Sabaton – The Great War (earbook edition)
Released: July 2019, NuclearBlast
From memory the last SABATON earbook I bought for The Last Stand was a little disappointing in its inclusions, but when I read The Great War earbook included the standard album as well as the history edition, I decided I wanted both editions of the album and splurged on an earbook for one complete package, however it would have been an even better package had the Soundtrack edition only available in the Great Box edition for those of us not wanting to regress to vinyl.
Apart from the usual lyrics and credits, the pages of the earbook also include background text to each song, different from the introductions in the History Edition, with eyewitness quotes from soldiers and officers. The illustrations represent the style of charcoal sketches which would have been dusted through the pages of so many soldiers’ journals.
WWI isn’t a new subject for SABATON having written songs about the war for other albums – “Cliffs of Gallipoli”, “The Price of a Mile”, “The Lost Battalion”. There are endless battles, participants and historical moments that make up WWI – a war that marks the start of modern history – so to write songs for the album that covered everything would have been impossible; however such a significant war warranted its own album.
My first listening of The Great War was the History Edition on which each song starts with a short narration providing some background information on what the song is about. While I would have liked even more information, the introductions provide just enough information for each song to plant the seed to want to go and find out more, for instance “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” about Lawrence of Arabia reminded me that he was a historical figure, not just a character in a move played by Peter O’Toole. Once in my car CD player, it was going to take another immense album release to replace.
Joakim Brodén’s voice seems a little more gravelly in this album, but it doesn’t deter from the melodic nature of each song. In contrast to the dire content of each song, the music is bright, up-tempo and positive with songs that make you want to listen to the album over and over again. No one instrument dominates providing a listening experience that shouldn’t alienate anyone partial to one instrument or another.
Stand out tracks include “Devil Dogs”, “The Red Baron” and “Fields of Verdun”.
A saving role the USA marines played in WWI is reflected in the anthemic “Devil Dogs”, which invites you to sing along with the chorus and I do every time.
“The Red Baron” also has the same effect with its catchy chorus. Since my first listening, I have continued to play the History Edition more than the standard, mostly to constantly remind myself I want to revisit WWI history. To write this review, I’ve been playing the standard edition and didn’t expect there to be any musical differences between the two album editions, but most notably in the standard edition “The Red Baron” includes a Hammond organ sounding introduction I don’t remember from the History Edition. There could be other slight differences, but I’m yet to pick up on them. Actually, thinking back a lot of the keyboard sounds on the album have the Hammond sound.
“Fields of Verdun” includes a memorable guitar solo by Thobbe Englund. (On a side note, Finnish cello band, APOCALYPTICA, have paid tribute to SABATON by recording a version and performing it live at the Sabaton Open Air this year.)
On the History Edition the words “…what is so great about war?” are included for the song “Great War” about the Battle of Passchendaele, and it’s a question I hear/read a lot. I understand people when they ask that with what’s happening around the world, but I’d like to remind you about the historical use of the word ‘great’. Other than it being used to for rulers (Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great), ‘great’ was also used more as a description of size rather than an adjective of admiration in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, for example Charles Dickins’s “Great Expectations”, Australia’s “Great Diving Range” and “Great Barrier Reef”, the great billed kingfisher bird. So, when World War I was originally referred to at the ‘Great War’ if was a description of its size rather than any admiration or perceived glory.
Apart from “Devil Dogs”, “A Ghost in the Trenches” about a Canadian marksman, reminds us that overseas troops also played a role in WWI – the British Empire army consisted of troops from Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia and New Zealand, etc.).
I kept questioning the inclusion of the song “In Flanders Fields” sung by a choir every time I listened to the album (as I don’t like an album to finish with a slow piece). But, after reading the text explaining the song, I can’t help but tear up and appreciate its inclusion, because I have visited Tyne Cot cemetery (the ground on which the Battle of Passchendaele was fought), and the WWI museum and Meningate in Ypres/Ieper to soak in the history that historians consider as the birth of the Australian as a nation rather than an extension of the British Empire.
To give you an understanding of why I (a female) relate so much to and enjoy SABATON’s musical concept, while I was growing up I was a member of a Russian scout group (in exile) – not to be confused with the Soviet Union Pioneers. Apart from learning about Russian history, culture and religion during our summer camps, at each nightly campfire we sang songs; some about scouting, some folk, but mostly about trials and triumphs of wars and battles and sometimes from the other perspective written by SABATON (“Poltava” from Carolus Rex).
I fear I have written more about the subject of SABATON’s The Great War than a review of the songs themselves, however it’s hard to not write about it. The quality and uniqueness of SABATON’s music can’t be confused with any other band. Many people reading this will probably know (or have heard stories about) a grandfather, uncle, father, great grandfather, great uncle or even someone still alive who was somehow involved in WWI, therefore be able to relate in one way or another to The Great War album.
Love them or hate them, SABATON have carved a unique niche in the power metal genre with a fan base so strong they stage their own festival; and with global conflict only seeming to increase, there will never be a lack of stories for new songs.
2 CDs – History and standard editions containing the same songs
1. The future of warfare
2. Seven pillars of wisdom
3. 82nd all the way
4. The attack of the dead men
5. Devil dogs
6. The Red Baron
7. Great War
8. A ghost in the trenches
9. Fields of Verdun
10. The end of the war to end all wars
11. In Flanders fields
Joakim Brodén – lead vocals
Chris Rörland – lead guitars
Tommy Johansson – rhythm guitars
Pär Sundström – bass
Hannes van Dahl – drums