The Last Stand – Sabaton
In this day and age, a band really has to be something special for me to not only go out and buy a physical copy of their new album, but to pilfer six different stores looking for a copy on release day. Sabaton is such a band, and their latest album, “The Last Stand”, is a rip-roaring reminder why Sabaton is one of the defining sounds of metal in the world.
The album came out Friday, and having listened to “The Last Stand” essentially on loop for the last 48 hours, I am thrilled to confirm that in a year for music that has seen the worst album sales in 25 years, killed Prince and David Bowie, and continues to insist that Meghan Trainor or Iggy Azalea deserve radio play, Sabaton’s latest album comes dropped when it was needed most. Moving on from the tales of WWII heroism from the band’s last album, “Heroes”, Sabaton returns with an album filled with tracks that read off as a list of histories most famous heroic last stands, from the Spartans at Thermopylae to the Seige of Vienna. These are events that have inspired sagas, songs, books and movies, quite often multiple times, so you’d hope Sabaton would fire at all cylinders to do the material and the music justice, and thankfully, “The Last Stand” doesn’t disappoint.
As anyone who has listened to Sabaton before might assume, much of this material is well within the band’s wheelhouse, the band is clearly right at home working with the same historical events that have inspired works from Zulu to 300. While the lyrics aren’t quite as sharp as they were on “Heroes”, musically, I’d say “The Last Stand” is a much stronger album, and it certainly has a much more ecclectic range in style and sound. While all but the harshest critics would never call Sabaton a one trick pony – we’re not talking about Dragonforce here after all – “The Last Stand” still serves as a firm reminder that Sabaton has more than the “gimmick” of war metal behind them.
Kicking off with stadium rock anthem “Sparta”, and ending with “The Last Battle”, the album is strongest around the middle, starting with “The Lost Battalion”, which is the best sounding track on the album, right on through “Shiroyama”, which has its catchiest lyrics. While the album does justice to the material, oddly enough, its the more obscure events that form the crux of the strongest songs on “The Last Stand”, my personal favorite probably being the title track “The Last Stand”, which memorializes a little talked about skirmish in the 1520s where 183 Swiss Guards fought almost to the last man against thousands of German troops in order to buy time for the pope to escape the Sack of Rome. It’s not every day that a metal band can teach a long-time history student like me about an event obscure enough to escape even my notice until now, much less upstage songs about Rourke’s Drift or the last ride of the samurai.
“The Last Stand” also sees Sabaton stretching their musical muscles a bit, and not just because the album has just one song about World War II, a record low for for Sabaton. In terms of sound, they play around a lot more with different sounds and instruments than usual, always to good effect. This ranges from church bells opening “The Last Stand”, bagpipes lending “Blood of Bannockburn” a Celtic-rock sound, and most impressively, replacing the drum section of “The Lost Battalion” with a literal symphony of gunfire, specifically mixing the sound of a .50-caliber machine gun serving as a kick drum is actually, a 9-milimeter handgun serving as a snare drum, or what is perceived as a snare drum, and bayonets replacing the hi-hat.
As usual, “The Last Stand” also includes Sabaton doing a few covers of older rock songs, in this case, one of Stan Ridgway’s “Camouflage”, which is quite good, and one of Judas Priest’s “All Gun’s Blazing”, which provides the weakest song of the album.
While time will tell where “The Last Stand” takes its place among Sabaton’s discography, it offers everything fans of the band want in spades – songs of heroism and battle, whose creative tunes and lively melodies will leave you tapping your feat, pumping your fist in the air and chanting along with every word. Sabaton’s “The Last Stand” is one of the band’s finest albums yet, and a much needed victory in what has been a dark year for music.