Before I start to talk about Sabaton’s 7th full length release in Carolus Rex, I’d like to point out how little of the Scandinavian countries history I knew. You see, Carolus Rex is centered around the Swedish Empire from the 17th to 18th century. For whatever reason (unless they are now) when I was in school our history lessons involved the U.S. obviously and Europe and that was about it. Unless you took world civilization courses but I don’t believe Sweden was ever covered. So if part of Sabaton’s goal was to educate the masses a bit on Sweden’s history then they succeeded. But what about the music itself? Is this concept album any good?
Of course it is. Especially if you’re a long time Sabaton fan like myself. Sabaton gets lumped into the power metal set quite a bit and I can sort of see it with most of the themes centering around war and anthems that fill you with the glory of battle. But unlike their optimistic motivators and dragon fighters in such bands as Rhapsody of Fire and Hammerfall there was always an edge to their music that was also a nod to the more traditional metal bands of the NWOBHM type too. I believe the band was aware that they were beginning to pigeonhole themselves into being just a war metal band after the first few releases focused on more contemporary battles like World War II and Vietnam and so changed direction slightly over the past two or three releases to incorporate more focused themes such as Sun Tzu’s writings on the Art of War or in this case the events leading up to the reign of Charles XII a.k.a Carolus Rex.
For the first time in Sabaton’s history there are two versions of an album with one being sung all in Swedish and the English version for us ignorant types that don’t speak the mother tongue. Obviously I listened to the English version and this has to be the most epic album of Sabaton’s career which is saying quite a bit. The album opens with a symphonic intro that transitions into a powerful song ‘The Lion from the North’ complete with choir and fist pumping riffs. The next track is Gott Mit Uns which loosely translates to God With us and is a mid tempo anthem. ‘A Lifetime of War’ is the ballad which highlights what Sabaton has been about all along. Though they sing about war constantly there is no objectifying of it in any of their songs. ‘1648’ closes out the first half of the album and the first half of the Swedish empire in question. The second half begins with ‘The Carolean’s Prayer’ which probably has the most memorable riff and chorus on the album. The title track follows suit and is sung from the perspective of Charles XII as he wages war and conquers.
There are more tracks but for the sake of boring you I’ll just say that while this album is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard in Sabaton’s catalog it’s not perfect. The second half of the album begins to lose steam in trying to be as melodic and epic as the first half but makes up for it on the last two tracks. Peter Tagtren of Hypocrisy fame is the producer and I like what he’s done with the mix. The last few Sabaton albums must have been recorded at low volumes because at least with earbuds I always found I had to crank the volume up but with Carolus Rex it’s at a normal level of volume. Aside from that the symphonic and choral parts were recorded superbly as there is a full, rich sound from then when they show up to mix with the metal riffs. And of course the centerpiece of Sabaton’s music is vocalist Joakim Brodén and his baritone, at times gruff, vocals that set Sabaton apart from other power metal bands. If you’re going to do this genre then have some edge to your vocals and Joakim always delivers.
If you’re a fan of Sabaton you should enjoy Carolus Rex,maybe more then the past few releases since Primo Victoria. If you’re new to them and pine for the days of riff laden hooks by the likes of Accept,Judas Priest,or Maiden then Sabaton is worth your time. Normally concept albums are a hit or miss proposition but if you go into one already interested in the premise and it’s not executed poorly then it can be pretty enjoyable which was the case for me here.
Well played Sabaton, well played.
Here is the lyric video for the track ‘ A Lifetime of War’ and be sure to pick up a copy of Carolus Rex on May 22nd.