Sabaton – The Great War


There exists a certain kind of terrible album. Not just albums that are bad or annoying, but albums whose core concepts and ideas are so fundamentally idiotic and broken that they were always going to fail. Albums that are so thin on anything worth engaging with on any level that they aren’t even worth deep, genuine consideration in the way most albums, no matter how bad they may be, are. The Great War is one such album; not only is it terrible, but it is a flat out non-starter. Just spelling out what it is at its core perfectly sums up why this is the case – it’s a bombastic, cheesy, formulaic pop/power metal concept album about the horrors of the First World War. There is no possible way a concept like that could ever have been executed right, it is that bad of an idea right out of the gate, an idea so bad that any attempt at will not only sound mindblowingly stupid and self-defeating, but also genuinely repugnant and difficult to listen to. Of course, this is nothing new for Sabaton, with much of their back catalogue focusing on the topic of war (with their last few albums being concept albums) and their music as of late tending towards the safer side of power metal, but it’s really with this album that their schtick finally rubbed me the wrong way enough to talk about it.

As stated, on a musical level this is not a significant departure for the band, which is a very big problem when The Last Stand was one of the most formulaic, sterile and tepid metal albums of 2016. In fact, this album sounds nigh indistinguishable from their last album, not just in style but in the individual ideas used, and thus the flaws of that album carry over too. The guitarwork, a seemingly endless series of the chord progressions we’ve heard before with not much punch or weight to them with not many riffs in sight, is one of many problems that plagued their last album and it’s just as big of a problem here. The marching, mid-paced drum beats across the album are a similar story; they all sound incredibly similar and get tiresome very quickly. The synths too like last time, are just layered and layered and largely bury the guitars in a wall of generic, uninteresting and flat-out annoying bombast. The production is of course incredibly glossy and sands whatever edge was left from the instrumentation, giving it a level of sheen reserved for a pop album, one that would doubtless be 400x better than anything on display here. All the songs follow the same predictable verse-chorus structure, and there are basically no twists and turns to be found in the performances or the writing. Pretty much the only saving grace are the vocals, which are gruff but can still carry a good melody; not something you hear very often, and it is appreciated here.

Of course, all of this by itself would make for an album that is pretty terrible, but not absolutely useless and loathsome. The problem is that this entire musical foundation has been built up to serve this idiotic concept; not just the specific WWI theme going on with this album, but the general approach to music Sabaton has had for years now, where they write this bland, sugary music to set lyrics about real life conflict to. Any positive statements one could make about the music – a catchy hook or melody here and there, the vocals, the general competence of the entire arrangement – are rendered entirely moot as it is nigh impossible to derive any enjoyment from them when put into the context of the album. And of course, the flaws become far more annoying when viewed through this lens, as how safe and boring and dolled up the music really is just feels so out of place. This highlights the ultimate issue with the album really – Sabaton do not and have never had the tact or investment to give the topics they cover the respect and proper context they deserve; their music for quite a while now has sounded like pure glorification of the conflicts they cover. Setting lyrics about real people in real conflicts that ended and ruined real lives, lyrics that try to convey the horrors of war but just end up glorifying battle and ‘our heroes’ to this Disney metal is… disgusting. And this is not me saying that every album about war has to be this grim, pulverising extreme metal opus; there are many straightforward trad metal bands that have covered war successfully, but their music has actual bite, tact, substance and grit to it, be it in the performances, the song and lyric writing, the production, the atmosphere etc. – all of which Sabaton’s music entirely lacks.

And then one has to consider not just Sabaton’s general schtick, but how it manifests on this album, where they chose to write about the First World War. One of the most grim, dark, bloody conflicts in all of human history. A conflict that until recently had people that survived to recount it. A conflict started by imperialist powers that did not like one another and were willing to forcibly sacrifice millions of their own men (and many more men from societies they colonised and brutalised) to settle their differences. A conflict that ancestors of myself (as British subjects in India) and my friends would have fought in and/or lived through; I’m sure many reading can say the same. It is a conflict that for these reasons strikes a real chord with me emotionally (I found 1917 to be a tearjerker.) This is the conflict and Sabaton decided to focus in on, and due to their tactlessness and detachment when making music on this matter they end up glorifying it all. And despite how detached these songs and the band members themselves may seem from the conflicts they write about, their entire schtick is anything but apolitical, as intentional or not, whitewashed, uncritical stuff like this basically entirely feeds into the glorification of the military and war that is so prevalent across many societies and a lot of history. I cannot assess the personal character of the band here; they certainly seem interested in war and well-read, but no matter how they feel about the topic the songs they end up writing just turn into these jolly singalongs that glorify some of the darkest points in human history, with seemingly no self-awareness. There is no grit or fire or ugliness to the presentation of it all, rendering this entire package to be the equivalent of casting Will Ferrell as the lead in 1917 and scoring it with that cutesy ukulele stock music we’ve all heard a billion times; it’s an absurd album that is revolting in how disrespectful it is. It is truly detestable and without question the worst metal album of the previous decade.

