In 2019, SABATON released an entire album dedicated to songs related to stories from World War I. When the pandemic hit in 2020, they were then forced to cancel most of their tours. However, they weren’t quite done touring “The Great War” album yet. In order to still play those songs live, they decided to start working on a new World War I -themed album. The result is “The War to End All Wars,” which will see the light of day on March 4th, 2022, via Nuclear Blast Records.
The album begins with the intro “Sarajevo,” which tells the story of how the war started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. During the verses, a voiceover illustrates the events of what happened in Sarajevo grimly on top of some good old power metal, after which it is switched up with singer Joakim Brodén singing a chorus referring to the album’s title. In the middle, there’s a great instrumental section, which includes a couple of impressive guitar solos.
The music continues with “Stormtroopers,” which has a more traditional power metal approach – up-tempo and dynamic, with a great pumping chorus. If there is one notable thing upon listening to this record, it’s that underneath all the power metal, there are some exquisite little details that bring the album as a whole to a new level, which overall, means that “The War to End All Wars” has a different feeling than SABATON’s prior work, yet is unmistakably still SABATON. An example of that is “Dreadnought” – Brodén starts with singing about the sea, which is something you also hear in the intro already before the vocals kick in. The guitars ebb and flow along with the sound of waves, rocking slowly back and forth, yet very rhythmic. During the chorus, the song also gets a bit of an ’80s vibe with keyboards subtly present in the background.
“The Unkillable Soldier” is a personal highlight off this record, telling an incredible story about Adrian Carton de Wiart. According to Wikipedia, he was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; was blinded in his left eye; survived two plane crashes; tunneled out of a prisoner-of-war camp; and tore off his own fingers when a doctor declined to amputate them. Describing his experiences in the First World War, he wrote, “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.” The song definitely shares that same unstoppable energy that the Lieutenant-General seemed to have. On top of that, the band is doing something really interesting in the chorus, as someone else in the band shortly takes over the chorus vocals, while Brodén fills out different accents.
The band switches things up again with “Soldier of Heaven.” Apart from the slightly slower tempo, the band introduces a clear flashback to the ’80s musically, where they have electronic elements layered underneath the song. “Hellfighters” must be one of the heaviest tracks that SABATON has ever put out, with a slight speed/thrash metal vibe to it and a dirty guitar solo. The tempo slows down again with “Race to the Sea,” which seems to focus more on the story than on the music, by keeping it somewhat simple and straight-to-the-point; a classic SABATON track that fans will surely love. The line, “see a king and a soldier fighting shoulder by shoulder” is going to be a great moment live, where fans can shout along.
The great thing about SABATON is that they also shed light on war heroes that we haven’t necessarily heard of. One example is Milunka Savić, a Serbian war heroine who fought in the Balkan Wars and in World War I. In 1912, her brother received call-up papers for mobilization for the First Balkan War. She chose to go in his place – cutting her hair and donning men’s clothes and joining the Serbian army. She is the most-decorated female combatant in the recorded history of warfare, thus she definitely more than deserves to be honored in a song.
The atmosphere switches around again with “Valley of Death,” which not only has an incredibly hooky intro, that sort of serves as the lead melody the song has, it also has one of the best choruses on this record, easily memorable and just very powerful. This is paired with the wonderful “Christmas Truce,” which is easily one of the best songs that SABATON have released in their entire career. It starts off with a Christmassy intro that is very reminiscent of – and probably based on – “Carol of the Bells.” When Brodén sings “Silence, I remember the silence,” it shows how the band has integrated the storytelling in this album on a new level, as it’s a very minimalistic moment where Brodén is only accompanied by the same piano melody the intro had. The gospel choir is also a nice touch.
The largely narrated “Versailles” serves as the end of the story. While it starts in a hopeful way, of course, towards the ending it gets a little bit more melancholic again, since unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly the war to end all wars. It’s great, however, that at the beginning, the song has a more celebrative note to it; along with marching beats, it has a certain atmosphere that could fit in a war-themed musical. The album goes full-circle by reprising the chorus of “Sarajevo,” preluding to the fact that a mere 20 years later, World War II would start.
Even though I wrote this review a little while ago, I wanted to go back to the conclusion and change it. As of this moment, a war is unfolding in the Ukraine and Libia is also on the brink of war again… not to mention the many countries we often forget that have been in conflict for decades. This is why I think the message that SABATON and other war-themed bands like Ukrainian 1914 are spreading by narrating these historic events and highlighting certain war stories we may not have heard of, becomes more and more important and pressing. Raising awareness of these stories can help us understand why we should, at all cost, avoid war. To some it might seem like a hobby for “history buffs,” however only by telling these stories and keeping them alive, we can remember all the atrocities that have happened.
In the case of “The War to End All Wars,” SABATON have really grown as a band over the years. The focus of their music has somewhat shifted from energetic power metal songs with a story towards a storytelling approach, which is especially clear in songs like “Christmas Truce,” “Dreadnought,” and “Unkillable Soldier.” From the trenches of power metal, SABATON have crafted a diverse and dynamic listening experience; the SABATON album to end all others.
- The Unkillable Soldier
- Soldier of Heaven
- Race To The Sea
- Lady of the Dark
- The Valley of Death
- Christmas Truce
Joakim Brodén – Vocals, Keyboard
Pär Sundström – Bass
Chris Rörland – Guitar
Tommy Johansson – Guitar
Hannes Van Dahl – Drums
Nuclear Blast Records