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Rise, rise, children of utopia - 75%

past_prologue, November 24th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak, Slipcase)

Let me start off with a quick confession: I’m not the biggest fan of Sabaton and their bombastic salutes to military history. Sure, I enjoy the occasional anthem like "Primo Victoria" or "Carolus Rex", but after a few songs I start feeling uneasy and dissatisfied, possibly the first signs of Gimmick-induced Stress Reaction (GSR), also known as “Sabaton fatigue”.

Imagine my lukewarm reaction in 2012 when I heard that four Sabaton members decided to secede from their main band and thenceforth wished to be recognized as a separate entity called Civil War. Two campaigns were launched in what turned out to be a protracted confrontation: The Killer Angels in 2013 and then Gods and Generals in 2015. Now, Civil War believes it’s time for a third installment, gloriously titled The Last Full Measure. Since I passed over the first two albums, I am approaching this new record without much prior knowledge of the band’s sound. See it as an opportunity to judge these songs on their own merits.

In the rule-bound world of power metal, the first song on an album is usually an energetic but not-too-original demonstration of style. That’s why "Road to Victory", is equipped with fast palm-muted guitar lines and simple melodic hooks that are layered over busy drum patterns. But the chorus-oriented nature of the music is already revealed in the opening keyboards which foreshadow the melody of the pre-chorus. In this pivotal part, the gruff-sounding Nils Patrik Johansson rouses his followers to battle: “Rise, rise, children of utopia”. Immediately afterwards comes the actual chorus, enthusiastic to a fault. It all sounds a bit silly, but the earworming quality is undeniable. Once exposed, you will find yourself screaming “Rise, rise cheel-dren of utopiAAA” during those unguarded moments of the day. We might call that “mission accomplished” for the reb soldiers of Civil War.

In the late 90s, during the golden years of power metal, it was still possible to recognize distinct regional scenes: the Germans specialized in melodic speed metal, the Italians and Finns were known for their symphonic pretentions, while the Swedes remained obsessed with Manowar and Iron Maiden. Today, this picture is no longer holds. Finally, Jean-Claude Juncker has something to be proud about: the booming festival circuit and larger label distribution have created a single European market in power metal. As shown on The Last Full Measure, regional sounds are thrown into a blender.

"Deliverance" welds the stuttering keyboards of later Stratovarius to a solid body of Teutonic exuberance recalling Orden Ogan or Gamma Ray. "Savannah" is by-the-numbers symphonic pop metal (think Nightwish) sprinkled with Kai Hansen goofiness. "America" combines Gothenburg harmonies and Manowar rhythms to deliver a bombastic ode to the “land of the free”. One more example is the solid "A Tale That Never Should Be Told". Its verses use a classic Dio template of steady (Eastern-sounding) riffs, while the chorus has a catchy, radio-friendly sheen. Of all the songs here assembled, this one is closest to the output of other Swedish bands like Grand Magus, and yes, Sabaton.

All in all, Civil War have composed a good collection of songs. However, this favourable assessment should not detract our attention from the group’s shortcomings. The music on The Last Full Measure can hardly be called original. It is mostly a hotchpotch of existing ideas taken from more well-known bands. The lyrics project simple fantasies and little else. I earnestly think these Swedes could have done more with Michael and Jeffrey Shaara’s trilogy on the American civil war. Look elsewhere if you want so see these historical and literary themes explored in a challenging way.

Striking Hard And Sure - 86%

Larry6990, November 11th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak, Slipcase)

It's unfair to carry on labelling this band as a Sabaton clone, though the comparison was inevitable. I mean, the band is made up of 80% ex-Sabaton members after all. But no more! With their second release, fellow Swedes Civil War are definitely carving their own path into the power metal scene. That's not to say this isn't for fans of Joakim and co. - the similarities are blatant. But both the quirky and grandiose combine to make "The Last Full Measure" both a solid power metal output, and a lesson in military history that may actually pip Sabaton in quality.

Since their last album, 2015's splendid "Gods & Generals", Civil War have lost a guitarist. That was definitely the correct decision. Does any band really need 3 guitarists?! No, not even you Iron Maiden - you just don't. Ironically, this new album is noticeably heavier than the previous one! The tone is chunkier and the bass is allowed more room to rumble thanks to the absence of a pointless 6-string layer. Take a listen to the verses of "Savannah" for the heaviest chug in this bands' catalogue. The production is laden with bombast thanks to Daniel Myrh's trademark keyboard sound; a truly hammering snare drum; and some spectacular choral harmonies provided by the 'killer angels choir'.

There's a bigger ratio of speedy songs on this album when compared to previous releases. Opener Road To Victory" gallops out of the starting gate with fury and nobility in equal measure. It's one of those rare songs where the pre-chorus is better than the chorus! ("Rise! Rise! Children of Utopiaaaaa!") Other up-tempo power metal hymns like "Deliverance" or the frantic "Gladiator" are equally as fiery - the latter being a welcome change of pace in the album's slower second half. Special mention must go to the wacky "Tombstone"; managing to fuse a cowboy's jig with a raging chorus.

The immortal Nils Patrick-Johansson is the epitome of inimitable. Literally no one sounds like him. His voice may not always be spot-on in tune, but it's packed with so much raw power and unkempt attitude, it's irresistible. "The Last Full Measure" is his most emotive performance yet (and yes, I'm even counting Astral Doors). Just hear him virtually scream the chorus of "Gladiator", or utterly hammer through "Gangs of New York". Nils means business this time round.

The highlights on this album are well worth the price of the CD alone. But the bonus track "Strike Hard, Strike Sure", with its beautiful synth sound and zooming tempo, should convince you to get the special edition. Either way, you'll end up with two of the best power metal tracks of this year: track 3 - "Savannah", and track 6 - "A Tale That Never Should Be Told". The latter is a Sabaton-esque march (fuck!!) with irresistible synths and folk melodies straight from the heart of Tennessee. But the Swedes have really nailed it with the former! Swift vocal patterns; epic harmonies; seriously beefy chugging in the verses; and a chorus to DIE for! "Savannah" really is a must-download for those of you who don't want the whole affair.

Some of the tracks phone in the quality a little. The second bonus track "Aftermath" is total fodder that leaves your ear as soon as it enters. A shame, considering the band proved their ballad-writing credentials on "Gods & Generals". "America" is also a drop in quality after the winning streak of the first 4 songs. Despite some lyrical irony regarding current affairs ("say a prayer for America!), it lacks a dose of energy. But in general, any power metal fan should be happy with Civil War's output this year. This quintet is injecting the power into power metal, one gruff vocal line, catchy keyboard melody and epic chorus at a time.

"Savannah here we come!
This is the final march.
The star-spangled banner waving over us tonight.
Savannah, soon it's done.
You must surrender!
There is no glory in defeat, but hell is far away."