Released in both Swedish language and English versions (although it must be said, some of the titles need translation and ‘Gott Mit Uns’ (God With Us, in German) is sung in a foreign native tongue, even on the Anglo edition), Carolus Rex is destined to be the most controversial platter of SABATON’s career (which has previously skirted dust-ups over misperceived topics surrounding the second World War). This time it has nothing to do with lyrics (at least outside of Sweden, where the war-monger bachelor king Charles XII has, in modern times, been celebrated by fascist causes), but rather the sound. While they have (temporarily?) abandoned the militaristic/historical themes (other than their country’s heritage), it’s the NIGHTWISH-ification (see: keyboard pomp of ‘Poltava’), via stronger symphonic keyboard ties and Joakim Brodén’s smoother, dare we say singing, voice, to say nothing of female accompaniment (most prominently on ‘The Lion From The North’). Might this all be an undercurrent to a rift that saw four members, only Brodén and founder/bassist Pär Sundström remain, exit the band, post-recording? An odd move and strange choice (change) of musical direction. ‘A Lifetime Of War’ begins with staccato orchestral strings. The rollicking spirit inherent on the band’s best songs (‘40:1’, ‘Primo Victoria’, ‘Ghost Division’, etc.) is absent until ‘1648’, half way through the running order! Even past tales ‘Price Of A Mile’, ‘Final Solution’ and ‘Rise FO Evil’, appropriately somber, given the content, were still emotive. As a non-Swede, there’s no emotional investment here. Without an accurate historical focal point, there’s no glorious battle victory, nor touching human tragedy to rouse the emotions, even before the music kicks in (perhaps it will play better at home). Beginning with an intro of liturgical pipe organ, ‘The Carolean’s Prayer’ sort of locks into a similar groove, ending with a nearly a cappella dual-sex choir. A similar multiple voiced ensemble can be heard in ‘Long Live The King’. ‘Killing Ground’ returns a little of the punch, but can’t seem to shake the regal overtones (I know, I know, it’s about a corrupt king, but still…). The brief, concluding ‘Ruina Imperii’ (Latin for Fall Of The Empire) combines all the diverse elements found throughout the album: foreign language lyrics, a (to these ears) Russian/militaristic march undercurrent and multiple backing vocals, including female voices. Shocking misstep while perched on the doorstep of universal stardom!