You might call it impeccable timing. SABATON have long been the metal world’s great guardians of military history, and the underlying message behind the Swedish band’s many tales of armed conflict has always been abundantly clear. As they said themselves online this week: “There has been more than enough bloodshed through history. No need for more.” Current events are impossible to ignore, and so “The War To End All Wars” feels even more poignant than it would have without an insane despot’s murderous campaign unfolding before our eyes. Sadly, we are where we are. But as SABATON have proved repeatedly, there is great inspiration and succor to be drawn from these tales of human derring-do and strength in the face of horror. As with 2019’s “The Great War”, their tenth studio record delves into the First World War’s complex web of narrative strands and heroic deeds and comes up with a bunch of bombastic and instantly memorable anthems that seldom fail to hit the emotional mark.
As always, part of the joy of a new SABATON record is the chance to learn something substantial about the past and mankind’s many violent follies. The Swedes have made attention to detail a great virtue over the last few years, producing the kind of elucidatory online content that gently belies metal’s image as a genre for non-readers and generally approaching the illumination of their creative efforts as a noble endeavor in itself. Impressively, SABATON have not let their musical evolution plateau as a result. “The Great War” was easily identifiable as a career peak, more than equal to the much revered “Carolus Rex”. “The War To End All Wars” is very much in the same high-quality ballpark. More diverse than any previous SABATON album (although don’t expect any detours into free jazz or Afrobeat) and even more cohesive and self-contained than its excellent predecessor, it’s a supremely confident and coherent statement from a band with world domination in their sights.
The opening “Sarajevo” says it all: it’s classic SABATON, but noticeably more imaginative, and with an evocative, cinematic edge. “Stormtroopers” is an instant sing-along classic, delivered at speed and rich with theatrical flair; “The Unkillable Soldier” is an irrepressible paean to human resilience married to a weirdly danceable hard rock pulse; “Hellfighters” is a rugged, speed metal rampage and one of the gnarliest songs SABATON have ever recorded. In contrast, the closing “Versailles” is a grand and dignified march towards a lasting ceasefire.
We may know what to expect when SABATON make a new album, but the Swedes are getting sharper and more creative with every passing year. “The War To End All Wars” may not tell us anything we don’t already know about humanity’s unrelenting idiocy, but those stories have seldom been told with such passion, energy and heart.