SABATON – ‘Carlous Rex’ (Nuclear Blast)
Fall to your knees and repent if you please! After the disappointment of Sabaton’s terribly turgid previous studio album the leaders of the military metal genre ((c) JT 2012) are back, harder, heavier and bouncier than a Barnes Wallis bomb. 2010’s ‘Coat Of Arms’ – coat of paint, more like – was a load of old Dulux, a poor facsimile of their breakthrough album ‘The Art Of War’ possessing all of the war and none of the art. It didn’t help that it came blessed with an in-house production that, frankly, didn’t help the cause. However, the Swedish metal machine has had time to regroup and rearm, and they’ve come back all guns blazing. ‘Carolus Rex’ is pretty much a masterpiece, a true return to form, and an album certain to appear in the top ten of numerous end-of-year polls come December.
There’s an aggression to this album that many had feared the band had lost, and although there’s nothing particularly new to discover – even Sabaton’s best work is highly derivative – the material is delivered with all the stylish belligerence usually associated with the band. The songs themselves are still obviously Sabaton – the huge wall of sound and Joakim Broden’s distinctive voice make that clear from the off – but collectively in the studio the six musicians seem to have regained their hunger and are spoiling for a fight once more. Highlights abound, but as seems to be the norm for a Sabaton album ‘Carolus Rex’ is dominated by the middle order, with ‘The Carolean’s Prayer’ being the grand epic in the style of ‘Cliffs Of Gallipoli’ and the following title track the big crowd-pleasing chest-beating anthem. But there are no slackers here and any one of the eleven tracks picked at random clearly shows why on a good day the Swedes are pretty much unbeatable at what they do.
Reverting to using an outside producer has certainly helped their cause, and who better to call on than all-round genius Peter Tägtgren who along with his brother and long-term band collaborator Tommy handled ‘The Art Of War’. The sound is punchy and energetic, and almost drives the material along. Lyrically the band have also undergone a few changes, ditching their obsession in particular with World War Two and instead concentrating on domestic history: the album refers to what the Swedes know as ‘stormakstiden’ – their era of great power – and in particular to the reign of King Karl XII (the Latinised version of which is – drum roll, please – Carolus Rex) whose reign from 1697-1718 ended in a heavy military defeat, the demise of the Swedish empire and his own death, possibly shot by his own side. So it is Sabaton, Jim, but not as we know it.
Not only does the album mark a shift in lyrical direction but also in personnel, with all but Broden and bassist Par Sundtrom leaving after the album was completed. It’s going to be very interesting seeing what everyone’s favourite magnificent metal militia do next.
© John Tucker April 2012