2012-08-20

Henrik tries to understand ... Sabaton

In this section I will try to understand the greatness of a certain band/artist that many people within the metal community seems to like. Or love. I will really try to get into the music and to listen to as much songs from as much albums (from said band) as possible. I don't have any real hopes that it will change my perspective or the way I feel about the band - but it could just remove some grudges or perhaps burn away some preconceptions that I might have. Some of these bands I have tried to understand before and some will be entirely new to me. Read and you'll see...

Bear with me here, as I don't know just how popular this band is around the globe. If you're into metal, you should have heard about this band. I do know that they are immensely popular here in Sweden and if I would have to classify their fans with a tag; I would say that it's your average redneck/white trash/pop-metal guy. And please bear in mind, that these tags are MY OWN PERSONAL preconceptions. I might be wrong and I might be right. The thing is that I don't think we'll ever find out, with me torturing myself through six of their songs (as they've released 6 full-length albums when this is written). Anyway, I've seen and heard enough people screaming the band's name and/or sporting their t-shirts and they either look like this:
Or like this:
Or, like this:
OK, I think you get the point by now. Before I throw myself head-first into Sabaton's debut album "Primo Victoria" from 2005, I'll just clean my head first by listening to "Somewhere In Time" and looking at images of cute kittens to rid my brain of the images we've just seen. Done. Now let's start!

I chose the song "Reign of Terror" since it was one of the first songs with the shortest playing time on the album. I don't know enough about Sabaton to decipher the "best" or the most famous song on each album. Bear with me or sue me.
The song actually starts way heavier and more aggressive than I thought and I must say that I love the murky production. The production-issue probably has more to do with the money-factor rather than that sound was what the band wanted. They were less popular back in 2004 (when I assumed it was recorded). This was a positive surprise to say the least. Then the vocals start.
I don't really know how to describe it, but it sounds like Lemmy is trying to sing melodic while... No wait, that came out way too nicely. It sounds like a weak power metal-vocalist is trying to growl at the same time while doing clean vocals. That came out a little bit better, but it still does not justify the sheer terror that my ears are subjected to. You have to hear it for yourself. I'm no good vocalist myself - and I am the first to admit that - but this is just ridiculous. And the sonic raping continues once the guy pronounces the letter "R" with an accent so mannered that I have to bring my embarrassment-pillow along for the ride. I shove my face in there deeply and try to breathe and calm down. Oh, there's also a boring solo thrown in just for the sake of it.

I continue this train of fun-o-rama with a song from their second album "Attero Dominatus" called "Rise of Evil". This time I chose the longest song, thinking I am about to hear something no quite so fast as the previous one.
The bass-intro sounds suspiciously like something that Swedish cult-band Onkel Kånkel have done in the past, but Windir has done exactly the same with the exact same bass-lines so nothing wrong with that. Actually, make that one bonus point to Sabaton.
The song is, just as I thought, much slower. It's fist-banging friendly metal with some added samples here and there (which I assume is from WW2) which doesn't sound like absolute horseshit. Then the "vocalist" tries to sing more epic and dramatic - at least compared to the former song. And if the vocal delivery on "Reign of Terror" was embarrassing, it's nothing compared to the way he sounds here. I just realized that I haven't mentioned anything about the lyrics yet, but they seem to be written in a hurry just before the band went into the studio. I mean;
"Burning books to spread, anti-semite propaganda
Who will stop the madmans reign?
Night of broken glass, send the jews to Dachau death camp
On a path to certain death"
A 9-year old with a history book could have come up with that in 5 minutes or less.

Musically, the main riff is alright, but it is used to exaggeration and soon becomes repetitive. The keyboards are mainly there for atmosphere, but actually works very well with the music. And once again, the band decides to play one of the most uninteresting guitar solos I've ever heard. In short, Sabaton might be the antithesis to a band like Opeth.

Their third album is called "Metalizer" and from what I understand, is some sort of compilation of old songs or stuff like that. Anyway, I chose a song called "Hail to the King" just because it sounds just as gay as Manowar.
Cool drums begins this song. A really lame-ass folk metal riff that stink of Finntroll follows. When the vocals come in, you can clearly hear that this was recorded a while back ago. The vocals are still real shitty, but they sound shitty in a different way and it was actually refreshing to hear the guy aim for a different style when you've heard the two previous songs. Also, here he doesn't seem to pronounce those "R's" in that ludicrous way. In conclusion: this must have been something that he (and I guess the rest of the members) thought sounded cool and so he decided to go with it. Honestly, I am at a loss of words here...
The song itself is a standard power metal song with a chorus that could have sounded really good with a different vocalist and a better production. Especially the keyboards and the choirs suffer from the bad production, but as this is an old-school recording, I'll let that complaint slip. I do my best to try and enjoy the song, and if I imagine a better vocalist here, it actually sounds pretty good. This is also the first guitar solo I've heard with the band that actually does something for the song and adds a bit of epicness to the entire cake.
I wonder if it is just a random flux that I've chosen the absolute worst songs from Sabaton's two previous albums or if they actually were this much better in the beginning? If so, this must be the first band I've ever heard about that gradually got worse and worse in quality and gained more and more fans. Actually, there might be more of those bands now that I think about it.

