When last we heard from Sabaton, they were a band in a state of flux. “Carolus Rex” was the last statement of a band that was fracturing, a dividing line that will make clear what constituted the Sabaton sound all these years. The band split apart, with the majority of the instrumentalists forming the lackluster Civil War, and singer Joakim Broden keeping the Sabaton tradition alive. Band politics are often juicy fodder for the tabloid aspect of our world, but they mean nothing to the music, which is the only thing that should matter. The reasons for the band's split doesn't affect a note of this album, nor should it, so I wish I could write about Sabaton without feeling the need to mention any of this.
“Heroes” marks a new beginning for Sabaton, but not a different course. This is still the same gruff power metal you remember, complete with the themes of war that have become so commonplace as to be played out. I would think at least one band out there would write about a different war, so to at least save us all from having to hear the millionth story about World War II.
Nothing about “Heroes” is the least bit out of place for Sabaton, which is actually a bit disappointing. I would have liked to have seen the new members make at least some impact on how the album sounds, injecting a modicum of personality, but I wouldn't have known so much of the roster had turned over if I wasn't following the story. That's good news for Sabaton fans, since they wouldn't want anything about their favorite band to change. Sabaton still pumps out ten stomping tracks that effectively mix power metal and traditional heavy metal, in a way that gives more heft than you're used to hearing from a power metal band.
The downside to all of this is that many parts of the album feel too familiar, as though you already know where the songs are going before they get there. The compact running times don't help matters, as the songs waste no time getting straight from every verse to chorus and back. It's efficient songwriting, but it actually grows tiring by the end of the album, as short as it is, because the songs rarely have time to breathe. It's a phenomenon I've heard before, making it seem almost as though the entire album has been played a few beats per minute too fast. Coupled with the compressed sound of any modern metal album, it does make for a fatiguing listening experience.
Much of that can be made up for if the songs are good enough, but I'm not sure this batch of songs is up to the challenge. There's nothing patently bad on the album, but there isn't much about these songs that demands my attention either. Sabaton was never a riff band, so that puts all the pressure on Joakim to throw out great hooks and melodies to anchor the songs. His vocals sound as good as ever, but his melodies are so drenched in choirs that there's not much bite left to them. The efforts to make the songs sound epic backfire, as the grand scale reveals how little is being stretched to the extreme.
Fans of Sabaton will still love “Heroes”, and I can see why they will. It delivers a compact punch of everything Sabaton promises. For me, it's just a bit too safe, a bit too calculated. I get the impression that it's an album that was made because they felt the need to get an album out after the split, not because they had an album of material that demanded to be released. A bit more time spent honing these songs, and giving each of them a little bit more time on the record, would have been a wise decision. “Heroes” is a good album, it's just not for me.