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A couple years back when seeing the second cinema installment of “The Chronicles of Narnia”, I was taken aback by a particular dialogue where the term “noble contradiction” was employed. By itself this term has a near endless range of possible meanings, but for some reason I always tend to come back to questions of popular vs. side stream culture. From the standpoint of most that are immersed in the former, the music of an otherwise heavily accessible band like Sabaton wouldn’t compute, in spite of its formal conformity to many of pop music’s accepted conventions. But to most who listen to metal, even amongst those who hunger for the super-catchy variety that typified the late 1990s, this Swedish outfit is considered among the most overt examples of flirtation with mainstream sensibilities, and these are the opinions that ultimately matter.
In spite of a few quirks of individuality in the vocal and lyrical department, Sabaton defines itself by sticking to a very strict and basic format. It is, by consequence, very easy music to both get into, and unfortunately also a little too easy to leave behind soon after. In keeping with this, the notion of them putting together an ambitious concept album with multiple chapters carrying a single unifying story seems quite out of character, but this is pretty much what “The Art Of War” attempts. Littered with ambient keyboard sections with narrated fragments from Sun Tzu’s writings by the same name, it puts itself forward as a work of depth and intrigue. However, upon closer inspection there is little aside from this to distinguish this album from its heavily predictable and polished predecessor “Attero Dominatus”.
The important thing to understand is that this is by no means a bad album; in fact, it is loaded with entertaining elements for anyone who likes singing along with a memorable tune while driving. There are few fancy parts, and a lot of recognizable melodies that have been modified from the prototypical 80s Judas Priest or Accept flirtations with Top 40 music for that period. The keyboard parts take on a particular prominence aside from atmospherics and take the helm at many points, most notably on the mid-paced “Cliffs Of Gallipoli”, which was also one of the more noteworthy songs on here from a popularity standpoint. Although there are definitely hints at early 80s Black Sabbath worship going on, the combination of melodies really gets dangerously close to the latest AOR hit, save the heavier nature of the guitars and Broden’s gritty, almost Lemmy inspired vocal character.
But it is important to keep in mind that despite the highly accessible nature of this album, it is still a power metal album. As such, there are plenty of faster and triumphant sounding points to be heard, particularly in the “Screaming For Vengeance” inspired cooker “40:1”, which is also a pretty good lyrical ode to Polish resistance to the Nazis. A criticism could be levied against this band for being a little obsessed with WWII history, but they seem to be able to carry it nicely and even make time to show both the glory and the horror of that particular war, and others in general. However, where the band really pulls it together is on the slower material, particularly on that of the longer songs in “The Price Of A Mile” and “Unbreakable”, both of which demonstrate the band’s ability to turn a really basic groove into a memorable and moving song, though the latter does pick up towards the end in the usual “Heaven And Hell” fashion.
The ultimate problem that faces this band is that their scope of ideas, while showing some variation, is actually very narrow and limiting. While “The Art Of War” comes across as being ambitious and compelling the first few listens, it tends to get stale afterward and needs some time on the shelf to cool off. It isn’t really much of a stretch to say that Sabaton is akin to the AC/DC of power metal, perhaps even more so than Accept was for 80s metal. As such it is a safe bet that if one of this band’s albums agreed with you, this one will too. Just don’t expect any radical leaps in evolution from what was heard on “Primo Victoria”.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 13, 2011.
After Primo Victoria and Attero Dominatus, Sabaton changed their sound a little. Where at first they had been mostly power metal, some traces of heavy metal had been seeping into the music, resulting in a sound that’s still melodic but harder and heavier now. You could say that the music has “matured” a little bit. The result is going to be in your possession if you’re a Sabaton fan and if you didn’t have this album yet.
“The Art of War” is a book by ancient Chinese warlord Sun Tzu, a book that is still used in military educations (that’s what I heard, at least) so it was a matter of time before a band focusing on warfare finally made an album out of it. Enter Sabaton, quickly grown from an unknown band to a one with a considerable number of fans after their first two (plus one) albums. They took Sun Tzu’s words and used them as a base for their next album, another rollercoaster ride through the realms of heavy metal. The idea is that several of the concepts within the book are linked with battles that have happened at some point, except for the title song. In the booklet, each song is preceded by its title, the title of a chapter in the book and short introduction of the event.
