Album review: Sabaton – The Great War

I almost passed on this album. The first two singles didn’t grab me the way past Sabaton singles have. And then I received a promo copy that was severely compromised sonically, most likely to prevent leaks. But it was painful to listen to, and didn’t do the music any justice.

And then on release date, I received an email from iTunes telling me my pre-order was available. Oh yeah, I probably should have cancelled that. So I gave it another listen.

And it started growing on me. Now, mind you, if you’ve ever heard a handful of Sabaton songs, you know what to expect. Big guitars and thunderous choruses supporting tales of military valour facing overwhelming odds. But yeah, ‘The Great War’ doesn’t really have a standout track like all their previous albums do, but that’s because it’s of incredibly consistent quality across the board.

Lyrically, the band has come up with a concept album based on the First World War. At the time, people couldn’t conceive of a worse conflict, so they nicknamed it The Great War, or more naively The War to End All Wars. Sabaton have turned into bona fide military historians (they now have their own YouTube channel on military history), and their Swedish perspective brings a much more objective point of view than an American band could ever have. Each song retells a battle or paints a portrait, with subjects ranging from Lawrence of Arabia, to the Battle of Passchendaele to the Red Baron’s exploits, resisting the urge to pass judgement.

It’s an exciting trip through one of the darkest moments in recent human history, and despite the usual enthusiasm the band shows, it never feels disrespectful. There’s also a so-called ‘History’ version available (there’s also a soundtrack version, without the vocals), with narration before each songs, that turns this into not only a great metal record, but an important educational work. History classes in high school were never that cool.

The record ends on a solemn note, with the famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ sung by a small choir. Montreal Canadiens fans will recognize part of this famous work, as the lines ‘ To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. ‘ have been part of the team dressing room for decades.

In hindsight, ‘The Great War’ stands as the most mature Sabaton record yet, and certainly their most consistent from start to finish. It’s no mere collection of singles, but an album worthy of a spot in any metal fan’s collection. Am I glad I forgot to cancel my pre-order!

Jean-Frederic Vachon
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