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Catchy, but barely metal - 66%

gasmask_colostomy, February 6th, 2016

Looking at the song titles for this album can tell you almost everything you need to know about it. 'Ruini Imperii' is in Latin, 'Gott Mit Uns' in Swedish, '1648' is a year, 'Poltava' a place, and 'Carolus Rex' the name of the person. And when you put these things together...it's obviously a concept album about the Swedish king in the 17th century and the war that he fought. However, simply reading the name Sabaton emblazoned on the album cover might have much the same effect, since the Swedes have been ploughing the same thematic furrow since their inception 15 years ago. War, war, war. And, if you are familiar with the name Sabaton, you probably also have a fair shot at guessing what kind of music is contained within 'Carolus Rex'. One might think of (Luca Turilli's) Rhapsody (of Fire), since the unsubtle themes of glory and story-telling are similar, while the music is also in the realms of puffed-up power metal (choirs and Latin and shit), though without the addition of neo-classical guitar wizardry.

There's a cynical part of me that wants to say this album is an attempt to plant Sabaton firmly in the commercial limelight of a post-post-Enslaved or post-Amon Amarth musical landscape, since the Viking/battle atmosphere has become popular in the wake of those bands and conveniently marketable. I'm cynical not because Sabaton is using the same heroic aesthetic as those other bands, but because their music actually lacks much of a metal punch, containing just enough heaviness and metal spirit to attach them to that scene, while actually proving quite palatable for the average mainstream fan. There are a predominance of vocal hooks and rousing choruses in contrast to simple, downplayed guitars and drumming that never challenges the listener, which makes 'Carolus Rex' an enjoyable first listen, though leaves little to discover after the first two or three spins. In other words, metal sceptics will be in their element with this album, and perhaps rightly so.

That said, there is a lot to enjoy about the slicker take on the Euro power metal formula. Much of the excess of the aforementioned Rhapsody is cut from the style, while similar bands like Primal Fear and Freedom Call could never quite match the hookiness of this album, despite their more adventurous lead style and overall musical ambition. Germany's Powerwolf, while a cheesier prospect lyrically, bear closer resemblance to Sabaton, using the same kind of upbeat mid-paced playing style that concentrates efforts on memorability above playing chops and should satisfy a wide audience of metal fans and mainstream fans alike. In the music's simplicity lies much of its charm, since - like the ubiquitous AC/DC - Sabaton's familiar songs are an easy reference point and welcome any listener merely looking for fun. This doesn't diverge much from the Swedes' previous output and could be called safe for that, yet the consistency on offer here is reassuring, with no truly poor songs.

What I tend to judge these songs by is pace and memorability of chorus, the former of which satisfies in the speedy 'The Lion from the North' and 'Killing Ground', while the latter asset colours successes like 'A Lifetime of War', 'Gott Mit Uns', and the title track. The end of the album sounds slightly wan in comparison to the opening, the brilliance of the hooks and the drama fading without the depth of musical content necessary to sustain such an album. However, if one is weighing up "hits" against filler, 7 of the 10 main songs fare well, leaving 'The Carolean's Prayer' and the two closing tracks to pick up the pieces.

What this all comes down to, and what I've been avoiding saying, is that this album is tolerable for most metal fans (Deicide disciples, you are excused from this generalization), but will probably not be anyone's favourite, unless - and this is the key stroke - the listener is not a "real" metal fan and just has a mild interest in the genre. Decent, but not totally convincing.