Let me start off with a quick confession: I’m not the biggest fan of Sabaton and their bombastic salutes to military history. Sure, I enjoy the occasional anthem like Primo Victoria or Carolus Rex, but after a few songs I start feeling uneasy and dissatisfied, possibly the first signs of Gimmick-induced Stress Reaction (GSR), also known as “Sabaton fatigue”.
Imagine my lukewarm reaction in 2012 when I heard that four Sabaton members decided to secede from their main band and thenceforth wished to be recognized as a separate entity called Civil War. Two campaigns were launched in what turned out to be a protracted confrontation: The Killer Angels in 2013 and then Gods and Generals in 2015. Now, Civil War believes it’s time for a third instalment, gloriously titled The Last Full Measure. Since I passed over the first two albums, I am approaching this new record without much prior knowledge of the band’s sound. See it as an opportunity to judge these songs on their own merits.
In the rule-bound world of power metal, the first song on an album is usually an energetic but not-too-original demonstration of style. That’s why Road to Victory, is equipped with fast palm-muted guitar lines and simple melodic hooks that are layered over busy drum patterns. But the chorus-oriented nature of the music is already revealed in the opening keyboards which foreshadow the melody of the pre-chorus. In this pivotal part, the gruff-sounding Nils Patrik Johansson rouses his followers to battle: “Rise, rise, children of utopia”. Immediately afterwards comes the actual chorus, enthusiastic to a fault. It all sounds a bit silly, but the earworming quality is undeniable. Once exposed, you will find yourself screaming “Rise, rise cheel-dren of utopiAAA” during those unguarded moments of the day. We might call that “mission accomplished” for the reb soldiers of Civil War.
In the late 90s, during the golden years of power metal, it was still possible to recognize distinct regional scenes: the Germans specialized in melodic speed metal, the Italians and Finns were known for their symphonic pretentions, while the Swedes remained obsessed with Manowar and Iron Maiden. Today, this picture is no longer holds. Finally, Jean-Claude Juncker has something to be proud about: the booming festival circuit and larger label distribution have created a single European market in power metal. As shown on The Last Full Measure, regional sounds are thrown into a blender.
Deliverance welds the stuttering keyboards of later Stratovarius to a solid body of Teutonic exuberance recalling Orden Ogan or Gamma Ray. Savannah is by-the-numbers symphonic pop metal (think Nightwish) sprinkled with Kai Hansen goofiness. America combines Gothenburg harmonies and Manowar rhythms to deliver a bombastic ode to the “land of the free”. One more example is the solid A Tale That Never Should Be Told. Its verses use a classic Dio template of steady (Eastern-sounding) riffs, while the chorus has a catchy, radio-friendly sheen. Of all the songs here assembled, this one is closest to the output of other Swedish bands like Grand Magus, and yes, Sabaton.
All in all, Civil War have composed a good collection of songs. However, this favourable assessment should not detract our attention from the group’s shortcomings. The music on The Last Full Measure can hardly be called original. It is mostly a hotchpotch of existing ideas taken from more well-known bands. The lyrics project simple fantasies and little else. I earnestly think these Swedes could have done more with Michael and Jeffrey Shaara’s trilogy on the American civil war. Look elsewhere if you want so see these historical and literary themes explored in a challenging way.
Release date: November 4th, 2016
Label: Napalm Records
1. Road to Victory
6. A Tale That Never Should Be Told
7. Gangs of New York
9. People of the Abyss
10. The Last Full Measure