Sabaton - The art of war 4/5

Reviewed: 6-27-08


1. Sun tzu says
2. Ghost divison
3. The art of war
4. 40:1
5. Unbreakable
6. The nature of warfare
7. Cliffs of Gallipoli
8. Talvisota
9. Panzerkampf
10. Union (Slopes of St. Benedict)
11. The price of a mile
12. Firestorm
13. A secret

Not wasting any time after the abortive start to their career, 'The art of war' is Sabaton's 3rd CD written and recorded in the last 4 years, and the 4th overall to be released in that time. After some initial deliberation in their early work (eventually released last year as 'Metalizer'), they eventually nailed their trademark sound on their official debut release and have loyally adhered to it since.

Here on 'The art of war' there are few changes to the winning formula the usual punchy, uncomplicated riffs, ever-present but not suffocating keyboard lines and, of course, war-themed lyrics delivered through the unique medium of Joakim Broden's gruff voice are all present and correct, but this time unified in a sort of quasi-concept around the ancient book by Sun Tzu.

The songs are bound together by a series of quotations from the illustrious Chinese treatise, with snippets recited between each song by a female narrator. While not as excruciating as, for instance, the 'poetry' between each of the songs on Elvenking's abhorrent 'The scythe' CD, these quotations are unfortunately a bit of an irritation almost akin to watermarks on a promo release. It has been an obvious attempt to sound more ambitious and grandiose from Sabaton but in the end proves a little misguided.

There is perhaps more of an emphasis on midtempo stamping than before, with the speedier tracks in shorter supply than on past CDs, but anyone who has heard Sabaton before will know just what to expect when approaching 'The art of war'. This of course is no bad thing, because while there may be the occasional vocal melody here and there that sounds a more than a little familiar, Sabaton have come nowhere near Dragonforce levels of repetition, and as long as they are able to keep things sounding as fresh as they do here then they are welcome to stick to their blueprint for as long as they like.

Despite an overall air of familiarity to proceedings, there are some songs that show Sabaton attempting to add some variety to their established style. The middle-eastern vibe used in the song "Panzer battalion" (from 'Primo victoria') to tie in with the subject matter is followed up with a couple more such attempts on this CD. The pounding title track is backed by a thoroughly addictive keyboard melody that captures its Chinese militaristic origins, while the pompous chorus to "Panzerkampf" contains an inch of Russian folk stylings as the story of Hitler's folly in invading the Soviet Union is recounted.

"Talvisota" and "Firestorm" are 2 of the songs that tear along at full speed for their short duration, adding some vivacity to proceedings, while on the other hand the tempo-shifting "Unbreakable" is one of the most developed songs Sabaton have crafted to date.

Specific mention must also go to the 2 ballads on the CD, 'Cliffs of Gallipoli', and 'The price of a mile'. In amongst their 'glory and death' lyrics, Sabaton have always tried to include at least one song about the horrors of war, perhaps to show they are not glorifying what is ultimately a sensitive subject, and the songs on this CD built for that purpose are perhaps its strongest. The former of these 2 tracks is built on tasteful piano playing and a simple, rousing chorus while the latter, about the desperation of First World War trench warfare, is a slightly more upbeat, yet heavy-of-heart effort with a pre-chorus guaranteed to cause the receptive listener goosebumps and wonderfully emotional guitar solo.

The only reasons I could foresee stopping 'The art of war' becoming a sure-fire hit with fans of Sabaton and power metal in general are the overall lack of anything not heard before and the questionable decision to litter the CD with quotations. Anyone who can get past this will have no excuse for not making a point of seeking this one out. The limited edition version even comes with a copy of the manifesto on which the CD was based! Sounds like a bargain to me...




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