s abilities as a band.
Unfortunately, even considering that the token ‘heavy meta’ song at the end of each Sabaton album gimmick has worn more than a bit thin, ‘Metal Ripper’ blows. They’re not even trying to make it witty anymore; at this point, they’re just stringing together a bunch of gratuitous references and putting them to a Lordi-school dumbed-down mildly-powered hard-rock number. Noooo, thanks.
The most frustrating part of this album is, I know Sabaton are capable of more and better than this, if Primo Victoria and the couple of tracks I heard from Carolus Rex are any indication. But this album… everywhere you turn it seems to be watered-down, dumbed-down or overblown, and even the good tracks feel more like throwbacks to Primo Victoria than like any sort of logical, meaningful progression! O Great Lord Dio, why hast thou allowed this album to see the light of day?
Thereupon, naverhtrad rent his robes and poured ashes upon his head. But not once did a blasphemous word against metal pass from his lips. For he knew in his heart that perhaps one day, Sabaton would do far better.
7 / 20
Sabaton’s star is rising fast. Only four years ago, I saw them as the opening act for Therion. The venue wasn’t full yet but the Swedes gaves their very best. Only two years later they were the first act on Graspop Metal Meeting’s main stage (Graspop is Belgium’s biggest heavy metal festival, with as many as 130,000 visitors during three days). They played at noon, a time when the regular festivalgoer is still sleeping or fighting his hangover. But that day, things were different. Nearly ten thousand metalheads gathered at the main stage and formed the “biggest crowd the band has ever played for”. What is it that makes Sabaton so popular? Their music is rather simple, but very catchy. They produce a harder type of powermetal, and the voice of Joakim Bróden is a little harsh but understandable. And we may not forget that the live performances never disappoint, with every band member full of energy and enthousiasm.
But no performances without music, right, so let’s take a look at that. Coat of Arms is a continuation of the sound of The Art of War. There is no real concept on this album, except maybe that all songs, except for the last one, are about World War II. Fans had the opportunity to send in ideas about events or battles in the past, and the WWII ones turned out to be the most interesting. The lyrics span the entire globe: the rebels in Warsaw (Poland, Uprising) over the Battle of Bastogne (Belgium, Screaming Eagles) to Midway in the Pacific Ocean (Midway). Not every song is about all-out warfare. There is the civil movement in Warsaw, the hidden actions of the saboteurs in Scandinavia, the Holocaust and even a song that looks at the men behind the guns of the Wehrmacht. Enough diversity in lyrics, but how is the music?
The music is pure Sabaton: not so much different from the immediate predecessor, and that’s good. All other three war themed Sabaton albums have a certain diversity in songs on them, and Coat of Arms is even more diverse while containing some completely new things. The opening of the album is a keyboard intro that quickly evolves into a buildup, complete with catchy riffs, to the real song. The chorus is catchy as hell, and clearly inspired by the epic movie 300 (“Blood of king Leonidas”). A great indicator of what else is to come, and a terrific opener for an album.
Every song on this album has its own sound. Midway has a very clear drum rhythm, constant throughout the entire song. This makes that the verses and the harder chorus match perfectly. Joakim’s vocals are deformed in the verses, which is something completely new. The song is one of their shortest. Screaming Eagles is beyond doubt the fastest and hardest song the band ever made: serious headbang material. The Final Solution is dominated by keyboards: they somehow add a touch of emotion to the song to emphasize the very delicate matter the band deals with. Wehrmacht is a lower paced but very solid song, with a bone chilling chorus: several voices shout the chorus, as if it were a song of an army on the march. The Latin verses at the climax of the song are sung by several voices, but Joakim joins them, adding even more power. The instruments sound like a thousand booted feet pounding on the ground. This is an incredible song, and I hope to see this one live.
The other songs are more or less “familiar” in sound, but don’t bore. Except maybe Metal Ripper. The follow-up to Metal Machine and Metal Crüe disappoints a little. The lyrics are taken from various well-known songs (a fun idea), but the music itself lacks in power, or catchiness.
Expect no exceptional technical feats on this album. Coat of Arms is a simple, but very good album. Sabaton proves that less complicated music still can be good, or even be better. The energy the band put in this album can be felt when listening to this one at full volume. Recommended for power and heavy metal fans!
I started worrying the moment I saw the bonus tracks on COAT OF ARMS. What you get is instrumental versions of the first and last song already on the album. That’s one way to cut down on overheads I guess. Anyway, let’s see what the stuff with actual vocals deliver then hey?
SABATON have come as dangerously close to anyone to seizing the title of heir apparent to the power metal throne. Their brilliant but ill-fated debut (both versions) is all the warning you need. Their so called official debut ‘Primo Victoria’ more than made up for lost time. We’re talking a Richter scale disappearing into the earthquake shattered earth. And the follow up – ‘Attero Dominatus’ – was like a sequel that’s better than the original. Buy them both. Then came ‘The Art of War’, a concept album you should also own, but be warned – some fillers managed to sneak in – and so did some boring narration between the songs.
Which brings us to ‘Coat of Arms’. You can start by skipping track one and two. They might register in some small way if you’ve never heard SABATON before, especially the gang choir arrangements that make everything sound like metal in widescreen. Likewise the masterful keyboard theatrics. Few bands do either better than SABATON, but here they forgot to include just one thing; a hook.
Things get a little more interesting with “Uprising”. The verses slow down a little and the bridge builds up to a chorus that you’d swear was written to match a hundred thousand metal fists punching the air in Wacken or somewhere. Good but not great. “Screaming Eagles” dramatically shifts gear into speed metal territory. Never one to do things by half, SABATON announce this one with the chorus exploding acapella style and then it’s pretty much a blur after that; a double kick frenzy and a pounding thrash-worthy chorus kind of sums it up.
“The Final Solution” is the ballad and despite the promising subject matter – it never rises above being a predictable traditional metal slow song (with wasted keyboards). “Aces in Exile” also come complete with head turning lyrics about an otherwise forgotten footnote to the Second World War. The story of pilots from destroyed homelands fighting to earn respect in a foreign land and in a foreign air force is an intriguing one. But the music just doesn’t try. Instead you get the mainstay songwriting technique on this album: just sing the chorus either faster or with everyone else joining in and we’ll call it a chorus. No dice guys.
And when you’re not getting a fast-for-the-sake-of-fast chorus you’re getting frustratingly powerful snatches of genius that get buried in SABATON trying to sound like SABATON did on another album. “Wehrmacht” has a bridge that’s better than the chorus for instance. As for the chorus, that’s another case of everyone singing along whether the thing’s catchy or not. For the record, it’s not. “White Death” on the other hand is. It’s the best thing on the album and comes at you like an 80’s anthem complete with an air guitar prize winning riff and a marching chorus that’s too damn short. Actually every chorus on this album is. What gives?
“Metal Ripper” sounds for all the world like another page from late in the eighties, except that the lyrics are about a metal Frankenstein monster. It’s just nowhere near as funny (or nearly as catchy) as the metal themed closing tracks on every other one of their albums. Here the joke has worn thin. And because most of the music on the album doesn’t stand up either, the whole war themed lyrics thing drags on too. Big time.
Forgive the crummy cliché, but SABATON have hardly fought their last battle. The band still sound great and Broden does deep and gravelly on the vocal front better than anyone else in the business. He also has a truckload of metal classics under his belt as a songwriter. He’ll be back. No white flag waving by this fan. Yet.
Sabaton is a household name, at least insofar as melodic metal goes. There’s a bit of something for everyone: be it war and glory for the cinema seeks, history for the eggheads, or a raucous and raspy vocal delivery for the Motorhead fanatics. All of this is compressed into a tight, highly accessible package and tempered with a strong keyboard presence that has an appeal both to harder edged traditional heavy metal fans and those looking for a lighter, AOR oriented power metal. In keeping with all of this, the quality of their respective releases is largely measured by how well they conform to their nature.
Unlike the two previous albums (“Attero Dominatus” and “The Art Of War”), “Coat Of Arms” makes no attempts at elaborating on a tried, true, and very predictable format. There is no beating around the bush, no songs that break the 5 minute mark, no ballads, and nothing else that resembles progression from the bare bones majesty of “Primo Victoria”. This band is not about technical majesty and long-winded Iron Maiden styled epics, save perhaps in their earliest incarnation during the early 2000s, this band is about songwriting in the most traditional sense, albeit within a very metallic format.
The mixture of songs found on here is a familiar one, drawing upon the usual suspects of 80s and 90s influences from Sabbath to Stratovarius. But the choruses are just a little catchier, the solos a little sweeter, the riffs just a little chunkier, and the overall package just a little bit more concentrated than previously heard. “Uprising” takes all of the “Heaven And Hell” clichés previously heard on “Rise Of Evil” and morphs it into a shorter, meaner mid-tempo powerhouse. Likewise, the heavy yet bouncy and galloping opener and title song “Coat Of Arms” essentially listens like a faster, more triumphant variant of “Primo Victoria”.