So The Art of War is a concept album, and with concept album often come intros and outros as well as an interlude (The Nature of Warfare). These are all narrated parts of texts, presumably taken from the book. When they’re integrated in a song, these spoken parts are short enough, only a few lines of text related to the lyrical content of the song. The standalone parts are longer, but those you can skip if you have the need to do so.
The real songs are what you expect them to be: a good pace, straightforward, Joakim’s harsh voice, catchy. There is enough diversity as you can hear for yourself: compare the straight-in-your-face opener Ghost Division, with its high tempo and bass driven verses versus the lamenting (yet not soft) Cliffs of Gallipoli> which relies on its melodies created by the keyboards. The Art of War, a slow and crushing song: the pace is slowed down but sounds very “big”. This is due to the keys, and the chorus that will you shout “Hey! Hey! Hey!” to the music before you realize it. Compare this with the much faster 40:1, where all the instruments are stuck in a higher gear.
The band doesn’t offer anything really new here, if you know and like Sabaton’s other albums you’re likely to like this one as well. Anything you liked about the band is still here: the typical vocals, the lyrics, the straightforward music. What has changed is that the pace can be slower than before, but this is combined by a heavier sound, coming from the emphasis on the harsh vocals. The production also has changed, so that the music sounds fuller and bigger. If there is anything bad to say about the album is that my favourite songs are located in the first half: Ghost Division, the titlesong and Cliffs of Gallipoli. But the second half also has to offer some nice stuff: Panzerkampf which lies rather close to the titlesong in sound (slow but heavy) or Union which some really positive and victorious feel to it, for example.
The Art of War is a great album for old fans of the band as well as newcomers. Buy this one, for sure! And for those who own Coat of Arms; the lyrical predecessors to The White Death and Uprising can be found here!
Sun Tzu says: The Art of War is of vital importance to Sabaton. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.
Actually, no, scratch that. The Art of War is a road both to safety AND to ruin. Safety because all the songs here are very accesible, catchy and by the book. Ruin because the originality is approaching negative levels...
So, what is good and safe on this album? Like I said before, all songs are polished and done in the typical 'epic' power metal way - they're either fast rockers with lots of double bass drumming and constant barrages of riffs, such as the opening Ghost Division, 40:1, Talvisota and Firestorm or they're slower, grim 'power ballad-likes', such as Cliffs of Gallipoli or The Price of a Mile. All of them are also accompanied by Joakim Broden's strong and soaring vocals, which are again a solid feature, just like with the Swedes' previous albums. The production is crystal-clear and all instruments can be heard properly.
Another pretty neat aspect is the 'glorious' feel most of the songs have. Union, Cliffs of Gallipoli and Price of a Mile come to mind immediately. It's mostly achieved through clever use of keyboards giving the songs a nearly sacral atmosphere, and Broden's layered vocals which gives the impression of a whole choir of Brodens (especially in Union, which really makes you want to grab a gun and run off to the nearest hill so you can fly a flag there and pretend it's Monte Cassino, while the galloping guitars, which I think are exclusive to this track, only help). The 'choir of Brodens' effect is also used nicely in Panzerkampf, where it was obviously the band's goal to achieve something akin to a Russian army choir.
It is also amazing how Sabaton managed to create such a sorrowful atmosphere in Cliffs and Price of a Mile. The first song's theme is the Gallipoli Campaign during World War I, which was generally a giant slaughterhouse. The pace is kept very slow throughout the song, the grim lyrics are heavily influenced by Kemal Atatürk's words inscribed upon the ANZAC memorial and along goes an interesting piano-immitating keyboard melody (although at the start it sounds awkwardly jolly). Price of a Mile is also WWI related, as it describes the desperation and hopelessness of soldiers cowering in trenches. The lyrics here are also interesting, as they portray a 'before and after' comparison of the situation on the front. The instrumentation during the verses is kept to a minimum, with some single drum sounds, a very good bass line and a subtle choral sound that goes on through the whole song, but is lost a bit during the bridge and chorus when the riffs kick in.
