Sabaton – The Last Stand
Release Date: August 19, 2016
Label: Nuclear Blast
Review by: Hal Berger
If there was anything to be said about Sabaton’s The Last Stand, it would be that it was meant to be played live. I do not think there is a single song on this wonderful album that would not be great to hear played on stage. But that is the nature of Sabaton, a band who is so good in concert that I fully believe everyone, no matter their musical preference, needs to see them in concert at least once. The sheer energy of Sabaton on stage is electrifying and I think makes for one of the best bands to see out there right now.
Considering that they are my second favorite band in the world (the first being Iron Maiden), I was beyond psyched when they announced their latest album, The Last Stand. As a military buff, Sabaton got their claws in me about four years ago when I heard their song “Screaming Eagles” which is about the 101st Airborne Division in the Battle of the Bulge. I quickly devoured everything they had to offer, including the recently released Carolus Rex album (which I preferred to listen to in Swedish since to me it felt more from the heart). They are educational too, as I have learned so much about history from Sabaton. While they certainly cover the big events in military history like the Invasion of Normandy or Stalingrad, they have done much to bring many lesser known people and events to the spotlight such as Karel Janoušek, a Czech war hero (“Far From the Fame”) and the Battle of Wizna (“40:1”) during WW2.
They are not perfect though, as no band is. The biggest criticism I have heard is that they lack originality and they do not experiment much. In fact, some of the riffs from this album sound a lot like riffs from other albums. Personally I do not have much of an issue with this as they stick with their strengths which are making fun and exciting (if sometimes cheesy) songs about history. Thorbjörn “Thobbe” Englund, one of the guitarists, recently left the band to pursue other musical ventures. I have listened to one of his solo albums, From the Wilderness, and it is kind of apparent why he left. His solo work is much more complex than anything I have seen from Sabaton, so I think he did not feel he was able to fully express himself musically in the band. It will be sad to see him go, but everyone wishes him the best of luck in his future endeavors!
Onto the actual album! Many of their albums have a distinct theme. The Art of War revolved around the famous book of the same name by Sun Tzu, with many of the songs containing spoken passages from the book. Carolus Rex was about the rise and fall of the Swedish Empire. And Heroes told the tales of heroes throughout history. And now for The Last Stand, the theme is, well, last stands throughout history. Once again, Sabaton serves history on a musical platter for all of us to enjoy and learn from, and they do it in a way that paints a vivid picture of those historical events. Because this album is far too good to review in a couple of paragraphs, I will go through each song and give my thoughts.
Sparta – 5/5
A bombastic and intense start to this album! If you have ever seen the movie 300, it sounds like this could easily be part of the soundtrack as it is about the Spartans at Thermopylae. I was a little unsure about them bringing the synthesizers back in force but here it really sounded fantastic! I am sure this song will be amazing to hear played live, and I actually think this would make for an incredible opener if they ever decided to replace “Ghost Division” (but I don’t think they will).
Last Dying Breath – 5/5
This is your classic Sabaton song, with a beating and very catchy chorus and fantastic riffs. This one is about a man named Dragutin Gavrilovi?, who led his Serbian soldiers in a desperate and heroic charge against the Austro-Hungarians to defend Belgrade. When you get the chance, you should read up on his story as it is rather fascinating. As with so many other tracks in this album, the mental image of soldiers making their final stand is incredibly vivid in this song. It is definitely one of my favorite songs on the album!
Blood of Bannockburn – 3.5/5
I am actually not such a fan of this song, which is about the battle where the Scottish defeated the English and later led to Scottish Independence. I don’t think it is a bad song at all, but for some reason it just has not resonated with me like the others have. Maybe it’s the bagpipes and the Hammond organ which throws me off, but even after listening to it a number of times I’m just not such a fan.
Diary of an Unknown Soldier – 5/5
Not a song, but a spoken word track that leads into the next song.
