Sabaton – Heroes
Sabaton – Heroes (2014)
Reviewed by Allyson Kenning
It’s exciting times when one of your favorite bands drops one of your most anticipated albums of the year, and such was the case with me May 27, when Sweden’s Sabaton released its eighth studio album, Heroes. Fresh off an exciting night three weeks previously when the band came to Vancouver, opening for Iced Earth, and previewed one of their new songs, I was pretty stoked to get my copy from iTunes and start listening.
I knew it would be hard for this band to produce something as magical as its previous CD, Carolus Rex. I thought that was such a superb album, especially following the rather unmemorable Coat Of Arms, which followed the totally excellent The Art of War. Sabaton seems, to me at least, to have a pattern of greatness followed by something more milquetoast, followed by something great again, and I wondered if Heroes would be another part of that pattern. I’m glad to say that it isn’t; while it’s not as outstanding as Carolus Rex, it’s a very tight, strong album, and not the least bit boring or unmemorable the way Coat of Arms was for me.
Sabaton, as we all know, has made its mark telling war stories through power metal, and they have a knack for making dramatic tales out of epic events, tightly encapsulated into a few minutes of catchy, bombastic, hard-hitting music. They’re very good at what they do: the lyrics get a story across in a short span of time. Heroes focuses more on individual tales of heroic feats rather than battles by armies, while still highlighting the gruesomeness, sadness, and futility of war, and balancing them with a celebration of the hard-won positives, which are often hard to see.
Starting things off is “Night Witches”, the little known story of Russia’s Night Witches, a regiment of Soviet female pilots who flew canvas-winged planes across the lines to attack, undetected, their German targets. This is a story I recently became aware of thanks to Facebook, and it’s a fascinating one indeed; for more information, here is a nice little wiki about them. The song itself is fast and driving, and gives us a bit of a taste of what to expect on the album in terms of some of the subtle changes to Sabaton’s sound. The main change I perceive is that the choirs usually utilized in Sabaton’s choruses and backing tracks have been toned down quite a bit. They are still there, but they have been reined in and feature more male vocals than female for a change. Joakim Broden’s baritone is a little more prominent and unencumbered by lots of complex backing vocals. It’s a more raw and powerful sound, I think.
This is also a speedier album than Carolus Rex was, in terms of both length of songs and tempo. “Inmate 4859” is a more sluggish but very heavy affair, and apart from this and “The Ballad of Bull”, which is a grand, sweeping work celebrating the deeds of Australia’s Leslie “Bull” Allen in WWII, the standard is a smorgasbord of charismatic power metal tunes executed with individual flare and huge emotion. Joakim is one of the best male vocalists in the genre, if not the best, if you ask me, and he’s never sounded better.
As usual, Sabaton doesn’t shy away from the nastier issues associated with combat and its aftereffects. “To Hell And Back”, the album’s first single and the song they debuted live at their show here in May, tells the story of a veteran of three different wars and his struggles with PTSD and subsequent drug addiction. There are stories of brave treason and concentration camps, harrowing escapes, and men who become addicted to battle and fight in multiple wars. The CD booklet is excellent for explaining the stories behind all of the lyrics, and what I liked about the CD was that it was like a little history chapbook that gave a small but varied taste of the millions of stories that exist after all this conflict.
I got the bonus track version of Heroes from iTunes, which includes a song called “7734” that isn’t mentioned in the CD booklet, and neither is a song called “Man Of War”. Although the lyrics to both are available online, I was a little lost without an explanation of what they were about. Also included on this version is a Metallica cover called “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” I’m not all that familiar with the original, but it seemed like an appropriate finale as it’s a song about the Spanish Civil War and five guys defending a hill – and is a great headbanging tune to boot.
Heroes definitely does not follow the Sabaton pattern I was worried it would fall into. However, while I enjoyed this album a lot, and it’ll get played more than Coat Of Arms does, it still lacks some of the magic Carolus Rex and The Art Of War have. Perhaps it was because those were more along the lines of concept albums – I don’t know. Despite this bit of lack, it’s a strong album by a band that keeps delivering some of the best music in the genre.
3.75 // 5