Those of you who have been following Sabaton will be familiar with their seemingly endless soap opera of line up changes- just before the release of this record, the band went through yet another series of changes. For a band so consistent in their approach and outlook, they don’t half have some stuff going on. The internal angst must, perversely, have acted like some kind of artistic muse though, as Carolus Rex is, well, bloody splendid actually.
Carolus Rex is eleven slabs of the very best European power metal, well crafted and supremely executed with joyous affirmation. For this record, the band have dived into Sweden’s military history and tales of military glory and defeat, including an infamous invasion of Norway. Although this is not a concept album as such, its unifying theme of Swedish military valour could, I know, sound like some vainglorious, nationalistic treatise. Thankfully, it doesn’t- I found myself warming to the band’s sense of pride in their country and their respect for the historical figures and events that had shaped their own part of the universe.
From the atmospheric opening bars of Dominium Maris Baltici through to the closing Ruina Imperii, Sabaton have delivered what might, in time, come to be seen as something of a career highlight. There’s bucketloads of tune and melody in here. Just take your pick. The title track is an epic. It’s so absurd, so daft and so overblown, with well, terrible lyrics and some cliched musical passages that sounds like it could be a car crash. Bizarrely, it works. By the mid section, I was singing along and punching the air: I love it. Poltava has a sets of riffs that will have you banging your head as if your life depended on it- which, given the war-torn subject matter, is rather apposite.
Vocalist Joackim Broden appears to be having a wail of a time on this record- he dominates the whole album, ably supported by some fluid and accomplished playing. Production wise, this is a solid job highlighting the band’s innate sense of drama and giving the whole album a depth and breadth that enhances the whole edifice without falling into self regard or parody.
So, is Carolus Rex a massive departure for the band? Oh, let’s take a wild guess shall we? Errm, nope. Look, Sabaton do tales of war torn heroism, battlefield courage, warrior souls and forlorn romanticism against a backdrop of anthemic power metal that is by turns infectious, invigorating, cheesy and fist-pumpingly good. Sabaton have a (military) game plan and they stick to it. They are, to use the phrase, a one trick pony but it’s an awfully good trick. Sabaton are one of those bands that, like some Pavlovian dog, put a smile on your face every time you hear their infectious blend of heavy metal. In these tough times, isn’t that exactly what we need? I rather think it is.