Review: Sabaton 'Carolus Rex' (two disc Digibook edition)
The first thing which strikes the listener about Sabaton's latest opus is the grandeur of its presentation. The liner notes form a book in which the discs are housed, and whilst last year's 'World War Live' set was presented in a similar fashion, this is on a far more opulent scale. Lyrics in Swedish and English, accompanied by historical notes and artwork which threatens to overshadow the cover mark 'Carolus Rex' as a magnificent work even before we reach the music.
These words, 'grandeur', 'opulent' and 'magnificent', also aptly describe the record itself. Whilst the band are no strangers to theatrics, this is new ground even for Sabaton. 'Carolus Rex' is a power metal concept album very much in the vein of Helloween and Iced Earth; driven by its account of the Great Northern War of 1700-21 and replete with long, pseudo-narrative tracks such as 'The Carolean's Prayer'; which are apparently only present to drive the story forward.
And herein lies the problem. This emphasis upon narrative renders the second disc, a version of the album with Swedish lyrics, almost worthless to those without a firm grasp of the language. More importantly, this focus creates a Sabaton album without the instant anthems which fans have come to expect. '1648' sounds like a leftover from their last studio output, 'Coat Of Arms', but there is no 'Primo Victoria' or 'Ghost Division' to be found here. Album opener 'Lion From The North' and 'Killing Ground' are definitely in familiar territory, but where this record really shines is in its noticeable stylistic shifts. The Celtic-tinged keyboards of 'Gott Mit Uns' bring to mind the likes of Turisas or even Alestorm before earlier Sabaton where, in contrast to this, the haunting vocal melodies of 'Ruina Imperii' make it the heaviest track which the band have produced since their 'Attero Dominatus' album. A bonus cover of Amon Amarth's 'Twilight Of The Thunder God', complete with death growls, is also a surprising highlight.
Therefore, fans looking for 'Coat Of Arms Part II', or even a spiritual successor to 'The Art Of War' (given its adherence to a central lyrical theme) will be somewhat disappointed. However, this marks a bold new direction for Sabaton, which is bound to produce interesting music in the future.
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