ALBUM REVIEW: “The Last Stand” is Sabaton’s Best Album Yet

Swedish metallers Sabaton are back on the scene with the release of their 8th studio album, The Last Stand, and the fine people at Nuclear Blast Records were nice enough to send us a copy on release day, which was August 19th (we tried to get it earlier, but they were keeping a tight lid on it) to review, and wow, I can’t find anything wrong with the album. For the uninitiated, Sabaton are a power metal band out of Sweden who play war music, and their backstory is pretty unique and interesting. They formed as a band who had no idea how to play instruments, and handed out blank demo tapes. In 2012, shortly after recording Corolus Rex, most of Sabaton’s members would leave the band, with only lead singer Joakim Brodén and guitarist Pär Sundström remaining. The departing members would be replaced by touring members Chris RörlandThobbe Englund and Robban Bäck. Bäck was replaced by Hannes van DahlHannes van Dahl in 2013, while Englund has been replaced by Tommy Johansson for The Last Stand.

While past Sabaton albums such as Coat of Arms and Carolus Rex were linear – each song comprised part of a story that was told throughout the ablum (Coat of Arms chronicling Nazi-occupied Europe and Carolus Rex following the story of the last king of the Swedish Empire) – Sabaton began experimenting with concept albums – each song tells a different story while following the same thing – with 2014’s Heroes, and what follows with The Last Stand is another concept album, this time following the theme of famous last battles. I was first introduced to Sabaton in 2015 when they were supporting Heroes while on tour with Nightwish. I went to the show by myself, because I never miss Nightwish, and the girl sitting next to me asked me if I knew of Sabaton. I didn’t, so she began telling me about them and told me to just listen to their music without judging it when they came on. I’ve been in love with the band ever since, and I can tell you all about every one of their albums. I’ve had The Last Stand for three days as of this writing (I’m writing this on Monday), and it took one full listen to love the album.

As I mentioned above, The Last Stand is a concept album that follows the theme of famous last battles, and it opens with the track Sparta, whose title should be self explanatory. Sparta follows the Battle of Thermopylae between the Leonidas-led Spartans (of 300 fame) and the Persian Empire, which took place during the second Persian invasion of Greece way back in 480 BC. I apologize for the history lesson, but it’s impossible to review a Sabaton album without giving one. Sparta is one of the album’s heaviest tracks – the album as a whole is not as heavy as past albums, but is still heavy enough to satisfy fans – and sets the tone for the rest of the album’s tracks that chronicle historic last battles in similar fashion.

The album’s second track is titled Last Dying Breath, the topic of which is former Serbian Major and later Yugoslav military officer Dragutin Gavrilović. The song chronicles his military life from his command of Serbia’s 2nd Battalion of the 10th Cadre Regiment during the Austro-Hungarian and German invasion of Belgrade during World War I and tells the story of his life in combat up until his death. Following up on Last Dying Breath is Blood of Bannockburn, which tells the story of the First War of Scottish Independence through the war’s final battle, the Battle of Bannockburn as Scotland fought to take back Stirling Castle from the English. The harmonies on Blood of Bannockburn are absolutely perfect and the lyrics – “join the Scottish revolution, freedom must be won by blood; now we call for evolution, play the pipes and cry out loud! – do an amazing job of telling the story of the track’s namesake battle, something Sabaton were always good at.

The album’s fourth track is of the spoken-word variety, titled Diary of an Unknown Soldier, in which a single voice discusses the Battle of the Argonne Forest, which was the final allied offensive of World War I. Checking in at just under a minute, Diary of an Unknown Solider leads directly into the album’s first single, The Lost Battalion. As you might imagine, The Lost Battalion also chronicles the Battle of the Argonne Forest, this time following, well, the lost battalion, which was the name given to 9 companies of the US 77th Division, who were isolated and pinned down by the German army in the Argonne Forest in 1918. The song’s chorus – “Far from their land as they made their stand,  disregarded demand; it’s surrender or die and the stakes are high. They live, or they die, there’s no time for goodbye. Weapon in hand, they made their stand, still disregarding demand; they would never comply, they would rather die. Broke through the blockade, they were finally saved! – helps to take you through the battle and also serves to tell the story of how “the lost battalion” fought their way through the German roadblocks to finally be rescued in the Argonne Forest, and is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.

Normally we’re at the point in the review where I skip some of the filler and get to the better tracks, but as you might have guessed by now, I am way too in love with his album and am going to go through the entire thing, though I’ll be brief with some of the tracks. Rorke’s Drift is up next, which takes you through the story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu war (has anyone else heard of this? I’m American, we didn’t learn about these things in school) and this song particular is my least favorite on the entire album. That’s not to say it’s a bad song; it’s not, but being sandwiched between The Lost Battalion and the album’s title track The Last Stand doesn’t do it any favors. And that makes for a nice segue into The Last Stand, the chorus of which was used at the end of the lyric videos for each of the album’s singles leading up to it’s August 19th release, and I had always liked it and wanted to know which song it was. Now that I know, and have listened to it (excuse me while I check iTunes) a whopping 16 times since Friday, I love it even more. The Last Stand is yet another track with amazingly perfect harmonies to go with its power metal riffs. The song itself details the Stand of the Swiss Guard against the Habsburg troops during the sacking of Rome in 1527.

