It’s that time again. Regular as clockwork, and in the fashion of the great heavy metal acts of old, Sabaton release a new album pretty much every two years on the nose. Frankly, it’s hard to believe it’s been two years since the fantastic Heroes came out, but there you go.
The theme of The Last Stand is just that – a hail mary, backs-against-the-wall situation during warfare. For a rundown of each track, check out our recent feature – I’ll try to focus more on the music! The album’s available in many formats including one with a live DVD and another in an actual freaking tank!
Opener “Sparta” is a great start to the album and has a genuinely epic feel to it, which suits the subject matter. If you don’t know the story, force yourself to sit through 300 – or better, read the comics. Strident keys and a marching beat kick the whole thing off before it dips into something verging on Rammstein territory. This classic slow Sabaton, though, with the focus on the vocals and a chorus that cries out for a live show.
“Last Dying Breath” has a more hard rock / Europe edge to it, certainly in the intro and chorus – I think it’s the keyboards. Brash and loud, but like “Sparta” that bit darker once the song proper kicks in.
The track that’s caused all the controversy online is “Battle of Bannockburn” and – taken as a Sabaton track – it’s understandable. It’s almost poppy at the start, with a different tone to what we’re used to. Bagpipes feature throughout, backing the vocals in places. On the other hand it’s incredibly upbeat, catchy as all hell and if they didn’t play it on Scottish dates I’d for their safety leaving the venues. I’ll confess I wasn’t a fan on first listen when the lyric video was released. Having had the album on repeat play over the last few days, though, I’ve softened to it. Obviously the subject matter sucks, but I’m saying that as I’m English. I’m like a Persian complaining about “Sparta”!
“Diary of an Unknown Soldier” is a short, vocal track – an unusual linking fifty seconds that I don’t think the band have attempted before. The only similar one I can think of off the top of my head is “Sun Tzu Says”, but this is a very different beast. There’s not percussive instrumentation in it – all the beats and thumps are gunfire. It leads into “The Lost Battalion”, one of the highlights of the album for me. It’s got a great heavy chorus, and some emotive background instruments (keys or strings, I’m not sure) which make the hairs stand up. It’s probably the closest in sound to the last album.
The tempo is kicked up a notch again with a cracking intro for “Rorke’s Drift” – check out the superb 1964 Michael Caine film Zulu for the story. This track pretty much doesn’t let up, ploughing through its length at breakneck speed. This sets up the title track which takes us back into safe Sabaton territory to the point where a few notes in the intro remind me of “Coat of Arms”. It’s got one of those choruses that just begs to be bounced to and I can see audienced really going for this one.
“Hill 3234” is another heavier number. A foot-tapper / head-nodder which is great to listen to, but not destined to be a classic on the live show setlist, at least in my opinion. On the other hand, it does have a cracking “hey, hey” fist-pumping break in the latter half before the guitar solo… which made me want to sing “Die… by my hand… I creep across the land”. It’s got the same rhythm as “Creeping Death”!
The band could have been forgiven for making Shiroyama sound like a track by Whispers given the Japanese setting, but they’ve opted to only have one song (“Bannockburn”) on the album heavily influenced by indigenous music. Instead we have a moderately bouncy number with a nice, catchy chorus.
“Winged Hussars” reads straight from the Sabaton Guide On How To Write Sabaton Songs – keys and guitars leading the intro, deep vocals, soaring chorus and the use of a lot of backing singers to really belt out some of the lyrics. Not perhaps the catchiest of songs on the album, but certainly one of the most impressive in terms of production.
All great things must come to an end, and The Last Stand closes with “The Last Battle” which ties things up nicely, delving back into the familiar territory of WWII but with a very interesting story of Germans and Americans fighting together. I wouldn’t say they saved the best for last, but it’s a belter nonetheless.
The production throughout is superb – pretty much what we expect from Sabaton and regular producer Peter Tägtgren (who, coincidentally, I interviewed yesterday about his upcoming new Pain album – online soon!). It took me a couple of listens to get into some of the tracks while others were instant personal hits. For sure, some songs are better than others but overall it definitely meets Sabaton’s high standards and I genuinely can’t see any fans being disappointed. Yes, they’ve tried something a little different here and there, but who wants the same stuff album after album?
As I mentioned earlier, there are various versions of the CD and these include from zero to three additional tracks, all cover versions – none of them on our review copy, so I guess I’ll just have to buy a copy of my own. What a shame! The tracks are:
- All Guns Blazing
- Afraid To Shoot Strangers
All three superb songs in their original versions. I can’t wait to hear what Sabaton have done with them.
The Last Stand is out on August 19th through Nuclear Blast.