The Lost Battalion – 5/5
This was the first song released from the album, so I have had a lot of time to digest this one. The Lost Battalion was the name given to a unit of Americans in WWI who were cut off and surrounded in the Argonne Forrest in 1918. Some people didn’t seem to enjoy this one very much, but I really like it. I will admit it took a bit to get used to, as they decided to experiment and use weapon sounds as instruments. For example, they used a heavy machine gun for drums which is pretty cool. Some people say that this song sound similar to the song “Hearts of Iron” from their previous album, but I don’t really hear the connection. The chorus on this song is just fantastic! It invokes this image of what a last stand is in the mind of many: defiance in the face of total annihilation.
Rorke’s Drift – 5/5
Right off the bat this song sounds a lot like “Resist and Bite” off the previous album, at least the intro to the song does. To me, this is a great thing as “Resist and Bite” is one of my all-time favorite Sabaton songs. This whole song, about the battle of the same name, is just fantastic through and through, but I am in love with the chorus of this song. Again, the song invokes such strong imagery of what a last stand is in lore and I cannot wait to hear this live!
The Last Stand – 4/5
The title track to this album, it is about the last stand of the Swiss Guard when they defended the Pope in Rome in the year 1527. It is another classic Sabaton song with a catchy and upbeat chorus and riffs. But I will admit, while this song is good, I just don’t find it great, at least not yet anyways. I have a feeling that it will grow on me as so many other Sabaton songs have.
Hill 3234 – 2.5/5
This song, about a battle with the same name during the Soviet-Afghan War, actually reminds me a bit of their songs “Counterstrike” from Primo Victoria and “Talvisota” from Coat of Arms. A part of the song also reminds me a lot of Metallica’s “Creeping Death.” I’m not such a fan of this one, as it feels very average, if not a bit below average from what this album has presented so far. Even after listening to it a bunch of times, the best reaction I have to this song is “meh.”
Shiroyama – 4.5/5
This is a great song about the last stand of the Samurai in 1877, even if I think that some of the lyrics are a bit awkward. The chorus is really catchy and has this great bounce that makes you want to jump to it. It is just a fun and energetic song that I definitely think will be making an appearance in their shows.
Winged Hussars – 5/5
This is probably the most anticipated song for me from this album. It’s about the famous Polish Winged Hussars and how they helped save Vienna from the Ottomans in 1683. They were releasing small parts of it over the past few months as they announced their shows in Europe. People were assembling these snippets into full clips which just sounded fantastic. I was actually a bit worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations but I was very happy to see that this song exceeded them. This song starts off a bit interesting, as I don’t know of many heavy metal songs that open with the chorus, but I have got to say, it is a fantastic chorus. When the song launches into “AND THE WINGED HUSSARS ARRIVE!” the image of the Polish cavalry charging to save Vienna is just so vivid to me and I absolutely love it. I hear some similarity with their song “The Art of War” though but that’s not necessarily a bad thing to me. Definitely one of my favorite songs off the album!
The Last Battle – 5/5
This song is a bit less intense compared to the previous track. This song is about the Battle for Castle Itter, where some American and German soldiers joined together in the last few days of WWII to fight against some Nazi SS soldiers in what many call the strangest battle of the war. How this story hasn’t been made into a movie is beyond me. As odd as this might sound, I think this is actually the perfect song to finish the album: it’s an upbeat song with a really catchy chorus that is your classic Sabaton song. I can’t think of a better song to close out this album.
This is a fantastic album. It is not perfect, but few albums are. As I said before, this whole album is meant to be played live. And why wouldn’t it be? Sabaton is a band that thrives on stage, and this album will further beef up an already formidable set list. It’s hard to just choose three favorite songs, but if I had to pick they would be “Last Dying Breath”, “Rorke’s Drift”, and “Winged Hussars”, probably because of how those songs managed to so vividly represent to me what a last stand is in history and in lore. This album is without a doubt a fantastic addition to the Sabaton discography and I look forward to listening to it often and loud!