I’m going to skip Hill 3234 for now and touch on it later, because the track after that is by far my absolute favorite on the album, and is quickly becoming one of my favorite Sabaton songs period. That song is Shiroyama, which tells of the Battle of Shiroyama, which would ultimately be the end of the Satsuma Rebellion (yes, I’m Googling this). The story goes that the Japanese samurai, who were led by Saigō Takamorimade their last stand against the Japanese Imperial Forces, which ended in Saigō’s death and the annihilation of the samurai. As the chorus goes, “Imperial force defied, facing 500 samurai. Surrounded and outnumbered, 60 to 1, the sword face the gun. Bushido dignified, it’s the last stand of the samurai” – once again, the vocals and harmonies combine perfectly with the music and the theme of the song to make it the absolute best track on The Last Stand, and like I said, it’s quickly becoming my favorite Sabaton song ever.

Now would be a good time to touch on Hill 3234, which takes us into the not too distant past and tells of the battle for just what the name says, Hill 3234 in Afghanistan during the first Gulf War. It’s the first time I can remember that Sabaton recorded a song about a war so recent, as most of their past music has centered around World War I, World War II and earlier, more obscure history. The song isn’t a filler, but again, it’s placed between two of the best songs on the album and I find myself skipping over it after the first dozen or so listens. Since I’ve already covered Shiroyama, that only leaves two tracks. The first of which is Winged Hussars, which was the name given to the Polish cavalry, and the song discusses them and their role in the Battle of Vienna during 1683. The legend goes that while Vienna was under attack by the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburgs, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Holy Roman Empire united to fight against the Muslim Ottoman Empire, and yet the three armies were outnumbered 15-1 until the Winged Hussars showed up, as the chorus goes: “Dedication, Dedication. They’re outnumbered 15 to one and the battle’s begun. Then the winged hussars arrived, coming down the mountainside. Then the winged hussars arrived, coming down they turned the tide!” – Winged Hussars is yet another great song on The Last Stand, and serves as the perfect lead-in to the album’s closing track.

That closing track would be The Last Battle, which tells through music the story of the Battle of Castle Itter during World War II in 1945. It’s the only World War II-themed song on an album full of final-battle themes, and coincidentally enough, the song tells of the only time in World War II that the US and German forces fought side by side. The story goes that members of the US 23rd Tank Battalion teamed up with members of the German Wehrmacht (Defense Force) and some French prisoners to defend Castle Itter against an attack by the Hitler-led Nazi 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, who were ordered to attack by Hitler’s right hand man, Heinrich Himmler. The song itself is the perfect way to end a great album, and like every song on The Last Stand, the lyrics make you feel like you’re living through history. They recount exactly what happened in almost step-by-step detail, making the listener feel like he or she is actually there.

Sabaton’s The Last Stand is just amazing, from start to finish. The music, the harmonies, the lyrics. All are well written and well executed, and with the exception of Hill 3234 and Rorke’s Drift, all are stationed in perfect order. Both of those tracks feel out of place, but neither are bad songs, there are just 9 better tracks on this album that will grab the attention of anyone listening. I’m not entirely sure why I went to high school or paid college tuition, because I’ve learned more about world history in the year that I’ve been listening to Sabaton than I did in 8 years of high school and college, that’s how well Sabaton takes you on a tour through the world’s biggest wars, tragedies and shining moments. I’m a huge fan of Coat of Arms and Carolus Rex, but The Last Stand is far and away Sabaton’s best album, and I am very, very excited for them to be coming to NYC as support for Trivium later this year. I will always love Sabaton, and The Last Stand shows why.

Here’s the track listing for The Last Stand, with Sabaton’s tour dates below that. It’s worth noting that the extended edition of The Last Stand includes two bonus tracks, Camouflage and All Guns Blazing, but we weren’t given the extended edition and therefore won’t be discussing the bonus tracks.

01. Sparta
02. Last Dying Breath
03. Blood Of Bannockburn
04. Diary Of An Unknown Soldier
05. The Lost Battalion
06. Rorke’s Drift
07. The Last Stand
08. Hill 3234
09. Shiroyama
10. Winged Hussars
11. The Last Battle

Sabaton US tour dates

09/15 – Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall
09/16 – Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Soundstage
09/17 – Philadelphia, PA – Rock Allegiance – Festival
09/19 – Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
09/20 – Little Rock, AR – Clear Channel Metroplex Event Center
09/22 – Denver, CO – Summit Music Hall
09/23 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater
09/24 – Tempe, AZ – Marquee Theatre
09/25 – San Bernardino, CA – Ozzfest Meets Knotfest – Festival
09/27 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Complex
09/29 – Omaha, NE – Sokol Auditorium
09/30 – Minneapolis, MN – Mill City Nights
10/02 – Louisville, KY – Louder Than Life – Festival

10/04 – Peoria, IL – Limelight Eventplex
10/06 – Dallas, TX – Gas Monkey Live
10/07 – Houston, TX – Scout Bar
10/08 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom
10/10 – Pittsburgh, PA – Stage AE
10/11 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza

10/13 – Poughkeepsie, NY – The Chance
10/15 – Binghamton, NY – Magic City Music Hall*
10/17 – Charleston, SC – The Music Farm*
10/18 – Tampa, FL – State Theater *
10/19 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Revolution Live*
10/21 – Orlando, FL – House of Blues*

 

 

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