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Cold War Metal - 45%

doomknocker, September 2nd, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak)

For the uninitiated, Civil War is the group formed by four Sabaton castaways who, I guess, sought to craft their own blend of melodic war-themed metal. They seemed to waste no time upon their formation to give unto their respective crown a number of recorded works further establishing what some would hope to be a path to follow all their own as opposed to giving us a "Sabaton 2.0". That said, my general lack of enjoyment in the original group has left me rather uninterested in the new act for the most part, but eventually my own spirit of inquiry became too loud to ignore...

Eschewing the overblown "Andrew W.K. Meets Finnish Metal" appeal of the original act in favor of a more symphonic take on a classic metallic sound, "Gods and Generals" has piss, vinegar and more lead than blood in its veins...where and when it counts, that is. While not as enveloping as other stylistically similar acts, Civil War are able to more than occasionally bypass a limiting creative structure by being able to construct, at best, decent tunes that neither suck you into any kind of abyss nor strike the Earth with explosive thunder. If nothing else, "Gods and Generals" is just there, doing its thing and not bothering anyone as it spreads the good word of militaristic history (Militistory...? Feel free to us this as an album title, fellas). Interestingly, as old world heavy metal is chiefly a guitar-driven affair (of which this group had, at the time of this recording, three to utilize), this new work places the synthetics and harmonic leads plentifully in the forefront and thick enough to the point where, without them, this would have ended up quite the chore to sit through. Take, for a few examples, "USS Monitor's" grandeur and damn-near raging sense of personal fury, or the dramaticism of "Tears from the North", where you could feel the chilling winds of a journey never to return from...tracks like these are enough for the eagle to shine ever more brightly in the War's favor, in what few amounts they are in, and if they were able to build primarily off these stronger aspects there wouldn't be as much of trouble as there currently is.

For you see, there's only so much you can take until it all just blur together when nothing really changes; the main bulk of the work is fun and exciting for the first few songs, but as you continue on it starts to feel more and more old hat to the point of predictability (at least, with me...), and since things don't really heat up during such time you can imagine how quickly both the album and attention span peter out. As well, there seems to be a lack of genuineness and honesty with the subject matter mixed with the musical approach, To wit, and for example: I'll admit that I wasn't a fan of the vocalist and his particular approach. While as able-bodied as he can be, hearing a gentle tone of voice speak (not yell, not declare, but simply speak) something like "It's time to invade!" with the midpaced trudging that makes up the majority of "Bay of Pigs" feels rather weak. Combined with the mostly milquetoast performance and lack of creative variance, It feels like the core founding folks still dug the war-faring subject matter of the previous act and didn't want to ditch it while crafting a soundtrack to one-a-day guerilla skirmishes versus certain death screaming from the sky. And like said skirmishes, it's interesting for a little while, but entire battles make for blah-laden marches through the fields. If you catch my drift.

At the end of the day, Civil War may not be the Second Coming of Sabaton, but part of me wonders if that could only serve for the better seeing how the latest work has a couple sparks of decency amidst a pile of dull ashes. Interesting for the first third or so, but don't expect much else down the road. And with that, I salute and bid adieu. Thanks but no thanks.

The stars clash yet again. - 87%

hells_unicorn, August 12th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak)

The sudden split of Swedish war history purveyors Sabaton in 2012 left many questions among their sizable fan base, including but not limited to "why?" and "where do we go from her?", and speculation as to whether said band would be able to soldier on (no pun intended) was rampant. Surprisingly enough, the four who left the fold for parts known did not keep their destination secret for long as Civil War was quickly born and began pumping out digital singles and an EP to begin establishing their new brand, whereas Sabaton reformed with an almost completely new lineup and Broden back on the keyboardist/vocalist shtick he'd been on prior to Attero Dominatus. Suffice to say, regardless of the intent of both camps, a rivalry of sorts has been underway ever since as Civil War has sought to maintain a similar lyrical niche while trying to put some distance between themselves and Sabaton on the musical front, and fans have largely been split on how this competition has played out thus far.

Following a rather strong debut, Civil War has ushered in an even more varied and engaging collection of war history steeped metal in Gods And Generals. The musical formula still retains some degree of familiarity to the one that these musicians exhibited while still in Sabaton, particularly the last couple albums prior to Carolus Rex, but has taken on a more nuanced and ultimately denser demeanor. Much of this is due to a more ambitious role for the keyboards than anything contemplated in their former band, which is trotted out right at the beginning of things with an epic harp and orchestral intro to "War Of The World", which ends up on an up tempo cruising number that is a bit closer to an orthodox Judas Priest emulation than a Helloween one. This duel sense of stylistic eclecticism and heavy metal conservatism is further multiplied on the semi-ballads "Braveheart" and "Tears From The North" where piano work takes on a very prominent role and leans a bit more towards a somber mode of storytelling rather than the military style pomp that usually adorns a Sabaton ballad.

It tends to go without saying that the primary point of stylistic separation that Civil War has achieved, apart from a greater variety of stylistic interludes and lyrical subjects, has been their somewhat more conservative take on the metallic elements of their craft. While it's not unheard of for Sabaton to crank out an occasionally heavy and groove laden number to complement their faster and nimbler offerings, there is something uniquely dark and melancholy about "Schindler's Ark" that puts it in an entirely different class, even when not taking into account that Nils Johanssen's vocal persona is far more apt in the ballad department and possesses a greater range of expression. This is even more obviously demonstrated in the album's most catchy number "Bay Of Pigs", where the lead guitars are employed often yet in a very measured and tasteful method in concordance with the song's simplistic demeanor. The principle riff actually sounds like a slight variation on "The Snake Charmer", and despite the generally American character of the lyrics, the song actually comes closer to a Mid-Eastern/North African feel.

Naturally Civil War has still maintained a healthy degree of power metal stylistic trappings that will definitely point to an affirmation of their shared roots with the broader Swedish power metal scene. Particularly on such numbers as "USS Monitor" and "Admiral Over The Oceans" (two songs that actually give off the vibe of a ship being tossed by the waves of a stormy sea), the Judas Priest mode of speed and Iron Maiden inspired gallop happy riffing goodies are delivered alongside a raspy, Dio-like vocal display out of Nils. Perhaps the only thing that's a tad bit restrained about these songs is the lead guitar work, which is reasonably flashy, but compared to the ripping waves of notes that adorned Thorbjörn Englund's contributions to Sabaton's latest studio venture Heroes. Likewise, the closing number and title song "Gods And Generals" veers even closer to Sabaton territory with an almost techno-like intro and a generally triumphant feel that could probably have been passed off as a seminal moment on The Art Of War, which was among the weaker of Sabaton's largely consistent past efforts.

Likening this outing to the old "Tortoise And The Hare" cliche of slow and steady ultimately winning the race might be a bit much since its hardly a slow affair in the sense that such an analogy would imply, but in a general sense, it fits this album's relationship with Sabaton's most recent output. It might be an unpopular sentiment, but in the overall songwriting department and quality of vocals department, Civil War has a slight edge, though at this juncture Sabaton definitely has the edge in terms of technical skill, particularly in the guitar department. It'll be interesting to see where things go next now that Pizza and longtime Sabaton guitarist Oskar Montelius have exited the battlefield, but as it stands, Gods And Generals is the album to own for those craving more of the historically oriented power metal that's been fairly popular of late, though to be fair, Sabaton isn't too far behind. Whether you're in with the Yanks or the Rebs, the battle is sure to be glorious.

For the revolution! - 75%

MarsDragoner, June 27th, 2015

By now, Civil War should widely be known among fans of Sabaton and power metal in general. Why Sabaton? Taking the musical similarities aside, Civil War was formed by four ex-members of Sabaton after they left the band. So it’s basically Sabaton, right? Right? Well, maybe a bit. With Nils Patrik Johansson on vocals, Civil War released their debut only two years ago in ’13. With almost the same line-up, here we have it. Gods and Generals.

