Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sabaton - The Last Stand

Sabaton is a band that both of us discovered in college and had us exclaiming a collective "fuck yeah!" at the first bombastic chorus of “Primo Victoria.” We've heard every album of theirs since then and even saw them live together on tour with Amon Amarth. Few brands of finely aged cheese have elicited more collective fists pumped and faces palmed than Sabaton. So here were are, doing a joint review of their seventh album (excluding Fist for Fight and the retroactively released Metalizer) and the second with their new lineup. Like Heroes it's a loose concept album, this time focused on famous and not so famous last stands throughout history. So, how does The Last Stand stack up?

Danny: Well, I hate to admit it, but Greg was totally right on this one. I was looking forward to this album a lot. I mean, it's Sabaton! You know exactly what you're going to get when you put on the album. It's gonna be the glory days of the History Channel with some incredibly catchy riffs and over-the-top vocals that will be really easy to sing along to. Only this album was a bit lacking in each of those.

Greg: Sometimes being right sucks. I remember being worried Sabaton were on a stagnant course with Coat of Arms only to be floored by Carolus Rex. Heroes simplified things a bit but kept things fresh and hard-hitting enough that it felt like a greatest hits album of new material. The Last Stand takes the cake for best artwork on a Sabaton album, but as far as the music goes, it’s the B-side compilation of new material compared to Heroes.

D: Since you’ve brought it up, let’s get into the songs themselves. A handful of the are plenty catchy, but that’s about the highest compliment I can pay them.

G: “Sparta” kicks off the album with a Sabaton-by-numbers track and the kind of simplistic lyrics that completely miss why history nerds love Sabaton. It’s like being a Blind Guardian fan and watching them take a page out of Dragonforce’s songbook. Of course, that’s not to say I wasn’t banging my head when the pre-chorus and chorus kicked in. This is still a Sabaton album.

D: It’s hard to talk bad about “Blood of Bannockburn,” if not just because it gets stuck in my head incredibly easily. “The Lost Battalion” is pretty much the same in this respect, but a bit less catchy. Could definitely see the chorus being popular live, and that’s about the highest compliment I can bring myself to pay it. But both suffer from the same issue as “Sparta” with the simplistic lyrics.

G: A few tracks feel like leftovers from Heroes in the best way. “Last Dying Breath,” “Rourke’s Drift,” and “Hill 3234” cut down on the bombast a bit and manage to tell and engaging story without feeling like they’re not trying too hard to be battle anthems.

D: And unfortunately, some tracks seem completely recycled from other things they’ve done. Granted, if you’re listening to Sabaton for their musical prowess, you’re obviously in the wrong place. But for crying out loud, “Winged Hussars” is far and away the worst offender here. You can quite literally sing “Art of War” over the chorus and “Carolus Rex” over the verses. Trust me, I tried it. Very disappointing

G: Agreed. “The Last Stand’s” chorus is a slightly reworked “Coat of Arms” (though to its credit, even catchier). “Shiroyama” sounds like it could turn into “Ghost Division” at any moment, and “The Lost Battalion” might as well be a remake of “Hearts of Iron." None of these songs are bad, but the recurring theme on this album is that they were mostly better the first time around.

D: To “Shiroyama’s” credit, The Last Samurai would be a much better movie if it featured a panzer division out of fucking nowhere.

G: On the subject of that song, I love 40:1 as much as the next 10 guys combined, but we don’t need to hear the troop ratios on every song.

D: You say that, but “Resist and Bite” is still fucking awesome.

G: "The Last Battle" ends things on a cheesy but fun note. If you get your hands on one of the special editions of the album, you’ll be treated to serviceable covers of "Camouflage," "All Guns Blazing," and "Afraid to Shoot Strangers." Unfortunately none of them compare to Sabaton’s best covers like In the Army Now and Twilight of the Thunder God.

D: Honestly, I was really not a fan of the bonus tracks. All Guns Blazing just doesn’t work with Brodin’s vocal range. He may dress like a discount Rob Halford on occasion, but he sounds completely wrong for the part. And I just don’t like the song Camouflage to begin with it seems.

G: Overall The Last Stand just kind of came and went for me. Fun while it lasted, sure to add a few anthems to their live repertoire, but I’m already wondering what’s next. Maybe they can surprise me again, like on Carolus Rex. But if it turns out Sabaton have nothing new to offer, at least I can say they had a good run.

D: I’m not gonna be too sad to not have to listen to this album again. I really do hope they have more to offer down the line than what we saw here, but like with the History Channel, there are only so many specials on Hitler and aliens (maybe) building pyramids you can watch before it just gets tiresome. Maybe Ancient Aliens: Sabaton Edition could be fun at least?

Greg’s Verdict: 3 iron atoms

Danny’s Verdict: 2.5 iron atoms

Post-script: If, out of morbid curiosity, you want to hear a band do watered-down Sabaton worse than Sabaton, check out Gods and Generals by Civil War. “Braveheart” will make “Blood of Bannockburn” sound like a masterpiece.

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