Safety has been assessed, what brings ruin to this album then? For starters, the interludes and the excerpts from Sun Tzu's Art of War that begin each song. They're read by some woman's voice with a complete lack of any characteristics. It's just like taking some random person off the street, handing her the script and saying 'hey, read this!'. Sorry Sabaton, but you're not Rhapsody, they could at least afford Christopher Lee to do the role of the narrator which, admittedly, might have sounded horribly cheesy, but at least it sounded *somehow*. The track Nature of Warfare consists only of the narrator yapping about some unrelated things and some random and weird keyboard sounds. Absolutely useless and redundant. The album also ends with a spoken part... and a robot voice saying 'illegal download detected' (HOHOHO, clever) afterwards. That's bottom of the barrel anticlimatic, especially after the speedy Firestorm.
What is more, the 'by the book' approach is also a bit glaring. Almost all the songs stick to one formula and drive it to the end. The only exceptions are Unbreakable which starts slow but ends fast, and 40:1 which has a breakdown somewhere in the middle, with a female choir thrown in for good measure.
And finally comes the originality... Well, if you approach this record expecting Sabaton, you'll get Sabaton, alright. Some might be disappointed by the lack of evolution or experimentation, but personally, I don't really give that much of a damn. What I give a damn about, though, is the level of plagiarism this album has. Let's face it - Sabaton has never been the most original band in the scene, but let's say that their previous albums were only 'influenced' by the works of others. Primo Victoria might have had Purple Heart which was strangely similar to Battlelore's Sons of Riddermark, but that was just it. Attero Dominatus was pretty much a carbon copy of Primo Victoria, but at least they had the decency to copy themselves. But Art of War is just spectacularly blatant in its copying. Compare Unbreakable and Black Sabbath's A National Acrobat. Then compare Cliffs of Gallipoli with Savatage's Gutter Ballet. Afterwards, you can compare Panzerkampf with Skyclad's Disenchanted Forest. And finally, you can check how Firestorm compares to Gamma Ray's Wings of Destiny. That's four out of ten tracks if you don't count the spoken interludes - nearly half of the material here is simply stolen, and I don't know about you, but I don't believe in coincidences, especially when they're as numerous as this. Not to mention that these are only the tracks I managed to 'fish out', who knows what other 'influences' lie within?
Final verdict? Beats the hell out of me. If not for the blatant plagiarism, I'd probably give it somewhere around 75 - a solid and entertaining, if unoriginal, power metal album. But goddammit, if there's one thing that annoys me about, well, anything, it's covering your lack of creative inspiration with someone else's ideas, and I think the 60 I give still is too generous, but whatever. I can't deny that I still like this album and listen to it frequently even despite the shortcomings.
Swedish power metallers Sabaton are a juggernaut, to say the least, with their story beginning in 2005 for the most part. Bursting onto the scene, taking everyone by storm and taking away the thought of a fresh new power metal band. For the most part though, it all seems to be heard before... the crunchy riffs, keyboard melodies, the epic vocal lines and choruses with double bass driving everything Well then yes, there might not be anything new here, nor even noticed on Sabaton's fourth full length album; so why check it out?
Well, first off Sabaton may have a similar style to bands like Hammerfall, Grave Digger, Paragon and Edguy, but they have a different type of approach as well. The theme of war and glory is all over the place in power metal, but usually done in a fashion of swords and sorcery not necessarily the World Wars and modern warfare. Sabaton have embraced it time and again, with their powerful and highly memorable debut Primo Victoria, copying the blueprint to success almost word for word with the follow-up Attero Dominatus and continuing with a slightly more renewed interest with Metalizer. The Art of War brings on a slightly more bombastic and epic nature to their style, as ou can tell right off the bat with the theme based off Sun Tzu's writings and the typical atmosphere from this album. Spoken word intros do their best to add to the glory, passion and power behind this album, though at times are a bit unnecessary seemingly, as Elvenking realized previously. The Art of War kicks off with a typical Sabaton opener, gloriously capturing your attention and more importantly your voice, commanding you to sing along; as this is easily Sabaton's catchiest sing-a-long since Primo Victoria added with the memorable synths and keys, a pure anthem indeed.
