16 May 2014
Metallers are po-faced. We don’t really like the idea of a joke, because the joke is often on us. We can laugh [ahem] at Steel Panther because the obvious pastiche of 80s glam rock drips off them as evidently as tequila, sweat and silicon shavings. But at the end of the day, we can just listen to Slayer and remind ourselves that the kernel of heavy metal is serious business, crafted by stocky-legged men hitting the bottom E string really hard and really fast.
That’s why Sabaton and their vast Euro-fanbase continue to throw me. On the one hand, they are Swedish military fetishists, locked into making music about the World Wars and heroism. They wear body armour on stage, and have been accused of being Nazi-sympathisers. They baffle the metal community with rumours of splits on April Fools Day, and then act on said divides with little explanation. When a mohawked man bawls operatically about the honour of trench warfare, it’s hard not to snarf grimly and skip the track, all the while wondering if there’s a punchline you’re missing.
On the other hand, this is music wrought of serious craft. Heroes, their seventh studio album, doesn’t falter in demonstrating the same kind of dedicated workmanship, despite it being the first album with their new line-up. They still write about military history and remain straight-faced as they sing about acts of bravery in wartime (HINT: the title is a giveaway), but the sum of their barminess just doesn’t give the answer you’d expect. By the fourth listen you’ll start to hum along to the wretchedly cheesy ‘The Ballad of Bulk’, and by the seventh you’ll be fully fist-pumping to the brilliant opening of ‘Resist and Bite’. Once past the initial roadblocks and confusing signals, Heroes becomes one of those satisfying, growing records that’ll resonate with those heavy metallers that aren’t just Deafheaven-tagalongs or ‘discerning’ heavy fans.
Sabaton, somehow, have resurrected the preposterous ballsiness of Manowar, ratcheting down the track length to four minutes and showing themselves as lyrical heirs to ‘Dark Avenger’. The lyrics will create a Mariana trench-like divide between newcomers, and rightly so, because although they tend to focus on the heroism of individuals, conflict-glorification is a murky task. By taking on actual battles as their subject matter and staying away from the typical metal-tenets of dragons and damsels, they open themselves up to an extra level of criticism. However, for people who want to see the music as it is and the lyrical themes as a means by which to express their brashness, then Sabaton have upped their game again. Heroes is another step forward in their baffling crusade. More strength to them.
Sounds Like: Manowar
Standout Tracks: To Hell and Back, Resist and Bite