Review Summary: The art of power metal is of vital importance to the listener. A road which can guide to excellence or to ruin. This road leads to excellence.
Power metal and lyrical themes is a funny issue. Power metal bands deal with mythical wars a lot: tribes of elves and orcs at war, battling dragons with crusaders, even a few historical battles tackled (Blind Guardian comes to mind). Sabaton, however, are genuinely interested in war: not the mythical fairy kind, mind, but real war. Like, World War II esque-stuff, combined with a concept based on the famous Chinese book by Sun Tzu "The Art of War".
How do I know all this? Well, there's a whore nagging about the book with Sun Tzu quotes every other song. Apart from that bit, which undermines the continuity of the record, however, this is still the kind of power metal everyone should love. You know why? Because Sabaton are real
power metal. For a first, their singer sounds like a man. For a second, the downtuned riffs are powerful, rhythmic and crushing. For a third, they sing about glory and honor in battle (just listen to 40:1, a song about how 300 Polish men withtstood a full-on German onslaught). The improved influence of keyboards still makes the band sound relatively cheesy and fruity, but all in all every quality of good power metal is still here: rousing anthems, speedy riffs with powerful (and balanced!) double-bass drumming, and melodic guitar/keyboard duels.
In fact, that's pretty much all that is to be found here. This album is so exemplary of what power metal sounds like when it's done right it's almost too consistent to listen to. None of the songs here are explicitly bad (a few border on unmemorable, though), and for every song that you forget the chorus for, another one pops up with a beast of a melody. "Panzerkampf" is the absolute standout, describing the Soviet's stand versus the Germans on the fields of Prokhorovkha. Its massive, massive chorus and staccato riffing should be a beastly live favourite in years to come. Even Joakim's awesome army-like voice (he has that nice rolling r) adds to the whole atmosphere. As mentioned, the intro/outro and the girl going BLA BLA BLA LOOK I CAN QUOTE SUN TZU IN A FUTURISTIC VOICE LOOK AT ME are pretty distracting when they pop up, but when you zone out on those after a while, the album becomes really enjoyable to listen to as a whole.
If anything, you can fault Sabaton with going with a formulaic style, as they do toss in the occasional slower piano-led power ballad moment so typical of every power metal album ("Cliffs of Gallipoli"), and the album seems stuck in three tempo modes (fast, midtempo, midtempo crescending), but even that formulaic nature of the band doesn't hurt them at all. They know how to work their instruments, they know how to come up with a few golden choruses, and they know how to make keyboards sound fruity without having them overpower the music. It's not all too original, but it just works so well that we have one of the few interesting power metal bands on our hands here. All hail Sabaton, a band who have fused the cheesiness of power metal with the skill of songwriting, and for standing out in a genre where cloning seems to be happening faster than in a cancer research experiment.
"If you know yourself and your enemy, your victory will not stand in doubt in a thousand battles."