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The least interesting Sabaton album so far
on 2 November 2013
I should start by saying that I really like Sabaton as a band. Their pompous, epic, power-metal is just on the right side of cheese-flavoured and, most importantly, they're good musicians in the classic heavy metal style. Essentially, they take the Iron Maiden formula of chugging riffs and dual guitar melodies and mix it up with some ear-worm synth riffs and whole choirs of backup vocals. Leading the charge is, in my opinion, one of the best lead vocalists in metal today. Unlike many of their power-metal contemporaries, Sabaton stay away from the Maiden-style high-pitched vocals, going instead with Joakim Broaden's distinctive low, melodic, growl. All-in-all, a winning formula.
Except, something seems to have gone wrong with Carolus Rex. It's actually a bit boring and commits the sin of sounding a bit generic. It's almost like a parody of a Sabaton album.
The main problem as far as I'm concerned are that they seem to have slowed down the tempo in comparison with their previous albums. Carolus Rex definitely chugs along at mid tempo, whereas Sabaton are always at their best at high speed. Their most memorable tracks like Ghost Division, 40:1, Back in Control, Primo Victoria or Coat of Arms are those that attack you like a real metal song, with the synths and choral vocals used to complement and contrast with the rock underpinnings. Carolus Rex sounds more like it's dominated by the mid-tempo tracks which tend to sound quite samey.
Perhaps an even greater problem, and maybe one that underlies my other reservations about the album, is that the sound engineering sucks. They've tried to buy into the "loudness wars", with every track compressed and band-pass-filtered to hell, leaving a mid-frequency wall of noise with little dynamic range or variation. Rather than Sabaton's characteristic epic swell of noise with synths and choirs at the high end, wailing guitars and lead vocals in the middle and double-kick-drum percussion and the band's own backing vocals at the low end, you just get a lot of mid-frequency noise, like listening to a vaccuum cleaner.
I suspect that many of the songs on here will sound good live, but in the end this isn't Sabaton's best album by a long way and the poor sound mixing kills it completely.