This one is for the metalheads and the history buffs.
It’s not often that I get so into an album that I end up googling an entire period of history, but Sabaton managed to both entertain and educate me with Carolus Rex, a concept album about the rise and fall of the Swedish Empire in the 17th to 18th centuries.
Released in 2012 in both Swedish and English, the album takes its title from imperial Sweden’s last ruler Charles XII, whose latinised name is – you guessed it – Carolus Rex. Better ears than mine have reviewed the album over the years and their general consensus is – Sabaton did good. So… what am I going to say? Well… Just listen to the story, you guys!
Instrumental track Dominium maris Baltici (translation: Domination of the Baltic Sea) sets the tone with creeping orchestral strings which rise until they merge with the driving pace of The Lion From The North. This track tells the story of Gustavus Adolphus. He was kind of a badass, and his reign established Sweden as a great European power (yeah. Sweden.)
Gott Mit Uns (God With Us) follows with triumphant guitar riffs, telling the story of the decisive Battle of Breitenfeld at which Gustavus Adolphus showed the Catholics flames and gained Protestant allies.
Whilst Gott Mit Uns’ up-tempo rhythm celebrates the first major protestant victory of the Thirty Years War, A Lifetime Of War strikes a more sombre note, with slow and heavy drums underpinning ragged vocals and sweeping strings. The song reminds us that, at the end of the day, war “spreads like disease”, as “religion and greed cause millions to bleed”.
But war ends, and 1648 rallies the troops (or… our ears, anyway) with the story of the last battle in the Thirty Years War. The Battle of Prague was a final victory for the Swedes, and they took the opportunity to do a little looting. Because who wouldn’t, right?
The Carolean’s Prayer pays tribute to the men who fought and died under Kings Charles XI and Charles XII. Called – you guessed it – Caroleans, these soldiers were notable for their offensive fighting style, which saw them often overcoming greater forces. If you like driving instrumentals and lyrics about looking your enemy in the eye as you strike them down… this is your jam.
On the heels of The Carolean’s Prayer comes the album’s title track, Carolus Rex, which tells the epic tale of Charles XII. If you thought Gustavus was a badass, this guy will rock your socks off, as will the track itself. Assuming the throne at 15, he faced aggression on three fronts. Did he bow? Did he negotiate? No! This kid took command of his army and went a-conquering. Fellow Swedish metal band Follow The Cipher has a cover of this track which I rather love.
Killing Ground continues the righteous high of Carolus Rex, chronicling the Swedish victory at the Battle of Fraustadt. But all empires must fall, and all things must end. At the Battle of Poltava, the Swedes met with defeat at the hands of Russia’s Peter I . Aptly named track Poltava tells the story of this defeat in a flurry of distorted vocals and frantic instruments.
Long Live The King is essentially a dirge, telling the story of Charles XII’s demise. The death itself is the subject of ongoing historical investigation. Was he shot by an enemy? Or by one of his own men? Nobody knows.
The album closes with Ruina Imperii (Downfall of the Empire) which is pretty much what it sounds like. Following the death of their king, all Swedish forces were ordered to return home. As you can imagine from the name Carolean Death March, the retreat didn’t go well.
So there we have it. A concept album which you can listen to from start to finish, and come out the other side better educated.
Mood Rating: Listen to this album when you have an hour to spare and an internet connection to do some research. And rock on.