Ah, European power metal… When it’s done poorly, there’s very little in all of metal that could possibly be lamer. (Maybe basement-level black metal, but that’s another argument for another time.) But when Euro-power is done properly… Oh, yes, when it’s done properly, there’s nothing in all the Earth, or in Middle Earth, or in Asgard that is quite as wonderfully infectious, as engaging, as ebullient…
For the most part, Sweden’s Civil War does European-style power metal properly.
Born of a Sabaton mutiny some four years ago, Civil War added vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson (also of Astral Doors and formerly of Wuthering Heights) and quickly dropped a self-titled EP with four original songs that leaned heavily back toward their earlier outfit. By the time of 2013’s The Killer Angels, the band had furthered the separation, though some similarities were (and are) inevitable. What Killer Angels proved beyond a doubt was that, originality be damned, Civil War rocks in that perfectly European power metal manner, and 2015’s follow-up Gods And Generals just hammered the point home.
Though it’s not quite as strong an album as its two predecessors, The Last Full Measure doesn’t deviate all that far from the path. Predominantly, the differences between Measure and what came before are in subject matter – whereas earlier efforts were almost exclusively war-inspired, particularly the American Civil War from which the band takes its name and iconography, a quarter of The Last Full Measure eschews directly historical references for more vague ones. “Road To Victory,” “A Tale That Never Should Be Told,” and “People Of The Abyss” aren’t blatantly related to any one battle, war, or historical event, herein traded instead for less-specific martial or apocalyptic themes. (As near as I can make, “People Of The Abyss” shares only its title with the 1903 novel about the poor on the streets of London.)
Musically, this Measure is much the same as before: Ever the master, Johansson’s voice soars, his melodies epic and instantly catchy, his voice falling in some raw-throated middle ground between Dio and Udo. (Try not to sing along with that chorus to “Savannah,” I dare you. It’s damned near power perfection.) The band performs with appropriate skill and fire – the whole of The Last Full Measure crackles with life, save the unnecessary closing ballad “Aftermath.” Guitarists Petrus Granar and Rikard Sunden shred their solos and rip through speedy riffs with ease, while keyboardist Daniel Myhr provides a subtle, but very (ahem) key, underpinning. Drummer Daniel Mullback keeps the whole thing moving forward with flying kick drums and an almost-electric energy.
Of course, if you’re familiar with European power metal as a whole, that formula isn’t anything particularly surprising, so as with almost all metal of this ilk, the end result really comes down to the songs. Thankfully, most of The Last Full Measure’s twelve tracks are quality ones – starting with a folksy melody, “Savannah” quickly kicks in with that killer chorus, while the midtempo “Gangs Of New York” gives Johansson further room to shine. The opening couplet of “Road To Victory” and “Deliverance” are straight-ahead Euro-power done right, while the speed-driven “Gladiator” is another standout, the album’s fastest and most exhilarating track. Only “Aftermath” really stumbles – power metal ballads are usually dicey prospects, although some bands can pull them off. Civil War has tried before – ultimately, ballads just aren’t their strong suit, and “Aftermath” comes off more clunky than epic.
In the end, The Last Full Measure isn’t quite as immediate as Killer Angels or Gods And Generals, but it’s not too far behind. It’s mostly exactly what anyone should expect or want from a power metal album – good songs, great vocals, great energy. Maybe it doesn’t add anything new to the oeuvre, per se, except one more good album from a good band, but when the dust settles and the battles are done, that’s more than enough for me.