Sabaton and ‘The Great War’ album
A year after its release, its message and stories are still raw and poignant
They are a heavy metal band from Sweden who use their songs to cover some of the most significant and often lesser known aspects of military history. A year ago, they released their most intense album to date; and it was entirely centred on the First World War.
Sabaton released ‘The Great War’ on July 19th 2019. It covers everything from individual battles of the war, to one of the most famous fighter pilots in history, to tracks which help to emphasise the futility of a war which killed millions and achieved very little.
The band have touched on the First World War before this album, with stand out songs being ‘Cliffs of Gallipoli’, which addresses the disastrous Allied military campaign in Turkey and how many young men from as far away as Australia and New Zealand fell in fields which, for them, were incredibly foreign.
‘The Great War’ is an album which combines the clattering, heavy metal sound of a now well established band with unique storytelling of one of the most horrendous chapters in human history.
It shines a light on battles which have not received the coverage of others in the war. ‘Attack of the Dead Men’ is the band telling the story of a battle near the Osowiec Fortress in northern Poland. The name was a result of the deathly, zombie-like state of the Russian soldiers as they attacked the German lines after being subject to a chlorine gas attack themselves.
The Russians were said to be coughing up blood and had deathly grey complexions as they charged the German lines. It was an example of the horrors of chemical warfare which dominated the conflict, and one poignantly captured by Sabaton.
Another figure from the war who is memorialised in the album is Francis Pegahmagabow, who was the most decorated Native American soldier of WW1. Fighting for Canada, Pegahmagabow won the Military Medal, the 1914–15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He would return home a war hero to begin a career in politics. His work for his people and for his country in warfare has, thanks to Sabaton, got the recognition it deserves.
The final track of the album is a rendition of ‘In Flanders Fields’, a poem written by physician John McCrae in 1915. The nature of the poem highlights the futility of the war, and is a fitting way to end an album which investigates the bravery of those who fought in the nightmare of war.
Each Sabaton album is like a history lesson. Every song has an important story to it, and there is always more to find out. It has been a year since the release of ‘The Great War’ but the messages and meaning behind each song will only become more relevant and poignant. As we move further and further away from the First World War and the last of those people who fought across the world leave us, it is more important than ever to remember what happened during this conflict.
Whether through books, films, poems, or in Sabaton’s case through songs, the war has lived on and must continue to do so. It was supposed to be the war to end war, but the waste of life ultimately achieved nothing. Remembering the sacrifice made by so many is the very least that we as a species can do.