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The Last Stand
Released: 2016, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Mark Uricheck (Guest Writer)
Metal’s foremost military historians are back with another brutal musical lecture on some of the world’s most impressive final bastions of battle – hence the title THE LAST STAND The sound is unmistakably Sabaton – there are the fist-first gang vocals, panzer-like rhythmic propulsion, and Tipton/Downing-inspired guitar interplay that have made Sabaton a veritable force of nature. This record, however, sees the band really flex their songwriting muscle.
There are some notable points to be made with this album. First, it’s the final studio record to feature guitarist Thobbe Englund, who recently left the band on amicable terms. Second, it’s the first Sabaton album to feature a song written in a major key – the single “Blood of Bannockburn,” a tale of a Scottish victory over the English at the siege of Stirling Castle in 1314. What’s that - bagpipes and Hammond organ in a Sabaton song? “Blood of Bannockburn” has ‘em both – early points of contention among some fans online shortly after the single’s release, but ultimately proving to move the band beyond stagnation. The overall feel of this album is a little challenging to the listener; not in a knee-jerk, progressive sort of way, but with an air of renewed excitement and vitality.
If you’re a fan of synths front and center in a Sabaton song, you’ll be pleased with cuts like “Shiroyama” and the title track – both of which feature keys prominently in the mix. “Shiroyama,” in particular, possesses that same defiant, anthemic aural quality that classic Sabaton tracks like “Ghost Division” (from 2008’s THE ART OF WAR) had. You can’t help but root for the underdog samurai facing the impending onslaught of the Imperial Japanese Army (the song tells of the 1877 Battle of Shiroyama in Japan, marking the end of the Satsuma Rebellion) – vocalist Joakim Broden beseechingly sings of an “Imperial force defied, facing 500 samurai, surrounded and outnumbered, 60 to 1 the sword face the gun.”
The album’s opener, “Sparta,” is easily a standout – with a grandiose opening akin to the auditory picture of a majestic coronation of medieval kings; the orchestration haunts. The track soon dives headlong into some of the heaviest staccato riffing Sabaton’s ever done, with an over-the-top, layered vocal akin to the title track of 2006’s ALTERO DOMINATUS. The track is a wild ride, with a few separate rhythmic movements along the way – drummer Hannes Van Dahl shining on this number with a rumbling, floor-tom pattern that shakes foundations. Again, the band really spreads their wings, instrumentally, to the overall benefit of the album.
It’s difficult to imagine how a band that tours as incessantly as Sabaton found the time to devote such detail and attention to the arrangements of each song, but clearly, this is an album they shed some blood, sweat, and tears over. With THE LAST STAND Sabaton’s music becomes even more of a calculated march to victory – these guys simply don’t back down.
2. Last Dying Breath
3. Blood of Bannockburn
4. Diary of an Unknown Soldier
5. The Lost Battalion
6. Rorke's Drift
7. The Last Stand
8. Hill 3234
10. Winged Hussars
11. The Last Battle
Joakim Brodén Vocals
Thobbe Englund Guitar
Chris Rörland Guitar
Pär Sundström Bass
Hannes Van Dahl Drums
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