Sabaton - The Art Of War

Sabaton are a power metal sextet from Sweden named after medieval  foot armor.  The Art of War is their 4th full length release.  It is a quasi-concept album revolving around Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. All the songs are about war or battle in some form, often telling historical tales of battle and separated by spoken quotes from Sun Tzu, sometimes backed by atmospheric keyboards.

Musically, this is fairly standard epic power metal, with plenty of guitar riffs, double bass drumming and keyboards that occasionally come to the fore. There is some attempt to vary the relentless pace, such as Unbreakable and the very catchy Cliffs of Gallipoli, which lack power metal’s typical double bass drumming. The riffs are memorable and the guitar and keys interplay is well balanced, but overall, no one in the band is going to winning any Guitar Player polls anytime soon so if you are looking for DragonForce level playing here, you won’t find it. The focus on melody is strong and pays off, although some might say that the band is pandering for radio play. I guess that depends on your opinion of how catchy power metal should be.

The main characteristic of Sabaton is vocalist Joakim Broden. Unlike the high pitched wails of many power metal singers, Broden sings in a gruff mid range. Despite the gravely quality to his voice, it is clear, as required for a band whose focus is lyrics rather than instrumental dexterity. It could be considered an acquired taste but to these ears, it suited the warfare theme of the album perfectly.

Sabaton are a band that wants the listener to engage in the lyrics rather than impress with guitar virtuosity. Songs such as Panzerkampf (about German tanks in WW2) and Talvisota (about the Russian resistance, the flip side to Panzerkampf – perhaps an attempt to avoid charges of bias against the band) tell simple direct stories of battles and the people who fight them. There are no great metaphors or poetic imagery as one may find in say, Falconer’s songs about similar themes.

“Into to the motherland the German army march
Comrades stand side by side to stop the nazi charge
Panzers on russian soil advancing in the east
One million men at war
Soviet wrath unleashed!”

Unfortunately, the simplicity of the lyrics is often contrasted with the more philosophical musings from the Sun Tzu quotations, in which the Sun Tzu quotes emerge victorious every time.

The Art of War is an enjoyable album, especially for fans of the genre, but lacks the musical edge required to really make it stand out, although Joakim Broden’s unique voice is a start. The biggest failing here though is that an album based around lyrics needs to be more than paragraphs from a history book set to music. The album talks about war, but doesn’t really say anything about it. It’s a case of a band’s reach exceeding their grasp.  It’s hard to fault them for that as it beats the reverse, but does leave one feeling like the album could have been just a little bit more.

1. Sun Tzu Says
2. Ghost Division
3. The Art Of War
4. 40:1
5. Unbreakable
6. The Nature Of Warfare
7. Cliffs Of Gallipoli
8. Talvisota
9. Panzerkampf
10. Union (Slopes Of St. Benedict)
11. The Price Of A Mile
12. Firestorm
13. A Secret

Black Lodge Records
Reviewer: twansibon
Feb 26, 2009

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