Lest We Forget.

Rating: 0%

Lovebites – Battle Against Damnation

Just gimme a 1/3rd of an album pls

The first draft of this review opened with a lengthy thinking-aloud segment where I opined on how exploitative the idol industry treats women in the Far East, and how desperately I hoped that this wasn’t the case with the current wave of all-girl J-metal bands that have been sweeping the nation in recent years.  But before publishing, I (for once in my life) had the good sense to hold off on spouting Epstein Brain bullshit and actually just talk to some people who actually understand the culture in which these bands spawn and thrive.  The good news is that it isn’t nearly as cynical as I was dreading, with basically every one of these bands being a genuine creative effort from talented women who are seizing a cultural shift that sees the women of Japan no longer being demure and submissive, and using this newfound power to express themselves in ways they previously never really did.  The important one here, obviously, is forming metal bands.  Early progenitors of this specific wave like Aldious and Destrose helped pave the way for the Mary’s Blood’s of the world to break from their cultural chains to dress like cute anime girls while simultaneously ripping listeners to shreds with honest-to-god future metal classics without playing into dumbass pop stereotypes, which helps differentiate this scene from the more cynical marketing moves like Babymetal.  Of those early examples, my clear favorite is Destrose.  Not just because I had mostly found them on accident when doing a shallow dive into Touhou bands and actually reviewed their sole full length years ago before I really knew how much this scene was going to blow up, but because three of the best current bands in the style were all formed by former members.  We’ve got the steampunk fever dream of Fate Gear, the powerhouse of Mary’s Blood, and the deceptively dangerous power metal maniacs hiding behind a saccharine image (and the subject of this review), Lovebites.

The reason I so badly wanted the dystopian hellscape of idol culture to not hold sway over Lovebites is because they absolutely fucking rule.  I could’ve guessed that this band contained members of Destrose (the bassist and drummer, if you were curious) based entirely on the fact that the rhythm section here is equally as menacing and powerful as their previous band.  Lovebites tends to be, as a rule, less traditional and more power metal with regards to their songwriting when compared to their origins (apart from Clockwork Immortality, which (smartly) leans a bit more into AOR at parts, but this was (unfortunately) abandoned with Electric Pentagram), and as a result everything they write tends to be a fuckload faster.  Their sense of melody is completely awe inspiring, with breathtaking choruses peppering every song they’ve ever written and never shying away from an extended dueling guitar solo.

I’ve been speaking in generalities and not really focusing on the release at hand, so I suppose the question needs to be asked why I’m choosing to review their second EP, Battle Against Damnation, instead of any of their other myriad releases.  The reason is simple: this is basically the only release I ever really go back to and listen from front to back.  Lovebites is an incredible power metal band with a bewildering skill to weave between high speed rippers and melodic singalongs without ever delving into pop influence the way stereotypes would have you expect, but their three full length albums have enough material to fill out like four and a half LPs.  There is no reason for their albums to be as long as they are, especially when their songwriting so rarely deviates from their winning formula.  They don’t really fuck around with ballads or interludes, so their albums tend to be completely overwhelming due to the constant barrage of double bass and shredding.  Don’t get me wrong, I love double bass and shredding, but Battle Against Damnation is their strongest release entirely because they only assault me for 20 minutes instead of 70.

The EP kicks off with “The Crusade”, which I’d say often jockeys for the pole when it comes to deciding my favorite song they’ve written, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it’s basically just a rewrite of Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” but even faster.  The other three tracks more or less stick to their “Galneryus meets Stratovarius with an injection of Megadeth” formula, but the fact that there’s only three of them is a huge boon to the release’s enjoyment.  That… really is the secret to Lovebites’s success I think, they just need to trim the fuckin’ fat and deliver their best cuts instead of bloating everything to absurd proportions.  “Break the Wall” and “Above the Black Sea” are completely dominating power/speed metal typhoons with balls-forward thrash gallops that could even make Persuader blush, and I’d say I want a full album of this but I already know what a full album would be like (totally overwhelming).

I know I keep harping on the length of their LPs and using that as a reason to say their EPs like this one are significantly better, but that’s honestly the truth.  Lovebites writes some absolutely thundering power metal with an impossibly meaty riffset underneath, complemented by powerful, soaring, and crystal clear vocals and absolutely fucking feral guitar solos, and they’re at their best here when they’re restricted and unable to do the same thing too many times in a row.  Just give me a quick, bite-sized morsel of your genius and then take a break.  To the Western Hemisphere folks who see the band of cute girls in white dresses with the word “love” in their name, absolutely do not sleep on Lovebites.  They will absolutely fuckin’ wreck your neck.

Rating: 89%

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