It isn’t hard to tell what the band is about after looking at the album art of their newest sapling. What would you expect after seeing such a cover? Probably lyrics about war. Most definitely the patriotism factor, comparable to Iced Earth’s The Glorious Burden. Although Civil War is hailing from Sweden, both assumptions are pretty spot-on.

In all honesty, I didn’t like the album when I listened to it the first time. It felt unnecessarily cheesy and generic most of the time. Now, Gods and Generals is probably the first record that jumped from biggest disappointment this year to contender for album of the year. As said before, comparing Civil War to Sabaton is probably not a bad idea. It’s true that Civil War’s work can’t compete with albums like Carolus Rex but that doesn’t mean anything. As long as Civil War exist they will always stand in the shadow of Sabaton.

The album surprised me in its diversity. I won’t lie, I expected another Heroes and after seeing the cover art for the first time, I was almost sure. But this is not the case. Definitely not. There are rather heavy tracks on it. There are power ballads. And we even get a bagpipe! Songs like “Bay of Pigs,” “Admiral over the Oceans” or “Back to Iwo Jema” convey a nice and fun (live) experience while we also got the high-energy “USS Monitor” which has one of the best choruses I’ve heard in quite a long time.

Interesting about this record is that there’s pretty much something for everybody. Don’t like the keyboards? Take a listen to these sweet leads. Don’t like the leads? But the choruses are so damn catchy. Don’t like Johansson’s voice? Now, that’s tricky. It’s often a hit or miss for this guy with a lot of people but even if you don’t like his voice he does a great job on Gods and Generals and is more than fitting for the sound of the band.

Now, what is Gods and Generals? It would be unfair to just label it a Civil War Sabaton clone. They most certainly share common characteristics but that’s unavoidable and also not necessarily bad. The album is definitely not what I expected from Civil War, it’s way better in terms of chemistry. It works. They know what they are doing and it’s fun. Even if you don’t like Nils Patrik Johansson as a singer, it’s highly recommended to check this album out, not only because of the Sabaton vibe, but because it’s just a good and fun album from beginning to end and if you’re still not sure, I consider Gods and Generals to be much better than Heroes.

Originally written for fetiddead.wordpress.com.

Sabaton 2.0 - 75%

Larry6990, June 2nd, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak)

I'm sorry, Civil War, but you will never be able to escape the Sabaton comparisons. It doesn't matter how many albums you write, you will always be regarded as a side-effect to the Swedish power metal masters. It's not just because you contain four ex-members of Sabaton, but also because your lyrics and music bear so much resemblance, it may as well be Joakim behind it all! That being accepted, it's much easier to approach Civil War's original material with a focused attitude. Similar as it may be to Broden & co. - the Swedes' newest effort, "Gods & Generals", is of impressive quality.

Not straying too far from the formula they had established on 2013's "The Killer Angels", Civil War have managed to craft a dozen power metal hymns which are both memorable and anthemic. "Gods & Generals" expands on the sound using a more varied keyboard performance provided by the excellent Daniel Myrh. In addition to the usual synths which carry the melody, there is a well-defined orchestra sound which punctuates and enhances songs like "Bay of Pigs" and "War of the World" (the latter especially - that intro is stunning!).

Everything else in the Civil War camp is pretty much rolling along as usual though. Nils Patrick Johansson's distinctive crooning is as familiar as ever; he may hit some duff notes occasionally ("Schindler's Ark"), but he is nothing if not powerful and emotive. However, I question the requirement of 3 guitarists. I know bands like Skalmold and even the mighty Iron Maiden also have this surplus of musicians - but Civil War's sound is already massively layered by the choirs and keyboards, that I think losing one guitarist might be a benefit.

The production does a great job of bringing the melodies to the forefront of the mix for the majority of the time, as it is the melodic hooks and leads that really drive the pace on this album. But sometimes the chunky rhythms of the bass become beautifully prominent, such as in the menacing march of "The Colours on my Shield". And what a pleasant variety it conveys! That's one of the beauties of this album - the variety. The up-tempo double-kick gallops like "War of the World" and "USS Monitor" contrast wonderfully with the emotion-packed hymns like "Tears from the North" and "Schindler's Ark". Those who dismiss power metal as being repetitive and indistinguishable from itself would learn a lesson from this record.

