The War to End All Wars

There’s something that feels a little… I dunno… strange about listening to Sabaton these days. Right?

To be fair, it’s not like war hasn’t been a constant part about being on planet Earth. But WORLD War? Jeez, seems sort of… archaic, no? Making bombastic, rousing power metal about heroism and battlefield glory and all that seems fun and exciting when the possibility of nuclear apocalypse isn’t breathing down our collective necks. And there was no way Sabaton could possibly have known that the potential real War to End All Wars would break out just before dropping an album of the same name. Tough luck, that.

But here we are, waiting with bated breath to see what shoe decides to drop next, and in truth, it’s unlikely that any set of circumstances could ever stop Sabaton from being Sabaton. They are no longer just a band – they’re an entity unto themselves. It’s no longer good enough to just show up with some new music – they have to deliver an entire experience – something that only a handful of acts in the world are truly capable of doing on any kind of similar level (Powerwolf and Amon Amarth come to mind, and perhaps the ONLY band capable of going bigger – Iron Maiden – though I’m not even sure if that’s true anymore). They’re a band not content to just sit back and deliver a standard album or put on a regular live show – they have to record gunshots and explosions to sample as drum sounds, they have to release 3 versions of an album including a “Soundtrack Version” and one with narration to create a fully cinematic-like experience, they have to host their own music festival AND cruise festival, and invite an entire military-garbed choir on stage to back them up. If it’s the true essence of Power metal you’re looking for – absolutely NO ONE is doing it with more unapologetic excess, with a more singular mindset of existing only for itself – than Sabaton.

Which makes reviewing The War to End All Wars something of a weird experience, because that over-the-top, go-for-broke Sabaton trademark? This sorta… isn’t quite it, exactly. Does that make The War to End All Wars unworthy Sabaton’s massive legacy?

No. Of course it doesn’t.

Getting to the nitty-gritty of it, The War to End All Wars is sort of an extension of 2019’s excellent The Great War. The band themselves even admitted that one album just simply was not enough to cover the massive scale of World War I (frankly, I’m not sure even two albums is scratching the surface), so they’ve gone back to the trenches to try and tell more of the stories they just couldn’t get to on the first go-around. But there are some definite differences between the two. While The Great War may have been the band’s biggest, boldest crown achievement yet, The War to End All Wars is a more streamlined, somewhat toned-back production (at least by Sabaton’s heavily inflated standards of scale). It’s almost as if the band really wanted to put more focus on the stories they were telling, instead of seeing how big they could go for the sake of grandeur. One could argue that goes against who the band is at their core, but the end result is actually very refreshing. Tracks like “The Unkillable Soldier,” “Soldier of Heaven” and “The Valley of Death” are truly some of the most focused, catchy tracks the band has ever put together, making it even easier to put a dumb grin on your face and sing along with your most outlandish macho voice – and isn’t that the whole point, anyway? You might come away more blown away by the sheer magnitude of The Last Stand or no-holds-barred attack of Heroes, but TWTEAW establishes the band as some of the metal world’s great songwriters, cheesiness and all.

“Hellfighters” is a perfect example of the band’s more laser-guided, precision attack. It’s a completely standard song structure, with fun, effective riffs reminiscent of a more modern Amon Amarth track, and it’s all pulled together with the kind of earworm chorus you’ve come to expect from these guys, and an excellent solo that shows off Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson’s technical prowess without beating you to death with excess. It’s simple, and it still friggin’ slaps. It’s a sense of restraint that only further solidifies the band’s already ever-present confidence. But the crown jewel of this album by far is the insanely beautiful “Christmas Truce,” a song about the all-too-brief respite soldiers got on Christmas Day of 1914, where enemies laid down their rifles and left the trenches to come together and reclaim some sense of their humanity and mutual respect, before the bloodshed continued again the day after. It is one of the band’s most epic, poignant songs to date, and yet it still doesn’t try to do more than it needs to. You’d be forgiven if you expected a 2 minute break for the German-American Children’s Chorus to come in for a rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” backed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra or something, but no – some simple piano, a few chimes, and some really great, subtle backing vocals paint the picture just as vividly, with just as much an impact. You’ll even notice the piano strongly resembles “Carol of the Bells,” which is just a really clever play by the band. It’s really one of the band’s all-time greats.

Let me be absolutely clear – The War to End All Wars may indeed show an impressive, if unexpected level of restraint, but this is still a Sabaton record, through and through. It may be a little more subtle in its approach, more refined in its execution, but we’re talking about a band on a level of pomp and grandeur that is completely unmatched, so don’t get carried away and think they’re playing it soft. I really do think Sabaton have started to find a really nice middle ground here between rockets-blasting, swaggering excess, and good old-fashioned songwriting. Where The Great War and The Last Stand have the stylized flash and bombast of James Cameron or Steven Spielberg’s most audacious movies, The War to End All Wars is Saving Private Ryan. Just as epic, but with even greater impact. They’ve learned they can still get your heart racing and blood pumping, AND bring you to tears, without having to suffocate you in the process. When you put the whole picture together – the music, the live shows, the music videos and youtube history lessons, everything that the band touches and puts out into the world, there still is not a single band on earth even touching the meticulously crafted, all-encompassing production that is Sabaton. They’re simply the biggest Heavy metal band on Earth.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
March 7th, 2022


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