There’s few dull moments to be found on here, though the general issue of sameness and a continuing originality deficit does remain. A quick listen to the very fun non-war oriented song “Metal Ripper” reveals that it has been heard in some variant before, from a host of Scandinavian and German bands in the past 10 years. The practice of building lyrics out of quotes of famous metal tunes like “Gates Of Babylon” and “Mr. Crowley” is interesting, but more of a gimmick than anything else. But in spite of all of this, along with a main riff in “The White Death” that sounds like a more varied answer to Dio’s “We Rock”, it all works and can withstand repeated listens.
It may be a bold assertion given the heraldry commonly thrown at “Primo Victoria”, but this is Sabaton at their best. This is a band that, like a high octane gasoline, has been refined to the point that it will deliver the smoothest musical journey in the most efficient fashion. Each one of these songs can easily sneak into the long term memory and refuse to leave, though the groovy and atmospheric “The Final Solution” and the fast paced Judas Priest homage “Screaming Eagles” might be among the first to invade the cerebrum. If Hammerfall and Firewind are high on your priority list, this should be as well.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on November 23, 2010.
Sometimes it’s a hell of a thing when one judges a book by its cover and is proven wholly wrong. When you get a group with a specific name, at times you can assume, to a certain extent, how the group will sound, and if it turns out to be something completely different, it can be either fanciful or derisive (I’m reminded most of the monstrous black metal entity known as “MAGICAL MAN FROM HAPPY LAND”). I know it’s not right to do something like that, but it’s human nature to make snap assumptions…am I right, people?
And that was put to the test with this SABATON band…
When I first heard the name, for whatever reason I thought “black metal”, with plentiful bouts of monochromatic angst and many a fist shaken at God. What I got instead was a European-clad symphonic/melodic metal entity that relies on creating an epic feel by way of its combination of harmonics and heaviness. It took a bit of time to get into the scope of things, but when I did I was glad my interest held out. There’s a sense of fist-pumping majesty in SABATON’s latest, making one feel the compelling need to run headlong into the battles these guys seem hell-bent on fighting and ending up victorious, sword in hand, of course (guns aren’t metal! Remember that!). Stirring emotions of pride, energy and bursting power are in full swing with this 39 minute war plan, and thankfully done so with infectious melody as opposed to fist-pounding intensity like other acts of their lyrical ilk shoot for. There’re all sorts of goodies here in this multi-track foray into keyboard-laced, mid-paced insanity, where the overpowering, 80’s-sounding synth melodies, crushing guitar riffs, galloping drum work and monstrous choirs that make every other musical element present shine as nicely as can be. Sure, there are moments where everything sounds really over-the-top and a bit more fluffy and gentle considering the war-time vocal pandering (sometime it sounds like a growly singer somehow joined NIGHTWISH) but the end result makes for a finer listen than expected, and songs like “Coat of Arms”, “Screaming Eagles”, and “Wehrmacht” have what it takes to make sure you come back for seconds, and then some.
All in all SABATON lets loose a fine example of melodic, symphonic metal that somehow puts a pretty, glossy face on the worst thing ever to happen in the face of the world. If you like your power metal with that fine amount of fluff, then look no further.
What can I say about Sabaton? They’ve been happily plugging away at their weird little brand of keyboard heavy anthemic power metal for about five or six years now, and they’ve been consistently putting out albums every year or two since then. This is their fifth effort, Coat of Arms, and it’s good. That’s all you need for an introduction, let’s review this little firecracker.
Where this album lacks the accomplished and heavy songwriting chops of The Art of War, which was and still is their best, it makes up for it with the most condensed and tight set of songs the band has put out thus far. There are no eight minute epics and not a lot of variation in tempo and mood, but I would be a fool to deny the newfound maturity displayed in the songwriting here. The band has distilled all other elements from their sound except the catchiest choruses they could write and the hardest hitting riffs. No song lasts longer than it should, and each one is packed with simplistic ideas that accomplish the goal of pleasing the listener.
Keyboards swirl around the bouncy, rocking guitars and Joacim’s deep, gruff vocals carry the music with an energetic pomp that I find endearing. The tempo varies from the speedy “Screaming Eagles,” the ball-busting “Aces in Exile” and the old school Priest romp “Saboteurs” to slower pounders like “Wehrmacht” and the super-anthem “The Final Solution,” with its perfectly executed synths and big chorus. Everything is streamlined as hell and handed to the listener on a silver platter, but it never feels cheap because, well, it’s just well written music. The keys are poppy and the music is about as progressive as AC/DC, but it all really works and is articulated with maturity and sobriety.
