Sabaton – The Last Stand
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: August 19, 2016
The Swedish power metal horde is back with its eighth studio album, and arguably the Sabaton’s best work to date. The concept for the new record is a series of final stands made in battle. As vocalist Joakim Brodén recently shared, it was not the initial plan for the record, but it is where the music took them. The band once again turned to producer Peter Tägtgren (Pain, Hypocrisy) to help direct the scope of the record, and he does a masterful job. The Last Stand is the final record for guitarist Thobbe Englund, who recently stepped down, but he leaves some of his most impressive work behind.
As a fan of history, one of the record’s most powerful aspects is how well the band relate these battles lyrically and interweave them so effortlessly with the music. It rolls out flawlessly, but this success is no easy feat. The Last Stand offers more than the glory of anthemic, history infused metal, but also excites the listener to delve into the stories behind the songs, to learn more about the real battles brought to life within this album.
Sabaton begins this epic story of last stand with a tale perhaps most familiar in modern pop culture, that of the Battle of Thermopylae with King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. The band brings all of the dramatic energy of “Sparta” and the battle with the Persians to life through the camaraderie of gang vocals combined with grand sonic elements. It is a bold way to march into the record, and while it is not the strongest song on the record, its power is undeniable.
“Last Dying Breath” regales the story of Dragutin Gavrilovi? and his Serbian troops who stood, greatly outnumbered, in defense of Belgrade. While they ultimately lost their last stand against the Austro-Hungarians, the cost the enemy over 10,000 casualties and in earned their respect in the process. Musically, Brodén’s power vocals lead the charge, and Pär Sundström’s chugging bass rumbles along with relentless perseverance.
One of the album’s most melodic and accessible songs comes in the form of “Blood of Bannockburn” which opens with a bagpipe intro and military drumming followed by a rolling guitar line that races forth into a bouncy rhythmic pace. The song tells of the 1314 Scottish victory against England in the First War of Scottish Independence. Most might know it better from the film, Braveheart. The keyboard and guitar solos on the bridge fit perfectly. This track gets stuck in your cranium and won’t let go. This is one of Sabaton‘s most insidiously catchy songs.
Next Sabaton takes on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive or Battle of The Argonne Forest in “Diary of an Unknown Soldier”. It was the bloodiest battle of World War I with over 50,000 casualties on both sides of the American victory. The track delivers a somber note as a spoken word intro that hails “the rhythm of death.” This segues into the album’s first single, “The Lost Battalion”, a track which is also connected the Argonne battle in 1918. The song opens with a flourish of choral vocals and a slower tempo grind that matches the feel of a grueling battle.
The album’s journey next heads to South Africa in 1879 for the Battle of “Rorke’s Drift” where 150 British troops and colonists defended their garrison against an attack from several thousand Zulu warriors. The song picks up the album’s tempo with racing rhythms, winding guitars, and drummer Hannes van Dahl setting a frenetic pace. The song reflects some of the record’s best fretwork from Englund and Chris Rörland.
The album’s title track, according to Brodén is the song that took the most effort to bring together the way that wanted it to sound, but ultimately the extra effort paid off. It is one of the album’s strongest tracks. The song resonates with the feel of church choir set to heavy metal. The cinematic rise and fall of the music and the magnificence of the harmony vocals make the song soar. One can almost picture the band performing this in a temple with a massive church choir resplendent in their gowns.
“Hill 3234” is another fast-paced assault that chronicles a battle between a company of Soviet Airborne Troops against a force of nearly 250 Mujahedeen rebels in Afghanistan in 1988. Six of the 39 Soviet soldiers were killed, and 28 were injured, while nearly all of the Afghan fighters died. Brodén gives a gritty oration of the fight. “Hold your ground. No surrender. Shoot to kill!”
Another of the album’s highly infectious songs is the story of the 1877 Battle of Shiroyama in Japan made famous in the movie, The Last Samurai. This is followed by perhaps the album’s weakest track, “Winged Hussars” which is not a bad song, but compared to the rest of the record, it’s not as memorable; though there are some unique musical elements not found elsewhere on the record. And I say “perhaps” because this is all subjective. Others who listen might well find it the most intriguing song on the record. That is the joy of metal.
The album closes out, appropriately enough with “The Last Battle”, a song that has something of an 80s metal feel to it with its sweeping melody, keyboard affects, and guitar work. The track tells the tale of the Battle for Castle Itter, one of the final conflicts of World War II.
If you are wise enough to pick up the deluxe edition of the record, the band has recorded some wonderful covers of Judas Priest’s “All Guns Blazing”, Iron Maiden’s “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, and the classic Stan Ridgway song about Vietnam, “Camouflage”.
With The Last Stand, Sabaton have made a concise statement that the new era of the band and the new line-up are every bit as powerful and imposing as the pre-2012 era. The record is packed with all of the elements that make Sabaton so addictive, from the huge vocals and emotive lyrical delivery to the soaring melody lines and memorable riffs. Sabaton are the masters of historical power metal, and The Last Stand is another accomplished effort in the battle for global dominance. The Last Stand is easily one of Sabaton’s best albums and certainly a Top 10 metal album for 2016.