One thing Sabaton and most importantly, vocalist Joakim Broden, have accomplished is proving that they can write clear cut catchy fucking power metal. The kind of music that is stuck in your head hours later, humming that one keyboard melody, or slightly off handed air guitaring to that intro riff, or singing under your breath the chorus to that epic chorus. Ballads are common in power metal and Sabaton are not ones to fall from cliches, so with the semi-ballad and longest song on the album Unbreakable manages to be somewhat less memorable than the other more passionate and piano laden Cliffs of Galipolli, though containing a nice mid paced riff about half way into the song and your usual "Stairway to Heaven"-like guitar solo, building momentum and growing in tempo.
It's safe to say the best songs on The Art of War, as well as all of Sabaton's discography, are the things that they manage to do best. The fast paced numbers, where you want to raise your fist in the air Manowar-style and shout along losing yourself in the glorious atmosphere and pounding double bass. Songs like the opener, 40-1, Firestorm rip through the air like fucking artillery rounds and smash your guts and vocal chords everywhere. Don't expect a let down, as Sabaton find no glory in such shenanigans and pull it off very well. Another thing that I've enjoyed in the past with Sabaton are their mid paced gallop songs that make your head bang in a good simple rhythm, as shown in the title track. Shout along too, Sabaton love that shit.
So, don't expect anything but solid material from these war torn Swedes as they aren't compromising anything except sticking true to themselves, metal and the powerful sound that they've crafted since day one. Powerful and heavy metal, aggressive when need be, epic and glorious all throughout. Joakim Broden manages to pull of his style perfectly, with a badass persona and doing what power metal vocalists should be, executing the role with POWER! The highlights of the album are easily the more memorable sing along songs, faster tempo songs and heavier moments, but don't forget the more glorious and passionate moments like the occasional ballad. Sabaton are a true metal band with a powerful sound, though nothing innovative and original or new for the most part, it's always a guaranteed and good sound from these guys. Definitely their best material hands down since Primo Victoria, I swear you'll be just like me... trying your hardest to get the opener Ghost Division out of your head for days!
Not wasting any time after the abortive start to their career, 'The art of war' is Sabaton's 3rd CD written and recorded in the last 4 years, and the 4th overall to be released in that time. After some initial deliberation in their early work (eventually released last year as 'Metalizer'), they eventually nailed their trademark sound on their official debut release and have loyally adhered to it since.
Here on 'The art of war' there are few changes to the winning formula – the usual punchy, uncomplicated riffs, ever-present but not suffocating keyboard lines and, of course, war-themed lyrics delivered through the unique medium of Joakim Broden's gruff voice are all present and correct, but this time unified in a sort of quasi-concept around the ancient book by Sun Tzu.
The songs are bound together by a series of quotations from the illustrious Chinese treatise, with snippets recited between each song by a female narrator. While not as excruciating as, for instance, the 'poetry' between each of the songs on Elvenking's abhorrent 'The scythe' CD, these quotations are unfortunately a bit of an irritation almost akin to watermarks on a promo release. It has been an obvious attempt to sound more ambitious and grandiose from Sabaton but in the end proves a little misguided.
There is perhaps more of an emphasis on midtempo stamping than before, with the speedier tracks in shorter supply than on past CDs, but anyone who has heard Sabaton before will know just what to expect when approaching 'The art of war'. This of course is no bad thing, because while there may be the occasional vocal melody here and there that sounds a more than a little familiar, Sabaton have come nowhere near Dragonforce levels of repetition, and as long as they are able to keep things sounding as fresh as they do here then they are welcome to stick to their blueprint for as long as they like.
Despite an overall air of familiarity to proceedings, there are some songs that show Sabaton attempting to add some variety to their established style. The middle-eastern vibe used in the song "Panzer battalion" (from 'Primo victoria') to tie in with the subject matter is followed up with a couple more such attempts on this CD. The pounding title track is backed by a thoroughly addictive keyboard melody that captures its Chinese militaristic origins, while the pompous chorus to "Panzerkampf" contains an inch of Russian folk stylings as the story of Hitler's folly in invading the Soviet Union is recounted.
