Here we have more power metal from Sweden, a country that has the ability to churn out such bands with ease. It wasn’t so long ago that power metal was a simple sub genre of heavy metal. But as metal fans became influenced by a variety of styles the innovation within metal has lead to splinter styles of sub genres. This has happened with power metal. It encompasses everything from symphonic metal to soundtrack metal to extreme power metal. The list is seemingly endless and to call Sabaton simply power metal is a little unfair, there's a bit more to them than that.
'The Art Of War', the band's fifth release, is not exactly a concept album but an album with a strong theme running through it. The theme is 'War' (the clue is in the title), which is always a good subject for heavy metal. The album starts with a woman quoting from Sun Tzu's 'The Art Of War' before launching into the keyboard heavy and lead single 'Ghost Division'. It's a decent tune but there's a sense of 'heard it all before'. Sabaton are mix of Blind Guardian, Savatage and Andi Deris era Helloween, which, I'm sure many of you are thinking, is a good template to start from. But it's a fine line in this style of epic power metal between musical mastery and smelly cheese. The woman appears again to give us a little more of Sun Tsu's wisdom before the god awful keyboards, with their 1980's synth sound, sully the airwaves. It sounds cheap and tacky and I can only imagine the quivering knees around the globe had the band used actual strings and orchestration for their keyboard sections.
I've haven't got anything against keyboards, quite the opposite, I think they can enhance metal if used correctly. Sadly, Sabaton have overused the keyboards in this instance, perhaps in an effort to create that wall of sound effect, to the point where the songs are wallowing in a sonic sludge. They seem to drown the guitars and take away the crispness and intricate work of the rest of the band. Certainly on the fast songs, '40:1' and the Helloween rip off 'Talvisota' they sound like you've got the radio in the background. But it's not all bad news because when Sabaton get it right, 'The Art Of War' hits the mark quite nicely. 'Panzerkampf' is a classy stomper that caused me to play it to my mates almost immediately after hearing it. 'The Price Of A Mile' is another slow simmering song. But the track where the band get it right is 'Firestorm' and is the stand out of all the up-tempo tunes on offer.
Unfortunately, the second of this album's singles, 'Cliffs Of Gallipoli' is a blatant rewrite of Savatage's 'Gutter Ballet'. Those who've never heard 'Gutter Ballet' will no doubt enjoy this song but for the Savatage fan they'll find it difficult to get past the fact that it's very similar but not as good. 'The Art Of War' has its moments and when it hits them it sounds huge, epic and fist thumpingly satisfying. It's a pity that its let down by overused keyboards and ideas that aren't as inspired as it's influences. Nevertheless, its still an enjoyable piece of work and fans of huge sounding power metal bands should check this out, just don't expect any surprises and if you're back listening to Blind Guardian within a week don't say I didn't warn you.