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Hello there, Sabaton - 80%

duijffke, February 23rd, 2021

They’ve got their own annual festival, their own metal cruise and are without a doubt one of the most successful power metal outfits together with the likes of DragonForce and Powerwolf. But even Sabaton had to begin somewhere - and believe you me, their music back in 2005 couldn’t be more different from the music the Swedes are playing nowadays. I must admit that 2019’s Great War hinted to Sabaton’s early days a little more than its three predecessors, but Sabaton will most likely never hit as hard as they did with “Primo Victoria” again. Sabaton wrote history and claimed their first victory.

People tend to get bored as soon as the topic ‘history’ enters the room. Reading massive books about the Great War or Second World War doesn’t seem to be everyone’s cup of tea. I am convinced, however, many of those people are in fact interested in major events that happened across the globe. I for one am glad I know there was a war in the Middle East that might have only lasted six days but had great impact. Sabaton has been the perfect way for anyone who likes metal music but dislikes history books to learn about war-related stories from the past few centuries, like I learned about the Six-Day War thanks to Counterstrike. Obviously, Sabaton can’t possibly tell an entire war story throughout one album without leaving certain aspects of the story out, but they do give a clear and concise impression of what happened during for example Operation Desert Storm as heard in Reign of Terror.

Sabaton’s intriguing and creative storytelling must have been their strength, because the music on “Primo Victoria” is far from accessible. After Joakim Brodén’s first few lines in the title track, one unfamiliar with his unusual delivery might refuse to listen any longer, because - if I’m brutally honest - Brodén hasn’t got a beautiful voice. He’s definitely able to reach the lower and higher notes, but especially on “Primo Victoria” and gradually less on the following albums he sounds like a mix between Michael Stanne (Dark Tranquillity) and perhaps Attila Dorn (Powerwolf). The only reason this works is Brodén and Pär Sundström’s songwriting, because together with the music itself Brodén sounds more up for the job than anyone ever could. The only questionable moment is the slightly boring semi-ballad Purple Heart where Brodén doesn’t stand out but rather annoys with his deep baritone.

It’s a good thing “Primo Victoria” doesn’t run any longer than the 41 minutes it does. From the beginning until the end of this album there’s pounding drums, heavy guitars and dramatic keys. All of this is characteristic for Sabaton for sure, but you’ll be exhausted once you’ve reached the end of the album. Fortunately, there are songs like Wolfpack and Into the Fire which start with a calm keyboard intro and give you some time to rest. The keys mainly play a supporting role, as the guitars do the heavy lifting and play the better part of the solos throughout the album. However, in Stalingrad Brodén brings out the big guns and plays a fantastic keyboard solo that still, after all those years, gives me goosebumps each time I listen to the song.

I feel like I’m wrong when I say “Primo Victoria” isn’t Sabaton in optima forma. This album after all is what started an incredible career for the Swedes and contains some pretty good music. Apart from the one bad moment in Purple Heart each song is amazing, even the silly yet fitting tribute to heavy metal. The point with popular bands like Sabaton is that their music inevitably changes over the years. That means that there’s always a group of people that’s been following the band since the very beginning who wants to see the band go back to its roots. Sabaton, however, isn’t the innovative heavy metal band anymore it once was from 2005 until roughly 2008’s The Art of War and can’t go back in time. “Primo Victoria” sees a band filling an until then undiscovered niche. Unsurprisingly, once the niche was found it couldn’t be rediscovered. That makes Sabaton’s first ever album a unique one, but also one that needed polishing. Sabaton polished and improved until they became the established, successful and untouchable band they are today. “Primo Victoria” remains very good, very impressive and is a rare album that needs to be cherished. Numquam obliviscere.

Highlights: Reign of Terror, Counterstrike, Stalingrad