This Civil War began in 2012 when two-thirds of Sabaton seceded. The opening shots were fired later that year in the form of a self-titled EP, and the first major engagement came in the form of 2013’s The Killer Angels, which was strong modern power metal with the ace combination of great tunes and Nils Patrik Johansson’s Dio-clone vocals. To continue in stretching this tenuous analogy as thin as possible, if Killer Angels is Civil War’s First Bull Run, then Gods And Generals is their Shiloh – it’s similar in scope, and yet it’s bigger and bloodier, the most of either that’s happened thusfar.
Like the band that spawned them, Civil War is thematically built upon warfare, although they take inspiration from various wars, and not just the American Civil War that clearly inspires their artwork. Johansson tackles conflicts ranging from World War II (“Back To Iwo Jima”) to the Scottish rebellion (“Braveheart”) to the Bay of Pigs invasion (you guessed it: “Bay Of Pigs”), each given the grandiose power metal treatment of soaring melody and catchy riffs. And lest those wars be too specific, there’s the ballad “Tears Of The North” that details a Viking funeral, which is war-ish, if more generally so.
As with The Killer Angels, the success of Gods And Generals comes down to three things – the infectious energy that defines good power metal; the memorable and instantly hooky choruses that hammer that goodness home; a wickedly talented vocalist. Thankfully, the band excels at the first two, and then, furthermore, Johansson absolutely meets that latter requirement, even if his sound is hugely indebted to the godly vocals of Ronnie James Dio. Still, unlike Johansson’s work in Astral Doors, his performance here isn’t quite as slavish – he definitely harks to Ronnie James, without a single doubt, but it’s more homage than outright mimicry. (To be fair, Astral Doors’ stated goal is to sound like all things Dio – they achieve it, to often grand result.)
Admittedly, Johansson is a known factor – the man’s good at his job, and always is. Beneath his more-than-capable multi-octave range, Gods And Generals wins because these tunes support their singer greatly, from the driving riffs of “Bay Of Pigs” to the Scottish jig-gery of “The Mad Piper” to the closing and soaring title track. Though Johansson is the most (ahem) vocal member of the band, Gods And Generals works because the whole band is great, and the songs are equally so. The only minor hiccup is the ballad, which is far from bad, but does slow things down when I’d rather they just kept right on rocking.
Like warfare itself, Civil War keeps upping the ante. Their brand of power metal avoids all the pitfalls of the style in favor of just what they promise to deliver: metal with power. Anyone with an interest in great melodic metal will find much to enjoy here – Gods And Generals is powerfully grand and grandly powerful, and if you’re interested at all in the epic and the anthemic, then you do need this Civil War.