Civil War – The Killer Angels
The Killer Angels
Reviewed by Graham Henry
The Killer Angels is the debut full length from Swedish power metal band Civil War. This band was formed by 4 members of Sabaton that left the band last April, with Nils Patrik Johansson tapped to do the vocals. The bands theme is clearly the American Civil War (1861 – 1865), a theme pushed by songs like “Gettysburg,” as well as the album’s name itself, which is the title of a 1974 Pulitzer prize winning novel by Michael Shaara about the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. While the homage to both a classic novel and the bloodiest battle in US history are nice, the quality of music makes this feel more like a gimmick than actual inspiration for songwriting.
The power metal attuned amongst us may remember vocalist Johansson as the pipes behind bands like Lion’s Share, Astral Doors, or Wuthering Heights. Unfortunately, on this album, Johansson isn’t given many opportunities to really shine. His style and type of vocals, which work so well for his other projects, sound out of place here. The grittiness, Dio-like quality to his vocals don’t really do an album about wars and battles justice. This is not a knock on Johansson who is, by and large, a very talented vocalist, but rather a knock on the band’s songwriting for not being able to properly utilize their vocalist. Many of the songs on this album sound like they were written with a different vocalist in mind (perhaps they were leftover material from the Sabaton days?) There are a few noteworthy moments however. The vocals on “Saint Patrick’s Day” are downright stellar, displaying both the range and versatility of Johansson’s voice on both the low and high ends of the register. Songs like “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Sons Of Avalon” are also great songs from a vocal perspective.
Musically, this album has a bit less to offer. Most of the songs are mid-tempo power metal tunes with heavy use of power chords and many themes that sound very Sabaton-like. The instrumentalists are nothing amazing, and seldom break out into extended solos or instrumental sections. Songs like “First To Fight” and “My Own Worst Enemy” kick the tempo up to true power metal velocity, and in doing so become some of the best songs on the album. Even at higher speeds, this album does nothing that hasn’t already been done before (by Sabaton, if nobody else). It could be a how-to for writing an average power metal song, but is a poor example if you are looking for a bit of experimentation.
The lyrical content on this album is similar to Sabaton, and primarily concerns historical events. There are songs about Napoleon (“I Will Rule The Universe”), about Rome (“Rome Is Falling”), about “Saint Patrick’s Day”, and a number of other historical subjects. Also similar to Sabaton, there is very little historical depth, but only touching upon key issues or a very basic overview of the event.
I feel like the song “Gettysburg” deserves special attention here, if only because I am the person writing the review. My degree in undergraduate was in history, my emphasis in American history from 1763 – 1865, and my area of expertise the American Civil War. Furthermore, just this summer I was able to spend three full days exploring the battlefield in person, recreating for myself all the great moments from the stand of the 1st Minnesota, to the insubordination of Dan Sickles, to the infamous Pickett’s charge. As such, when I learned that a song on this album was going to be about the famous battle, I naturally became excited. This could be such an opportunity for a great sounding and historically accurate song that does justice to the monumental human struggle and intense tragedy that took place over those three July days. However, that isn’t what I got at all. The song itself barely references the battle, or indeed the Civil War. Instead, the song is more about soldiers marching to battle in general; not what I expected. Additionally, it is just one more mid-tempo song on an album chock full of them. Sabaton could be said to write lyrics pulled from Wikipedia versions of history, but at least they tend to cover some of the more important moments. Civil War fails to do even that in this song, and in most of their other songs as well. A song called “Gettysburg” with no mention of Pickett’s charge is simply an abomination in my eyes.
Ultimately, The Killer Angels is not a bad album. It is a predictable album, and an album void of almost any groundbreaking creativity, but not a bad one. Johansson’s voice, while not geared particularly well for the lyrical content or the music accompanying it, nonetheless impresses on a regular basis. Likewise, the band has adopted the Sabaton method of using the same formula to write multiple songs (and it works about as well as it does for Sabaton…). The only song I have a problem with is the song “Gettysburg,” and my problems there are specific to a person who has studied the events of that battle as much as I have. If you are a fan of Nils Patrik Johansson or of Sabaton, this is definitely worth checking out.
3.0 // 5