Anyway, on to the next album to see if I was right or not. I really want this next song to be better than "Hail to the King" and thus, be proven wrong. Here's "Cliffs of Gallipoli" from "The Art of War".
I chose this song because I remember reading about it in some old interview with the band. And what do you know? There's even an official video to this song. That's good, because it makes me hope that I've chosen the "right" track from this album.
The more "classic" piano sound in combination with the heavy riffing actually makes Sabaton stand out a bit. It does sound weird at first, but my ears soon get used to the combination and I actually find myself stomping my foot along to the music. Uh-oh, am I slowly morphing into a Sabaton-fanboy? Will I also dress in warpants and tunics in a near future?
Nah, I wouldn't count on it - but the vocals have actually improved a lot from the previous album in their discography and it does not rape your ears in the same way it used to. Either that, or I'm slowly becoming familiar with the man's vocals. In reality, I think the clear production have helped the guy's voice a lot here. That, in combination that he actually tries a little harder. The annoying "R" is still there and the pronunciation is sometimes over-top Swenglish, but I can live with that.
Since I actually can stand and almost appreciate the verses this time, I was hoping for greatness once the chorus showed up. But sadly, the chorus and the build-up to the chorus sound way too much Eurovision-metal for my taste. Then I realize it; Sabaton is music for those people that actually listens to Eurovision music most of the time. Then they hear this and call themselves metal-fans. I curse Lordi and their likes for that abomination. Sabaton should stick to faster power metal songs and leave their quest for epicness in the dark. But I realize that it is songs like "Cliffs of Gallipoli" that makes them even more popular. Combined with their tiresome lyrics of war, battles and fighting, they do everything right. The video, although somewhat uninteresting, is nicely shot.

"Coat of Arms" from 2010 is up next and I chose the song "Metal Ripper". I know that they have a "metal" song on each album - it's lyrics consisting of classic song titles and lyrical rip-offs. I guess they do that as a fun thing but I fail to see the humor even before I've heard the song.
With a title like "Metal Ripper", I thought that we would be in for some fast heavy metal with pounding drums, but no way - here we have that Eurovision mid-tempo sauciness again. Just check out the chorus and you'll know what I mean. The choirs are so goddamn 80's and there's no edge whatsoever to the guitars. The sound seems like it was streamlined to gain more attention from those people who normally doesn't listen to heavy metal. Success for Sabaton again!
Honestly, their "real" songs - that are in no way any heavy metal classics - are so much more interesting than this travesty. I'm so embarrassed by this that I have to take a shower and get rid of the filthiness. I hope my neighbors doesn't think I actually listen to this normally.

For the band's latest album "Carolus Rex", they decided to sing in Swedish. I am genuinely interested to hear if the vocalist has kept the annoying "R's" when he sings in his (and my) mother tongue. For this listening session, I just chose the first song that isn't an intro - "Lejonet Från Norden".
Before I get into the actual song, let me first point out a few things:
As a Swede, the entire package with the over-the-top cover with Swedish flags and the entire concept about Karl XII + the embarrassing lyrics, kind of sends that doubtful racist-thoughts into my brain. And before you start the bashing, hear me out; I don't think that the guys in Sabaton are racists or nazis in any way - they just happen to be interested in all things war and bases their entire concept around that. Nothing wrong with that at all, but if you like I grew up in Sweden during the 90's - you cannot take the mental image of the racist-morons in Ultima Thule out of your head when you see the song titles. If you don't know who they are, just take my word for it: Don't Google them. That will save yourself from the mental images you'll get from seeing grown men in outfits so ridiculous that the Sabaton-outfit looks like the latest fashion.
Whoa, that became longer than expected. Now on to the music.
It starts in the typical Eurovision-fashion, this time resembling Nightwish a lot. The vocals actually works much better than I thought they would when I read the truly poor written lyrics. Still - can you guess it by now? The fucking "R's" are there to only make things worse. But he has thankfully skipped some of the worst semi-growls, making the vocals sound much more confident and "cleaner". Perhaps this only apparent on the faster tracks and not when they go into their mid-tempo grandeur. Anyway, it is so much better than anything else I've heard in their discography - both vocally and musically. The song itself is quite fast and as I just mentioned, reeks of some of Nightwish's better compositions. Just when I think that "this is actually pretty good power metal" a female choir comes out of the fucking blue and starts singing a nursery rhyme which sounds so awkward that I once more bring out the embarrassment-pillow and finally go to sleep.
Cool guys wearing cool outfits. And a cigarette.

At last, I am fucking done with this exhausting journey. It's been a long and hard road filled with sweat and tears and facial expressions that made my girlfriend laugh out loud more than once. Me and Sabaton will probably never be friends, even though I can somewhat appreciate them when they're doing fast songs that are rooted in heavy- and power metal. But it seems that they are stuck in this Eurovision-mode (why they still haven't been in that competition is a mystery to me) which I mentioned earlier - is probably the best thing fan-wise. But even when they hit the right buttons, the vocals destroy much of the heavy metal power that could've been. Even so, I am not so stupid that I don't understand that the vocals are as much an eternal Sabaton-trademark to some, as it is one of the world's biggest turn-offs to others.
And even if it may not sound like it, this musical journey has actually made me respect the band a little, little more than before, when I've just read interviews with some seriously embarrassing answers. I doubt the members in Sabaton cares the slightest though, as they are too busy on their way to glory. To the brave. For the king. In war. Hail the sword. Must stop now.

2 comments:

  1. Alright, so I agree that their earlier stuff is cheesy, but I actually think you're being a bit unfair to Carolus Rex. The Swedish lyrics are actually quite good – and while it is not my native language, know that my gf also thinks that Vintersorg's language is remarkably cheesy – and artfully done. More specifically, they deal with pretty tough issues like the number dead at Poltava, the gory shit the Swedes did in Germany and plikten which robbed such large percentages of the male population from Sweden, that the norms around inheritance in Sweden had actually changed.

    All of this stuff gives Carolus Rex an edge to it that the earlier material does. It feels less like the glorification of war, and more like a historically interesting record with good, cheesy power metal as the base on which that all rests.

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    1. OK, in my defense, I must say that I didn't read all the lyrics to said album THAT carefully.

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