The Art of War

Sometimes the premise makes you laugh. Such is the case with Sabaton. Swedish power/heavy metal band singing about war. Before I was able to chuckle at the fact that Sweden last fought in a war so long ago no one actually remembers it anymore, the well-oiled heavy metal war machine shocked and awed me with their latest album The Art of War, forcing me to drown the laughter with a gulp.

Those unfamiliar with this relevant band (as Russia and Georgia are currently going head to head), as I was before this album, should think of Bolt Thrower but remove the King Tiger Death Metal and switch it with Swedish/German power metal acts and throw in some Manowar. The string trio cuts through the front lines with catchy melodies, to the point riffs, roaming solos and by-the-book bass cover fire. Daniel Mullback brings order to the scene with his determined drumming, sometimes blitzkrieging through the songs with plenty of ferocity. Daniel Myhr completes the musical division with his supportive keyboard work that never strays out of its place. On top of it all, we’re treated with Joakim Brodén’s distinctive but commanding vocal delivery that features teutonic and even slavic undertones in pronunciation, making it all the more interesting. Unlike most of his compatriots in the genre, he leads the chariots with a harsher delivery. No ball-grabbing for high squeals here and that’s the way it ought to be. Every now and then, additional reinforcements come in the shape of choirs that usually go hand-in-hand with the tasty sing-a-long -parts. Sure you’ve heard it all, but the execution is nearly as perfect as was the element of surprise in Pearl Harbor and the band clearly carries its own personality through, raising it from the gutter to the spearhead. It also helps that instead of singing about slaying dragons and poking the maid in her prime, we’re treated with a manly subject of historic accuracy.

While the theme of Sun Tzu lingers around in short quotations from the book (usually relevant to the song at hand), the lyrics mainly revolve around more specific subjects with altering viewpoints. For example, the can of whoopass opener, “Ghost Division”, with its fast paced harmonies and vocal urgency tells a tale of Rommel’s armored shock force that took France by surprise. Such fast precision attacks that pierce through the lines, are also heard on songs like “40-1” and “Talvisota” of which the first tells story of Polish defenders against German attackers, while the latter introduces the world to the Frozen Hell of 1939 where Finnish army fought hard to protect its soil against a much more sizeable Soviet force.  The title song, “The Art of War” is a more epic and slower cut and somewhat more sinister than the rest. “Firestorm” brings a galloping closure that ties everything together, distantly resembling Manowar’s fast-paced combat maneuvers like “The Power of Thy Sword” or “Kill with Power” (not least because of the DIE! DIE! -shouts.)

However, two of my favorites on the album are not double bass-abusing counterstrikes but the more battle hymns like “Cliffs of Gallipoli” and “The Price of a Mile”. The first one is a beautiful piece that questions the cost of war while referring to the particular battle in Turkey in 1915. Some nice piano work and a theatrical approach bring a certain Iced Earth feel into mind. As for “The Price of a Mile” (about the unsurpassed meatgrinder that was World War 1), I take it’s going to kill live as the chorus “Thousands of feet march to the beat / It’s an army on the march / Long way from home / Paying the price in young men’s lives / Thousands of feet march to the beat / It’s an army in despair / Knee-deep in mud / stuck in the trench with no way out” is possibly the catchiest thing I’ve heard all year (and that goes for most of the choruses featured on the album.) The choir is used to perfection here, pinning the song down with the rest of the truly magical Heavy Metal Anthems. It’s a song that’ll surely raise fists to the air, uniting everyone in the audience like the event of war unites those experiencing it.

The album is perfectly balanced; when furious hand-to-hand combat starts to consume the listener, it’s time for a lull with the more mid-paced songs (such as “Panzerkampf” and its romantic Mother Russia -chants.) The slower anthems are the calm before storm when everyone’s thrown back into the turmoil again. The production is also clear but meaty and heavy, leaving nothing to complain about on that department either.

I have to say this is one of those unexpected gems of 2008. Sabaton’s The Art of War is a prime example of quality heavy metal. Standing tall with its own two legs, carrying its battleworn, baptized-by-fire body proudly. Ready to fight and make an impact, rather than drown and lay forgotten at the bottom of the sea like the lost souls of naval warfare. In fact, musically the feeling I got from the first listen was similar to that when I heard Avantasia’s debut album; sure it wasn’t anything that no one hadn’t heard before but none the less it was clear that it was something special. Of course, time will only tell how The Art of War holds up in the long run, but after so many repeated listens and it still kicking my ass like an Arc Light’s barrage, I’ve got a positive feeling…

Cover your field of fire and GET IT! That’s a direct order!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Mikko K.
August 11th, 2008


  1. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    whats this a review from Apollyon???????????????? whats next??? a review from Chris Dick? cats and dogs getting along???????????

  2. Commented by: Apollyon

    Hell, maybe there’s gonna be a grammatically-correct-Erik?


  3. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    Not gonna happne :)

  4. Commented by: Chris D

    ^ Erik, you may just be surprised.

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