Review Summary: Too Much of a Good Thing is Actually Bad
In the summer of 2012, Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton released their sixth studio album – Carolus Rex, and the listening metal world collectively took notice in awe as this group of head bangers proved that not only could they write one hell of a concept album, but they could do so while at the same time evolve and ripen their unique sound. Did I mention the group also had to replace 3/5 of their lineup in the middle of recording, and also released the record with both English and Swedish vocals? The improvements heard in Carouls Rex were a massive over their 2010 release, Coat of Arms, which, while having several memorable moments, felt like a bland rehash of the band’s earlier work. Now, the bombastic ensemble returns and presents the heavy metal world with their seventh release, Heroes. Unfortunately, the new release falls short in areas similar to Coat of Arms, and leaves the listener yearning for something more.
Early in their career, Sabaton carved out a unique niche for themselves within the world of power metal. Rather than following the traditional path of the genre into the world of swords, dungeons & dragons, soaring vocals and keyboard heavy melodies, Sabaton themes their songs after war and conflict ranging as far back to anecdotes from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War
, to the modern War on Terror - with a majority of the material focusing on the World Wars, and have largely remained consistent with this formula since their inception. What sets Sabaton apart from the pack, however, is vocalist Joakim Broden’s thundering baritone vocal range, which adds a different, but fresh, element of “power” into power metal. Where Carolus Rex was homage to the Swedish Empire of the late 17th and early 18th Century, Heroes takes us back into World War 2, this time focusing not on overall battles, but celebrating those who fought in the trenches, skies, and prisons of the war – the heroes.
Musically, Heroes is nothing we haven’t heard before from Sabaton. The drums are intense, guitars tight, and sonically is just as strong, if not stronger, than Carolus Rex. Opener Night Witches
(Soviet 558th Female Night Bomber Regiment) explodes from the start with intensity and keeps the pace, but will remind you a little too much of fan favorite Ghost Division
. Perhaps the most glaring offense comes from Smoking Snakes
(Brazilian Expeditionary Force fighting in Italy). A comparison of the first ten seconds to Aces in Exile
from Coat of Arms makes one wonder just how hard the band tried at creating new material. Songs like Inmate 4849
(Polish resistance leader held at Auschwitz Concentration Camp), Far From the Fame
(Imprisonment of Czech war hero by communist forces), and Hearts of Iron
(Wehrmacht forces assisting refugees at the conclusion of the war), while not bad songs, bring with them influences and vocal techniques from Carolus Rex that simply detract from the gritty realities of war which are trying to be conveyed; instead reviving an atmosphere of romanticism, glory and royalty which fit so well on their previous album. Most noticeably absent from the album, however, is the lack of a final epic metal anthem like Metal [Crue, Machine, Ripper]
that has usually been featured on the band’s Non-Carolus Rex releases.
Heroes is not without its shining moments, however. No Bullets Fly
(German Air Force pilot giving a damaged B-17 bomber safe passage back to England) is such a track. Heavier on the metal than the power, combined with an addicting guitar melody, this is easily one of the best songs on the album. To Hell and Back
(Audie Murphy, most decorated soldier of WW2) incorporates interesting folk work into the mix and is the flagship single on Heroes. Soldier of 3 Armies (Soldier of the Finnish Army, SS forces, and US Army) is one of the more riff heavy songs on the track list, and again showcases the abilities of the new guitarists of the band. Resist and Bite
(Belgian unit resisting advancing German forces) is without a doubt one of the powerhouses of the album. Kicking off with a beautiful melody by guitarist Chris Rorland that continues in the background throughout the entirety of the song, additional support by the keyboard turn this second single into something truly epic, and any doubt of such is quickly diminished mid song as Broden breaks into mixed chant/Itallian verse accompanied by the thundering gallop of Sabaton’s drums which keep their unrelenting pace until the conclusion of the song. When compared to the rest of the album, these are the only songs that feel fresh and unique.
It is difficult to accurately place Heroes among Sabaton’s ever growing discography. Although the band celebrated their first official release in 2005, they have largely remained confined to their fan base in Europe, and have seen only limited success within the United States. However, this phenomenon has begun to change following Carolus Rex. What makes Heroes a difficult album to judge is that among new listeners, it will most likely be highly praised, while veteran Panzer Battalion members will find themselves losing the majority of the track list within Sabaton’s catalogue. The decision to return to the World War 2 theme, albeit with a focus on the individual rather than the battle, does not provide the breath of fresh air as intended, and instead feels more similar to a third helping of food when you’re clearly already bursting at the seams from the second. Overall, the handful of memorable moments on this record is not enough to offset the familiar territory explored by the remainder. Heroes, in my opinion, would have been a stronger release as an EP featuring songs No Bullets Fly, To Hell and Back, Resist and Bite, and Soldier of 3 Armies
No Bullets Fly
To Hell and Back
Resist and Bite
Soldier of 3 Armies