Civil War - The killer angels 4/5

Reviewed: 10-1-13


1. King of the sun
2. First to fight
3. Saint Patrick’s Day
4. Rome is falling
5. Sons of Avalon
6. I will rule the universe
7. Lucifer’s court
8. Brother Judas
9. My own worst enemy
10. Gettysburg
11. Children of the grave

By now, you probably know the story. 6 Swedish kids from the town of Falun form a band with dreams of rock’n’roll greatness. (Actually 5 of them form the band and the 6th one comes along a bit later, if you want to split hairs about it.) Lo and behold, the dream comes true. Step by step, bit by bit, with untold hard work and an abundant expenditure of blood, sweat and tears, the lads from Falun take the world by storm. They play Europe’s biggest festivals. Then they sign to Europe’s biggest heavy metal label. Wherever they play, people dress like them, wear their hair like them, and sing every word to every song. But somewhere along the way, something changes. 4 of these friends are unceremoniously sacked from the band at the same time, on the eve of the release of their first Nuclear Blast CD and their first headlining tour of America. The remaining 2 guys recruit new musicians, and continue to scale ever-greater heights of commercial success around the globe on their Swedish Empire tour. But what happens to the other 4 members?

Under the circumstances, the ex-members of Sabaton (guitarists Rikard Sunden and Oskar Montelius, drummer Daniel Mullback, and keyboardist Daniel Myhr) would have been forgiven for becoming bitter, leaving the industry and moving on to other endeavors. But that’s not what they did. Instead, they recruited a well-traveled fantastic Swedish vocalist, Nils Patrik Johansson (Astral Doors, Lion’s Share, Wuthering Heights, etc.), and a bass player named Pizza (I didn’t make that last part up). They locked themselves away in a rehearsal room and wrote a bunch of songs. They procured a deal with an apparently well-connected independent Swedish label called Despotz Records. They released a self-titled EP to favorable reaction. And less than a year and a half after the Sabaton split went public, Civil War have released a full-length CD entitled ‘The killer angels.’ The fact that the CD exists at all, much less that it came to be within such a relatively short time after Sabaton imploded, speaks volumes for the dedication, persistence, and stubbornness of Messrs. Sunden, Montelius, Mullback, and Myhr.

But is ‘The killer angels’ any good? In this reviewer’s opinion, the answer is overwhelmingly affirmative. Civil War play a brand of European melodic heavy metal that is about what you might expect, style-wise. Johansson’s trademark powerful Dio-style vocals are prominently featured, and immediately endear this CD to fans of Astral Doors, Lion’s Share and so on. Musically, certain passages are somewhat reminiscent of Sabaton, albeit more in the arrangements than the actual music or melodies. For example, in the chorus of “I will rule the universe”, Myhr’s keyboards ride majestically over the top of a locked-in marching rhythm by Mullback while Johansson wails out the anthemic chorus, with the guitars largely content to provide accents and color in the background. Yeah, that sounds a bit like a Sabaton arrangement, but who can blame these guys? That’s how they learned to arrange music during the decade they spent together in their former outfit. At any rate, Civil War seem not to shrink from these comparisons, but in fact to welcome them, given that their lyrical subject matter includes songs about war and soldiers and Gettysburg and Napoleon. Leaf doesn’t fall far from tree, no?

Having said that, I do think the Sabaton analogies in the media are overstated. Civil War do not sound like a Sabaton clone. The songs on ‘The killer angels’ are very much in the European melodic heavy metal style, with a lighter/less militaristic bent than Sabaton. There are unquestionably places on the CD where the Astral Doors similarities outweigh the Sabaton similarities. And Johansson is such a vastly different style of singer than Joakim Broden that the musical fingerprints of the 2 bands diverge considerably. While I recognize that comparisons are inevitable, Civil War really and truly is its own distinct entity that deserves to be considered separately on its own merits. And I’m pleased to report that those merits are considerable. ‘The killer angels’ is a well-written collection of catchy songs of varying tempos and vibes, from the folky “Saint Patrick’s Day” to the ripping speed of “My own worst enemy” to the epic strains of “I will rule the universe”. Civil War have a knack for injecting memorable choruses and melodies in nearly every song, and Johansson flat out sings his ass off (as he always does on everything he records). As a bonus track at the end of the CD, Civil War toss in an entertaining cover of Black Sabbath’s “Children of the grave”. Yes, my friends, ‘The killer angels’ is quite a worthy effort that deserves your time and attention.

I don’t know what the future holds for Civil War. I don’t know if the heavy metal public will give them a fair chance. I don’t know if the sextet are willing to get out there and tour dumpy clubs in a minivan, putting in all the necessary work to build this new brand from ground zero. But I do know that the four ex-Sabatoners, plus Pizza the bassist and the incomparable Nils Patrik Johansson, have sown the seeds of something special on ‘The killer angels’ and have defied the odds by delivering such a strong CD so quickly on the heels of the professional tragedy that was the dissolution of Sabaton. They are to be commended, and I wish them well.




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