Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Sabaton's 'Heroes' - Album Review

Sabaton are probably the biggest pure power metal band in the world at the moment. Their heavy, yet instantly catchy songs and their lyrical content based around war and history have made them very popular, and fans all around the world enjoy their music. The band's sixth album, Carolus Rex, that was released in 2012 was easily the band's most complete album to date - even if stronger individual songs could be found on previous releases. The concept of that album worked well for the band and allowed frontman Joakim Brodén and bassist Pär Sundström's lyric writing to really come to the fore. Sabaton are probably unrivalled in the metal scene at the moment in the ability to tell stories through their lyrics. Basing the majority of their songs around war is the band's unique selling point, and Brodén and Sundström's enthusiasm for the subject really shines through. Carolus Rex was a big success for the band, but it was also marked with frustration as, before its release, most of the band's members left leaving just Brodén and Sundström remaining. Guitarists Thobbe Englund and Chris Rörland (Nocturnal Rites), and drummer Robban Bäck (Eclipse; W.E.T.) were recruited to complete the tour, which was a huge success for the band and saw them playing big venues in many different countries. Bäck has since left the band also, and he has been replaced by Hannes van Dahl (Evergrey). Therefore, Heroes, the first album to feature Sabaton's three new members and is the start of a new chapter for the band. Luckily, there has been no drop in quality since the line-up change, and Heroes shows that it is still business as usual for Sabaton. This album has more in common with 2010's Coat of Arms than Carolus Rex in the sense that all of the songs on it are stand-a-lone works that do not tell a bigger story. There is, however, a theme running through the album. As the album's title suggests, all of the songs on Heroes tell the story of heroic deeds in war. I always learn something when listening to a Sabaton album, which makes is more that just a musical experience. People who dismiss metal on the grounds that it shows no intelligence should have a listen to a Sabaton album. Heroes might not be quite as strong as its predecessor, but some of the songs on here stand up with the best the band has ever recorded.

Opener Night Witches is one of those songs and from the outset the guitar riffing is tight and Brodén's famous low voice barks across the metal mayhem. The verses have an excellent rhythm with some excellent uses of gang vocals from the whole band to highlight certain vocal lines. As with most Sabaton songs, there is a huge chorus that is sure to go down well live, and plenty of lead guitar breaks allow the new guitarists to show us their skills. No Bullets Fly is another strong song, even if the opening guitar riff sounds like Nightwish's Ghost River! Sundström's pulsing bassline drives the verses, but it is the chorus that really captures the attention on this song. Sabaton choruses often have an almost shamanistic chanting nature to them, and this makes good use of that formula. Brodén's vocal melodies in general are some of the best in modern metal, and this album is chock full of more killer melodies that he has written. Smoking Snakes has a real old-school Sabaton sound to it and would not have sounded out of place on 2005's Primo Victoria. New drummer van Dahl makes his contributions felt on this song with some nice technical drumming. There is also an excellent guitar solo that has a good neo-classical vibe to it. The soloing throughout this album is excellent, and I would say that - from a lead guitar perspective - this is the strongest Sabaton album in that regard. Englund and Rörland are both fantastic players. Inmate 4859 slows things down a little, and is a crushing mid-paced rocker with some simple riffing and plenty of atmospheric keyboard work. The chorus has an element of swing to it, which is something different for the band. You can imagine people huddled around a campfire singing it, it has that sort of vibe to it - just with added metal guitars! To Hell and Back gets back to the faster stuff, and is another really excellent song. It opens with something that sounds like an Ennio Morricone composition but the metal soon returns and we are treated to another classic Sabaton song with huge melodies. The spaghetti western vibe keeps re-appearing throughout the song, especially during the chorus where lonely keyboard lines cut through the guitars and add something different to the overall sound. There is another really excellent guitar solo which, again, leads into another Morricone-inspired section before a final chorus that sounds really epic after a subtle key change.

The Ballad of Bull is a piano-led piece that lacks none of the power despite being more mellow in appearance. Brodén's vocals fit as well over piano as they do over huge distorted guitars and it shows what a versatile vocalist he is. The song slowly builds, with guitar and drums joining in the fray at certain moments, but the piano is ever-present and is always the leading instrument throughout the song. This sort of song works well for Sabaton, and I am glad they included this song on the album. Resist and Bite is another heavy piece that opens with a nice technical riff that re-appears throughout the song and sounds excellent. van Dahl's drumming is good on this song too, making use of some good off-beat patterns during the verses and some more traditional beats during the hugely catchy chorus. It is Soldier of 3 Armies that has impressed me the most on this album though, and this could soon be my favourite Sabaton song of all time. A really excellent riff drives the song, and Brodén is at his storytelling best throughout this song, as he recants the tale of Lauri Törni who fought for Finland, the Nazis and the USA during his life. The chorus is possibly Sabaton's best ever, it is just so rousing that you cannot help but get wrapped up in it. This song contains everything that is good about Sabaton and, in future, if someone who has never heard Sabaton before asks me to recommend them a song, I think this will be the one I recommend for them. Far from the Fame is probably the song on the album that I do not really care for. It is not bad per se, it is just much less interesting than any of the other songs here. It lacks any big standout melodies and the riffs are not as good as usual. It is passable though, and is pleasant enough to listen to. The final song on the album is Hearts of Iron which is another very good song with atmospheric verses and a nice powerful chorus that grows on you the more you hear it. In fact, this whole song is a grower, as the first couple of times I listened to this album, this song did not really make an impression on me - but now I really enjoy it. It makes for a good end to the album, as it is about one of the closing moments of the Second World War, which seems fitting for the final song on an album. Heroes is an album that proves bands can live beyond a huge line-up change and still produced excellent new music. They have not missed a beat, and this album will please everyone who have liked anything the band has done before.

The album was releaed on 19th May 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for To Hell and Back.

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