This is ear candy metal for sure, but what I hear on Coat of Arms is a metric ton of well written and expertly placed hooks. There is an art to creating simple, catchy songs, after all, and on here we see Sabaton furthering their knowledge of how to do that. If you’re not going to change your sound, at least keep doing what you’re doing with finesse and class. And they have done that in full force. Here’s to another five years of Sabaton albums, and may they continue to prosper in their quest to keep writing songs about war.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
After the concept album The Art of War, Sabaton stage a return to the trusty format of their first three full-lengths. Reliable as this is, it has both positives and negatives. The positive is that eight or nine catchy power metal songs about historical battles doesn't really get stale if done right, and also the songs are no longer split by irritating excerpts from Sun Tzu's book (anyway, I heard he killed hookers to practice his tactics. Well, concubines.) The negative is that it is not only the framework of the previous album that has been abandoned, but a good deal of the structural innovations that made songs like 'Unbreakable' and 'Cliffs of Gallipoli' special. It's hard to argue with the simple thrust of 'Midway' or the Priest-like colourful riffs of 'Saboteurs', but it seems a bit of a needless regression.
All participants are still sounding absolutely first class however. Joakim Broden, whose lusty bass tones are what set Sabaton far, far apart before instrumental ability and conceptual originality has even been considered, sounds even more enthusiastic, if possible. He bellows, he rolls his rrrr's, and he turns fairly standard power metal leads and riffs into authentic war charges. His reflective mutters in the verses of 'Uprising' are truly descriptive of the lyrical themes, complemented by the chorus which he blasts out with leathery panache. This same song also proves that Sabaton have a very capable bassist in Par Sundstrom, who is also showcase in the curious and minimalist pounder 'Midway.'
The guitar solos in the aforementioned 'Uprising' and 'Screaming Eagles' are among the best recorded by Sunden and Montelius, atmospheric and suggestive of heroic acts unsung. The drums of Daniel Mullback are a solid, crunchy affair, symbiotically marching forth with the bass to create unchallenging but hearty rhythms to the super-hummable material. There seems to be a profusion of electronic sounding synth sounds occurring here as well,
The lyrical themes are getting somewhat repetitive by this point, and if I recall the band appealed for fans to send in ideas. The cultural ripples from 300 were afoot at the time and so the title track concerns the efforts of King Leonidas and his worthy Spartans to push back the Persians, who turned out to be Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton after all. Admirably, they resisted the temptation to have THAT clip of Gerard Butler bawling "This is SPARTAAA!!!111" at the beginning, though it would have been worth a few chuckles. The song itself is probably the most original thing here, with a neat tune and a great Maiden-style gallop.
For highlights, 'Screaming Eagles' is easily among the fastest songs the band has attempted, motoring along with tight riffs almost reaching the technical heights of Manticora, augmented by an incredibly catchy chorus that really captures the spirit of dogfighting planes. The break is sure to get your fist in the air or pounding on your chest, breathless stuff. And that solo, holy fucking bollocks! As well as the title track there is also the aforementioned 'Saboteurs' with tense post-NWOBHM riffs and a great rhythm - again, superior bass-rumbles from Sundstrom, and a killer solo.
There's a bit more fat than usual however. 'The Final Solution' finds Sabaton sounding earnest and capable but somehow not connecting on the same level as 'Angels are Calling' or 'Purple Heart' for slow sad war songs. The solo is nice and the keyboards just the right side of cheesy, but it doesn't quite stir the heartstrings. Very similiar songs like 'Nuclear Attack' and 'Counterstrike' top 'Aces in Exile' easily, and it doesn't do much other than reiterate those songs. Mind you, the break is nice again, with the glorious ode to Britain leading the Allied forces in fury down upon the Nazis almost enough to win me over (I love that this Swedish band have a habit of writing songs that really rate the Brits - we're not used to that kind of validation from other countries!) 'Wehrmacht' has me snoring towards its end however, and 'White Death' is another Priest takeoff, this time not so successful. As for 'Metal Ripper' - well, while I could happily enjoy previous metal-fixated joints like 'Masters of the World', 'Metal Machine' and 'Metal Crüe' with a straight face, this seems a bit too lyrically ludicrous considering its basic structure and unimaginative melodies.
Coat of Arms didn't really live up to my expectations for a followup to The Art of War. While they aren't exactly making history (hurhur) with their music, they have maintained a decent consistency throughout their career - but this one repeats Sabaton and their sleeve-worn influences a bit too doggedly. Still, there are a number of tracks (the title track, 'Screaming Eagles', 'Midway', maybe 'Uprising') that I would stick on a best-of if I were in the position to. Approach at a reasonable price once their other albums have been procured.