The structure of the album isn't perfect. The more mid-tempo tracks like "Back to Iwo Jima" and "Knights of Dalecarlia" are unwelcome towards the end of the album, portraying a sense of sluggishness. But the previously mentioned "The Colours on my Shield" saves the day by giving the listener a powerful, yet pompous, anthemic stomp right at the climax of the record. Perfection does lie, however, in the choruses. Just like Sabaton (sorry!) each song has a superbly catchy and interesting chorus which never tires!

On "Gods & Generals" there is both quality and quantity. Sprawled out over its 12 tracks are memorable hooks, history lessons, riffs ("Bay of Pigs" especially!), soaring choral vocals and a touch of theatricality. Sabaton mark II they may be - but let that not quash their spirit. They are more than capable of entertaining the most die-hard power metal fans. And who knows? Maybe a tour with both bands in the future?

"We are the sons of the power brigade,
Walking the endless mile!
Riding the storm and we'll never back down,
Legends never die!
So kneel before the colours on my shield!"

A Lesson In History - 90%

diogoferreira, May 12th, 2015

Featuring the guys who left Sabaton in 2012, Civil War went through a testing period in that same year just to release the well-received debut “The Killer Angels” in 2013. Now, and signed with Napalm Records, these Swedes are back with the almighty “Gods And Generals”.

Besides the several sounds produced by the keyboards, there are orchestrations, like in the beginning of the opening track “War Of The World”, that are delivered in a most epic and warlike taste which put us in devastating battles. In addition, as predicted, those soundscapes are magnificently cinematographic ones. Having in count the musicians’ background and concept, the epic taste is transposed into heavy metal with well-composed guitar solos that are alternated with the keyboards giving to the tracks a wider and melodic scale.

Generally, what’s mainly kept in our minds are the choruses, but Civil War are able to extend that little area of execution into the stanzas headed by the frontman Nils Patrik Johansson. The band’s greatest goal is precisely about the catchy capability that rises its sound as well as the very energetic choirs – the launching of the video for the track “Bay Of Pigs” already predicted that and the complete album didn’t disappoint. Even at home, I can imagine metalheads singing and raising their fists. Still about Nils, he has a very characteristic voice that can go from hoarser movements to high-pitched values connoted to power/heavy metal.

You just need to read the songs’ titles to immediately realize that each track is a lesson in History. If in “Braveheart” they tell us about William Wallace’s fate (a worldwide known fact), in “The Mad Piper” they tell us something more regional – the story of Bill Millin, the Scottish soldier who played his bagpipes whilst he and his comrades were under heavy fire during the Normandy landings on June 6th, 1944. This is a very emotional song due to the implementation of bagpipes supported by militarist percussion that mirrors the strength of the Northern Folks as well as it’s able to mentally put us in one of the most important moments in the XX Century. In other occasions, we can go to Iwo Jima and get back to the Nazi Germany to sing about Schindler in a highly sentimental song comprising a pace that invokes some sort of homage and respect.

Civil War’s power metal isn’t that orthodox one full of speed and questionable heaviness. The collective’s power metal is a lot of times comprised by a mid-tempo pace including dense musical compositions that even create some atmosphere. Still, “USS Monitor” is an exception since it’s quite fast recalling Sabaton (for instance in the “The Art Of War” time) – nevertheless, it’s something that the band has tried to keep the distance. However, there’s also room for a more melancholic track – but always with a warlike touch – in “Tears From The North”, being perhaps the album’s ballad.

This new “Gods And Generals” is an astonishing album that will please not only the heavy metal enthusiasts, but also those who are extremer (at least, I hope). The songs included in the album are one of the most catchy ones I’ve listened to in a recent past, the lyrical concept is very interesting and the musicians have reached their own way of doing (good) music.

Originally written at www.againstmagazine.com