"Talvisota" and "Firestorm" are 2 of the songs that tear along at full speed for their short duration, adding some vivacity to proceedings, while on the other hand the tempo-shifting "Unbreakable" is one of the most developed songs Sabaton have crafted to date.
Specific mention must also go to the 2 ballads on the CD, 'Cliffs of Gallipoli', and 'The price of a mile'. In amongst their 'glory and death' lyrics, Sabaton have always tried to include at least one song about the horrors of war, perhaps to show they are not glorifying what is ultimately a sensitive subject, and the songs on this CD built for that purpose are perhaps its strongest. The former of these 2 tracks is built on tasteful piano playing and a simple, rousing chorus while the latter, about the desperation of First World War trench warfare, is a slightly more upbeat, yet heavy-of-heart effort with a pre-chorus and wonderfully emotional guitar solo guaranteed to cause the receptive listener goosebumps.
The only reasons I could foresee stopping 'The art of war' becoming a sure-fire hit with fans of Sabaton and power metal in general are the overall lack of anything not heard before and the questionable decision to litter the CD with quotations. Anyone who can get past this will have no excuse for not making a point of seeking this one out. The limited edition version even comes with a copy of the manifesto on which the CD was based! Sounds like a bargain to me...
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
The warmachine from Falun, Sweden is back again to tell us some war-tales. We who have heard this band before knows what it is they’re dealing with. Bombastic heavy metal with big choirs. A band quite similar with Grave Digger, but a bit more pompous. Their new album “The Art Of War” is now here, and it contains some of the band’s best songs ever, and some of their weakest.
Since Sabaton’s album ”Attero Dominatus” (you can also call it ”Primo Victoria II”) was like a weaker copy of their debut album, my hopes for this band fell downwards a bit. Those two albums are almost too awkwardly alike in the song-structures and I began to wonder: “will Sabaton always try to do the same album over and over again?”. Thus, my expectations for this album wasn’t especially high. They said this album was going to be a bit more diverse from their albums before, already when the first real song “Ghost Division” starts it’s motor, one can imagine where the album is heading: Not so much has changed really. The production is similar with earlier albums, only that it’s a bit heavier (good thing). Some slight changes that I can say is that the use of keyboards is gained, there’s a female narrator that speaks shortly in almost every song (this is a concept album about Sun Tzu’s book “The Art Of War”). Another thing is that a few songs are a bit harder and heavier than we’re used to with this band. Thinking mostly about the titletrack and “Firestorm”. I must say that the titletrack itself is worth 100%, people. A fucking great and heavy song with a sinister atmosphere (great guitar & keyboard work). But except these tiny things it’s pure Sabaton that the fans will like i’m sure. Which doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, of course. This band has never released anything weak, nor have they released anything that I got totally sold about. The general feeling of this album is the same.
While the songs I mentioned above is among the best songs made by this band, we have some awfully weak songs on here too. “Union”, “The Price of A Mile” and “Talvisota” (a weaker copy of “Into The Fire” in the main riffing) are tracks I always skip. Doesn’t catch my interest at all, possibly because they’re too happy sounding and a bit too pompous. “40:1” isn’t a favourite either. A fast one that Sabaton has done before, but much better.
So it’s a inconsistent album we’re dealing with, but in the whole picture a pretty good album. The guys have managed to lift the quality of their music since last album so this album stands stronger. All members are doing good performances on here. Wish that Daniel Mullback could loosen up a bit more behind the drums and play a bit more interesting. I know that he can, a great drummer, but he’s too much held back. Jocke Brodén with his quite own voice continues to rrrrroll is rrrrr’s but makes a good job in overall.
The question is though, how long can Sabaton continue on the same path until it gets too tedious and too predictable? Probably for some albums more, but I would really like to see that they maybe tries to put in a bit more aggression and a rawer sound. Surprise us a little with the actual music etc. I’m sure they have potential for it, “Firestorm” is a good smoker so. Dare more, are maybe two words for this band. They are good at what they’re doing, and “TAOW” is a good album, but in my book they still have a bit left to the top. It’s probably that inconsistency-level in their material that they need to polish a bit more.
3 best songs: The Art Of War, Ghost Division, Firestorm