Sound — 8
If the theme of the last review I did (for Sodom's "Decision Day") was "war is hell," then Sabaton's newest album, "The Last Stand," is a stark antithesis to that. With a concept revolving around historical "last stand" battles, with a do-or-die spirit, Sabaton shows a very interesting side of war on this album.
As a result, many of the songs on this album sound quite martial and militaristic, and quite epic. Opening with the bombastic "Sparta," the band's intensely cinematic power metal sound bursts out of the gate immediately, not even giving you an opportunity for a build up, just launching immediately into a pretty epic sounding song. The epic sound encapsulated by the first song is repeated throughout the rest of the album, and there aren't too many big standouts on a musical level. The playing on this record is fairly typical for power metal standards, with lots of symphonic-sounding keyboard and guitar chord progressions, shreddy guitar solos, fairly basic drumming and bass playing, and Joakim Brodén's sort of gruff sort of vocal style. There are a couple of interesting moments, like the opening of "Blood of Bannockburn," a track about the Battle of Bannockburn, one of the victories in the first Scottish war of independence, which features prominent bagpipes. "Diary of an Unknown Soldier" is more of a spoken word piece, which is a really cool sort of ambient interlude track about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a major part of the final Allied offensive of World War I, and serves as an intro to "The Lost Batallion" about the WWI "lost battalion," another part of that same offensive.
The songwriting does show a bit of variety in tempo and instrumentation, with a few songs, such as "The Lost Battalion," featuring less emphasis on guitar, and others being much heavier and less melodic. Most of the melodies in the songs are fairly simple, but there is just enough variety to keep the album interesting. The musicianship is also fairly good as well, with this being the third album for band members Chris Rörland (guitar) and Thobbe Englund (guitar), who recently left the band. It's drummer Hannes van Dahl's second album with the band, leaving Joakim Brodén (vocals) and Pär Sundström (bass) as the band's remaining original members. The album is produced by Peter Tägtgren, who did a fairly good job of making this album sound as powerful as its subject matter. It's a really huge-sounding record, but without sacrificing much in the way of dynamics.
Lyrics — 9
As mentioned, this is an album about last stand battles in history, with each song talking about a different battle. And unlike a lot of bands that discuss historical battles, this band doesn't focus entirely on one part of the world (such as most power metal bands with Norse conflicts) or one part of human history (like Iron Maiden covering mostly the 1800s to WWII), but features battles from many parts of the world, from Africa in the song "Rorke's Drift" (Battle of Rorke's Drift, January 22-23, 1879, in Natal Province, present-day South Africa), Japan in the song "Shiroyama" (the Battle of Shiroyama, September 24, 1877, in Kagoshima, Japan), Greece in "Sparta" (The Battle of Thermopylae, in 480 BC), near the Afghan-Pakistani border in "Hill 3234" (The Battle for Hill 3234, January 1988), the Vietnam war, some WWI and WWII battles, The Stand of the Swiss Guard in the song "The Last Stand" (part of the Sack of Rome in May 1527), and more. The overall theme of all of these battles is being outnumbered, or simply making a do-or-die last stand against enemy forces, and told through epic storytelling lyrics like "Imperial force defied/facing 500 samurai/Surrounded and outnumbered/60 to 1, the sword face the gun/Bushido dignified/It's the last stand of the samurai" in "Shiroyama" and "After the downfall, a castle relieved/Defeating the Nazis who held them besieged/Gangl and Lee and their men set the prisoners free/And it's the end of the line of the final journey/Enemies leaving the past/And it's American troops and the German army/Joining together at last" in "The Last Battle." These are great lyrics, and like a lot of great war-themed metal bands before them, they are meant to give you the feeling of riding into glory for one last battle, but also serve as a bit of a history lesson.
As well, Joakim Brodén's vocal style fits this style of music perfectly, with an almost ale-soaked sort of folk-metal gruffness, but one that's also flexible with regards to accent (his accent almost seems authentic for "Blood of Bannockburn"), and his voice is both intensely powerful and melodic.
Overall Impression — 8
Power metal concept albums can often be very cheesy affairs, but Sabaton pulls this album together in a really powerful way, and this is an album guaranteed to make you want to charge into battle. Listening to it in public might make any situation seem like an epic battle, and it's rare that this kind of music is something you can actually take seriously. Between the tight songwriting and amazing instrumental playing, this album is also just a great headbanger of a record. If you're into power metal, this is definitely an album you're going to want to keep an ear out for. I was quite impressed by this record, and I would definitely give it a recommendation.