Sabaton: Heroes

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Sabaton: Heroes
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Sabaton: Heroes
Power Metal
Nuclear Blast Records
May 16th, 2014
Release length: 37:01
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Swedish Power Metal juggernauts Sabaton have achieved a great deal of success over the years. While formed in 1999, the group’s debut full-length album Primo Victoria came about in 2005. Since then, the band has pummelled listeners with many war-themed albums after their more fantastical start, cementing them as a force to be reckoned with in the Power Metal world. The world wide fame, however, got a nice boost when they issued their fourth album Coat of Arms through Nuclear Blast Records in 2010, only growing more with their successful 2012 follow-up Carolus Rex. Since then, the group had become a five piece including founding bassist Par Sundrom and keyboard/vocalist Joakim Broden, but also the addition of guitarists Thobbe Englund (former Winterlong) and Chris Rorland (Nocturnal Rites) who joined in 2012, as well as drummer Hannes Van Dahl (Downthrust, former Evergrey) in 2013. With such a powerful release now behind them, does their sixth studio full-length Heroes boast as much strength, or is this a step in a completely different direction?

Heroes does continue the historical war theme by focusing on World War II this time around. The recording carries a largely darker atmosphere, something that does suit the horrors that occurred in Germany, but can be quite the varied offering. “Night Witches” kicks things of in a way that sounds like a radio broadcast of propaganda for ten seconds before heading into some pounding, catchy riffs oozing with energy and a stronger bass supported back bone than the glorious chorus has. It’s a solid, infectious track that does have some material in the main verses that can be sound a little on the generic side, but it’s the enthusiasm that makes it stand out. From here on it, it’s a roller coaster of varying continents and conflicts.

“No Bullets Fly” has that gritty eighties touch in the performance despite the crisp digital quality, and it makes for a fun as hell song that does everything right after the click when the guitar distortion changes. The keyboards make for solid builds in the bridges to a truly infectious chorus, and the hooks that make up the main verses keep the same hard-hitting vibe alive throughout. It is dropped at the start of the guitar solo, but the slower ballad style leads into the most textbook definition of eighties Metal you could come across, perfectly mixing an edgy Hard Rock approach to a Heavy Metal template. “Inmate 4859” is one of the darkest tracks Heroes has to offer. The song focuses on a man who wanted to expose the goings on in Auschwitz by getting taken away. The short keyboard notes in the chorus do feel a bit forced, and easily could have been left to the more thematic style around three-and-a-half minutes in, as well as the richer presence towards the end.

And then there’s the spaghetti western keyboards incorporated into “To Hell and Back.” While they suit the chorus and help give it the necessary atmosphere to represent help on the horizon, it can sound a bit cheesy. “The Ballad of Bull” follows with a strong power ballad that isn’t bad, but helps to throw Heroes into more of a musical than anything. The rougher vocal harmonizations at the start sound out of place as well due to how empty and sorrowful the music is. This works later on when the music picks up, but there’s no denying clean singing would have better suit the first minute.

It isn’t until the last few songs of Heroes things do fall into place and become more cohesive. “Resist and Bite” finds a similar tight performance with the bass kind of drowned out within he chorus, but the main verses really build the tension to get there perfectly. Sadly it isn’t as explosive as you would want, comparative to bands like Europe as far as the impact goes, but what exists is good enough to get you banging your head along, especially at the end when the music gets that richer touch you wish the chorus had the previous two times. “Soldier of 3 Armies,” however, captures the rich audio of that song right from the start and refuses to let up. The song skirts the line between dark and upbeat thanks to the enthusiastic performance. The drums compliment the heavier hooks superbly, and the keyboards make the melody even stronger when they appear. This carries on through “Far from the Fame,” wrapping up with “Hearts of Iron,” celebrating the end of the war through a simple bass chug and uplifting chorus with matching choir chants.

Heroes isn’t all that a fluid experience, constantly shifting through various styles of Metal and Rock that defined the eighties, even into the early-nineties. After one spin through, it does become clear why this happens. Sabaton is trying to use this method to tell such a large chunk of history from various perspectives on a single album. While commendable, it just sounds like a cluttered mess forced into a thirty-seven minute time restraint. Even if there were a track of spoken word narrative, an instrumental, or even some kind of bridging gap such as a mock news report to make the leap from things like spaghetti western to power ballad a little less random. All in all, Heroes isn’t a bad release, but no matter how many times you hear it, it’s impossible to feel like there’s a whole other Sabaton album of material that just isn’t here. But, what is here is still pretty damn enjoyable.

01. Night Witches – 3:01
02. No Bullets Fly – 3:38
03. Smoking Snakes – 3:15
04. Inmate 4859 – 4:26
05. To Hell and Back – 3:27
06. The Ballad of Bull – 3:53
07. Resist and Bite – 3:27
08. Soldier of 3 Armies – 3:38
09. Far from the Fame – 3:47
10. Hearts of Iron – 4:28
Initial Pressing Score: 7.5/10

Sabaton
Sabaton

Digital review copy of this release provided by Nuclear Blast Records.