» Blog Archive Review: Sabaton's Last Stand? Probably Not. -
Evan Conway Hard Music, News, Reviews, Streaming

Sabaton new albumWhen you forget about sub-genres, there’s actually two kinds of successful musical acts in the world. Either an artist manages to constantly push their sound and develop as they go, which hopefully means they’re getting better, as well. The other group consists of the ones with a winning formula, in which they know how to make their fans happy and keep drawing in new ones to keep ascending in fame. Either way, artists who have found success know which of the two categories they fall into, and as such they will thrive off of it so long as they are doing well for themselves.

Sweden’s tank-happy power metal act Sabaton fall into the latter predominantly, sticking to their macho-anthemic power metal stylings that they’ve been churning out since their first albumdropped in 2005. Eleven years later and Sabaton are still churning out more of the same, but that’s not to say they haven’t experimented with their sound along the way. Nor is it a bad thing, either, as they are currently bigger than they’ve ever been and have put out eight albums in the last decade-plus-a-year. Marking their eighth studio album,  The Last Stand may initially seem like more of the same from this camo-pants-wearing battalion, but even as a band with a formula set in stone, they’re still able to pull a few surprises along the way.

sabaton pic 2Unlike 2012’s opus Carolus Rex and more like 2014’s Heroes, The Last Stand focuses around a self-explanatory theme of historical battles in which armies made their final stand throughout. Whereas Carols Rex chronicled the rise and demise of the titular figure, The Last Stand picks from all throughout history. Opening track “Sparta” may seem familiar to many listeners, as the song focuses arounds the Battle of Thermopylae, otherwise known as the backdrop to the film 300. Surrounding references to Sparta and King Leonidas, “Sparta” is as fearsome as 300 Spartans in battle: anthemic and seemingly built from the ground up for a live setting and crowd interaction, there’s no better way for Sabaton to set this album up.

It’s with “Blood of Bannockburn” that Sabaton begin to exhibit new behaviors that they have not tapped into on any past work. The album’s third track in question brings about the most notable of these new adventures, in which songwriting is featured in a major key for a change and even features a Hammond organ. The already upbeat and optimistic Sabaton is essentially driven into overdrive, in which “Blood of Bannockburn” becomes one of the album’s highlights and a sure mainstay in the band’s set for years to come. It may, in fact, be one of the band’s most refreshing songs in recent memory, as it opens up many new possibilities in the future for songwriting.

One elephant that needs to be addressed on The Last Stand is “The Lost Battalion,” one that confused many fans upon first release. While powerful and not without its usual Sabaton songwriting conventions, the song is driven by electronic drums and a mix that puts the guitars and bass in the back of the mix, bringing the keyboards to the front. It’s understandable that this track confused so many fans initially with its release as the first single, but in the context of the album, it works perfectly. Continuing to explore new ground, while it may not be a direction the band could revisit in the future, (like “Blood of Bannockburn”) the end result that is “The Lost Battalion” is rewarding and an equally refreshing experience.

sabaton picThe rest of the album falls into more of the usual for Sabaton formula, which works as a double-edged sword for the most part, seeing as it plays out its quick, 37-minute runtime rather successfully. Tracks like the album’s title track continue to display strong choruses on the band’s part, exhibiting everything that has made the band so highly regarded before. It is, however, notable that songs feel like they could have had some extra flavor added to them, in particular some of the later tracks. While “Shiroyama” is no doubt a great song and one I find myself coming back to frequently, one may question why the band chose not to include any Japanese-influenced sound to further differentiate it from the rest of their discography. It worked effortlessly on “Blood of Bannockburn” with the organ and bagpipe inclusion, but ultimately it seems like a missed chance, especially with a song or two end up seeming like your traditional Sabaton songs.

Despite the shortcoming, The Last Stand is more Sabaton. That’s hardly something to complain about,  but it’s surely a treat to see the band taking chances to experiment and write quality music while doing so. Even with some missed opportunities and instances of songs falling into their stock-sound, Sabaton are continuing their worldwide take over one album at a time. Not many bands can go on stage night after night in camo pants and be taken seriously, but when they are able to produce enjoyable, fun metal music, they’ve got to know they’re onto something great.

The Last Stand is now available.


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