Sabaton is one of the most successful rock bands to ever come from Sweden. Said success has been made possible by numerous narrative-driven songs about wars and war-related topics over the course of two decades and counting. Indeed, it should be mentioned that the name of the band refers to the foot armor that saw use by knights in both late medieval Europe and early modern Europe.
10. Carolus Rex
“Carolus Rex” is a song about a person. Specifically, the name means “King Charles,” which is a reference to Charles XII of Sweden. Said individual was the focus of not just the song but also the same-named studio album that the song was released on. Something that makes a fair amount of sense because he played an important role in both bringing Sweden to the height of its power and bringing about the fall of the Swedish Empire. Here, “Carolus Rex” captures Charles XII’s colossal arrogance even as a young man newly come to his throne that spurred him on towards both outcomes.
9. Winged Hussars
“Winged Hussars” is a very popular song in Poland. This is because the name refers to a kind of heavy cavalry fielded by Poland and then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which could be recognized in an instant by the wings that they wore upon their backs. As such, winged hussars are a potent symbol in modern Polish culture, serving as a reminder of more pleasant times than the subsequent mistreatment by both the Germans and the Russians. Specifically, “Winged Hussars” focuses on the sense of urgency that drove the Polish towards the Siege of Vienna where a charge of the titular cavalry did a great deal to break the Ottoman siege of the Habsburg capital.
“Shiroyama” covers the final struggle of the samurai rebels in the Satsuma Rebellion, who are sometimes seen as being representative of the last vestiges of pre-modern Japan. For context, Japan saw an enormous amount of anti-foreigner sentiment when it was forced out of its isolationist sakoku policy by the threat of foreign military force. However, neither the shogunate loyalists nor the imperial restorationists were stupid, which is why both sides embraced foreign technology in their struggle for power. The imperial restorationists won before embarking on a crash course of modernization. Something that alienated a good number of samurai who felt that the world was changing too fast and too much. They rebelled, but as the song emphasizes, they never had a chance. Indeed, “Shiroyama” makes much mention of the last moment of the battle when the remaining samurai charged an overwhelming number of imperial troops with swords because their ammunition had already run out.
7. Defence of Moscow
“Defence of Moscow” focuses on the Soviet do-or-die determination to hold Moscow against the Nazis during the Second World War. For those who are unfamiliar, the Eastern Front was very much an existential struggle. The Nazis had been very clear about their intentions of extermination and enslavement even before the war, with the result that they acted accordingly during it. As such, the Soviets had no illusions about what would happen to their people if they lost. As laid out in “Defence of Moscow,” their successful defense of the city in late 1941 and early 1942 was a sharp rebuke to Nazi hopes of a quick victory over the Soviet Union.
6. Fields of Verdun
The French have something of a reputation for military failings in the English-speaking world. Much of this comes from their poor performance in the Second World War, which is unfair because they hadn’t recovered from how 1.3 million Frenchmen had died while almost another 1 million Frenchmen had been crippled out of the 8 million Frenchmen who had been called up for the First World War. “Fields of Verdun” describes exactly the battle that one would expect based on the name. A battle that saw some of the fiercest fighting between the French and the Germans in that war, with the result that it has become a symbol of both the destructiveness of the war and the determination of the French to hold the line. “Fields to Verdun” does a decent job at capturing both of those sentiments.
5. Night Witches
“Night Witches” covers an aspect of the Second World War that isn’t very well-known in the west. As mentioned earlier, the Eastern Front was an existential struggle for the Soviet Union. Due to this, it was much more willing to make use of female combatants than the other powers. Night Witches was the Nazi nickname for an all-female night bombing regiment, who experienced poor treatment from their own side but nonetheless performed very well. Something that was particularly remarkable because they carried out their missions in the Polikarpov U-2, which was a wood-and-canvas design from 1928 that had been meant for training purposes. “Night Witches” gives the regiment some more of the exaltation that it deserves.
“Uprising” is another song that finds a lot of favor from Polish listeners. This time, it refers to the Warsaw Uprising when the Polish resistance tried to liberate Warsaw from the Nazi occupation, which happened at a time when the Nazi forces were retreating from their country before a Soviet advance. The Polish resistance was able to claim some early successes, but the Soviets stopped short of the city for unknown reasons. A common claim is that Stalin halted them so that the Polish resistance would be crushed, which would strengthen his hand in the aftermath of the war. However, there are historians who argue that the Soviet forces had exhausted themselves by that point, meaning that they couldn’t have helped out even if they wanted to. Whatever the case, the Warsaw Uprising was crushed. After which, the Nazis destroyed 35 percent of the remaining city, which when combined with previous destruction, meant that more than 85 percent of Warsaw had been destroyed by the time that the Nazis left. “Uprising” captures something of both the defiance and the despair of the Polish resistance in those times.
3. The Last Stand
Last stands have a tendency to capture the human imagination. This song from the metal band refers to the Sack of Rome in 1527, which happened because the soldiers of Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire mutinied over a lack of pay. As a result, they decided to take their pay from Rome, which was held by one of their enemies Pope Clement VII. “The Last Stand” lauds the heroism of a small number of Swiss mercenaries who made their stand within the Vatican itself. An encounter that enabled Clement VII to flee to the Castel Sant’Angelo where he would eventually rescue himself through a 400,000-ducati ransom. As works lauding last stands go, “The Last Stand” can be considered one of the better ones, which is no mean accomplishment.
2. The Lost Battalion
“The Lost Battalion” was inspired by the Battle of Argonne in the First World War, which has the distinction of being the single biggest offensive ever launched by the U.S. military because of the 1.2 million U.S. soldiers involved in it. Under those circumstances, it was natural for some of the units to wind up out of position, which is what happened to the titular Lost Battalion. The song describes both their subsequent suffering and their determined defiance in some detail.
1. Resist and Bite
Generally speaking, Belgium gets little mention in narratives of either the First World War or the Second World War. However, it put up a determined defense in the first conflict, which was fueled by the brutal treatment of Belgian civilians by German forces. During the Second World War, Belgium put up a determined defense once again, knowing full well that German forces were driven by additional spite. Like a lot of the other songs on this list, “Resist and Bite” has no illusions about the disparity between the protagonists and their enemies. Despite that, it does an excellent job at expressing their furious desire to resist the latter to the maximum extent of their limited capabilities.