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SABATON The Last Stand

By Jay Roberts, Massachusetts Contributor
Monday, September 26, 2016 @ 2:02 PM

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The Last Stand

Nuclear Blast Records - 2016

While the stock in trade for SABATON is material gleaned from military and war histories, the thing that makes the band so good at mining this particular storytelling vein is how they vary up what they write about.

On their last album, Heroes, the songs all touched on individuals or small groups involved in World War II. For the band's latest offering, they have now written about all sorts of famous last stands throughout history.

It probably comes as no surprise that the opening track on the CD is a song about the Battle of Thermopylae. If that doesn't ring a bell, they made a movie about it in recent years that I'm sure you've heard of: 300.

And while I loved that movie, I have to say that the song here, "Sparta", is actually kind of weak. The saving grace of the album is that this is pretty much the only track that doesn't give the listener a jolt of unexpected energy.

From ancient Greece all the way through the Soviet-Afghan War in 1988 ("Hill 3234"), SABATON confidently recaps those famous last stands (both successes and failures) in such a manner that while you get a history lesson, you don't feel as if it is some mundane droning lecture.

The method in which the stories are conveyed also vary. There are some grandiose songs with big backing vocals but a number of the tracks are so frenetically paced that it actually lends a sense of chaos that must've been going through the minds of the participants at the time of each battle.

"The Last Battalion" talks about the Battle of Argonne and it has that grandiose sound to it. The lyrics don't skimp on details and the chorus has a lofty feel to it. The song is preceded by the spoken word piece "Diary Of An Unknown Soldier" that features ICED EARTH's Jon Schaffer doing the reading.

Tracks like "Winged Hussars" and "The Last Battle" are also big epic pieces that also note a rather noticeable influence of keyboards. Moreso than on SABATON's Heroes album, keyboards influence a lot of the album's bigger, almost orchestral, sounding songs.

As for the chaotic feeling, that fiery pacing helps enhance the lyrical storylines of songs like "Last Dying Breath" and "Rorke's Drift". The songs are relentlessly paced, a musical version of whiplash that must just tire the band out when they play live.

It should be mentioned that the album's liner notes not only include the lyrics for each song, but a brief summation of each famous last stand so that you know the story in both verse and prose.

There's a standard version of the CD with 11 cuts, but the deluxe edition contains two bonus tracks as well as a full length live concert DVD. The two extra tracks are covers. The song "Camouflage" was written by Stan Ridgway and it is about a Marine lost in the jungles of Vietnam in 1965. The other song is a cover of the JUDAS PRIEST song "All Guns Blazing". While the song is not about any particular last stand, it is thematically in line with the concept behind this disc.

I found all the songs, but the previously mentioned "Sparta", eminently enjoyable but there were three songs in particular that stood out most to me.

The first would be the the title track which is about the slaughter of 189 soldiers of the Swiss Guard in 1527. The song talks about their service to the Holy See and their deaths on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.

Not normally one for religion in any form, I couldn't help but be moved by this song with its lyrical storyline and the bravery displayed by the men that gave their lives.

"The Blood Of Bannockburn" is about the battle for Scotland to be free of their English overlords. This happened 9 years after the death of William Wallace (made even more famous by the Braveheart movie) and led to the crowning of Robert The Bruce.

On this particular track you got both the sense of the grandiose and at the same time felt that chaos of battles long past. The chorus is fantastic: "Join the Scottish revolution/Freedom must be won by blood/Now we call for revolution /Play the pipes and cry out loud".

Perhaps because I have had a mild fascination for the martial culture of Japan's ninja and samurai since I was a kid, the song "Shiroyama" might just be my own personal favorite cut on The Last Stand. While it feels disrespectful given the circumstances of the storyline, I have to say that SABATON managed to cut a song that not only gives a history lesson but you can actually sing along with. Detailing the end of the way of the samurai as the modern age came to Japan, it infuriates as it enlightens. And a powerful chorus only serves to magnify the song's power: "Imperial forces defied, facing 500 samurai/Surrounded and outnumbered, 60 to 1, the sword face the gun/Bushido dignified, it's the last stand of the samurai/surrounded and outnumbered."

It strikes me a bit funny that if I'd been forced to learn about these historical events as a part of schooling, I'd likely have been depressingly uninterested. But with a master's touch of music and lyrical writing (not to mention singer Joakim Broden's throaty vocals), SABATON makes these stories come alive for me and likely anyone else who listens to the disc. The fact that the album lends itself to repeated listenings only serves the band that much better.

The band has fashioned another metal masterpiece as The Last Stand finds SABATON once more at the peak of their musical creativity and the metal world is better for that.

4.7 Out Of 5.0

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