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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