I had the great pleasure to be invited by Nuclear Blast at Warner Music Switzerland to a listening session for the forthcoming Sabaton record The Last Stand, which is set to hit the shelves on August 19, 2016. It’s Sabaton’s 8th studio album and in my books one of their stronger albums. The concept of this power metal gem is based on battles to the last breath, as one might imagine from the title. The stories range from historical battles to more recent conflicts. Nevertheless, Sabaton succeeded in capturing all stories under one musical umbrella. In that sense, kudos to the band and producer Peter Tägtgren.
The Last Stand: Song by Song
The opening track, Sparta, kicks off symphonically powerful and with the attitude we would expect from Sabaton. The lyrical line, ‘Sparta will never surrender’, at the end of the chorus, makes me want to raise my fist and yell it right back! And the choirs shouting ‘Ooh-Aah! Ooh-Aah!’ right after, make the song a potential live cracker.
Last Dying Breath picks up the tempo and adds more melody than the opener. Especially the guitar riff right after the chorus reminds me of more melodic metal acts such as Iron Maiden and Helloween. In addition, the guitar solo after the second chorus is one of the more melodic ones in Sabaton’s recent works. Definitely a very positive Wow! moment here.
The intro to Blood of Bannockburn is characterised by bagpipes, a very welcomed addition to the mix here. The song is even more melodic and faster than the previous ones. A great sequel to Last Dying Breath. The song itself is characterised by uplifting melodies and harmonies. A more melancholic interlude brings a new color after the guitar solo, but the song finds back to its original colourful mood soon after to finish as it began.
Diary of an Unknown Soldier is introduced through a dramatic narration by John Schaffer of Iced Earth underlined by a synthetic drum beat and spherical keyboards and guitars.
The song The Lost Battalion is the most dramatic and arguably heartbreaking up to this point. The symphonic instrumentation adds to the dramatic feel of the song, which could be perceived as a ballad. The interlude right after the guitar solo opens up the mood with brighter harmonies. However, the drama returns right after. Great composition.
Track 6, Rorke’s Drift, enters in what can be defined as good ol’ power metal. Thus far my favourite guitar riff on The Last Stand. Double bass action all through underlying the earworm quality and melodic lyrics of singer Joakim Broden. The production of the song, with its strong choirs and logic melodies stresses the song’s adequacy to be played live in front of big crowds. Look forward to this one.
The title-track of the album, The Last Stand, brings the listener back to a mid-tempo feel and melodramatic feel. Nevertheless, the chorus brings more colour to the song with an emotional big choir-like hook. The perfect song to sit back after a relentless musical climb since the beginning of the disc. The rather synthetic solo reminds me a bit of late 1980s/early 1990s solos, which I find to be a good thing. A straight-forward mid-tempo metal song about the Swiss guard during the sacking of Rome in 1527. The song describes the event and underlines it in the best way with a melodramatic feel.
Hill 3234 is again characterised by heavy choirs and spherical keys. The mid-tempo feel provides fertile ground for the listener to virtually thump away with the song! The information sheet that was given to me by the hosts of the listening session, mentioned that the lyrics are based on a battle between to Soviet and the Afghan soldiers in 1988 at Hill 3234. (I did not even know about that battle.)
Shiroyama is an uptempo heavy metal song characterised by a synth riff. The song pumps its way into this listener’s ears in typical bombastic Sabaton manner, with strong hooks and heavy energy. Most probably my favourite song on this album thus far.
Winged Hussars takes it a notch down with a more laid-back feel. The lyrics match the feel of the song, as well as the instrumentation. The lyrical theme of the song depicts the battle of Vienna in 1683 against 140,000 solders of the Ottoman Empire. An great song that prepares the listener for – hopefully – a bombastic closing song. A highlight of the song is definitely the cleverly crafted guitar solo.
The album closes with The Last Battle, a song that discusses the downfall of the 3rd reich. The song opens with a singable riff underlined by a pumping uptempo drum beat. The song is arguably the most radio-friendly – for lack of better words – on this album. Definitely one of my favourite songs on The Last Stand. Can see it working very well live, too.
I didn’t know much about Sabaton until about a couple of weeks prior to listening to The Last Stand. In preparation, I listened to all their previous studio albums, which include some great songs and productions and some parts which are less enticing. Hence, I was able to approach this listening session with an objective ear.
Once I put on the headphones and pushed play, however, I was extremely surprised by the energy and intensity of The Last Stand. I listened to the entire album in one sitting without skipping a bit or rewinding and kept writing the words you read above. The melodies and harmonies, the stories, the feel and mood, everything synthesises very well on this album. Sabaton leads its listeners well through all stages of the album and it feels like a compact unity from the first beat until the end. It is hard to say if The Last Stand will become Sabaton biggest album to date, but it definitely has the potential to win new fans and should be able to please old fans. I will for sure give The Last Stand a good amount of spins when it comes out.
Interview with Pär Sundström for From Hero To Zero
After the listening session for The Last Stand, we had the great pleasure to interview Sabaton founding member and bassist Pär Sundström for From Hero To Zero. He talked about what it takes to become and stay a relevant act in the music business, how the band keeps a good working relationship with producer Peter Tägtgren, and why it is important for Sabaton to play all-ages shows: