Music Review: Caroleus Rex

Sabaton Caroleus Rex  (MP3 album)

I was curious to see if any music from the time of Charlemagne (Caroleus Magnus) could be found on YouTube. I got distracted and typed in Caroleus Rex. What I discovered was a hard rock album in English, Latin, German, and Swedish about Gustavus Adolphus and Charles X of Sweden.

It’s fascinating, and if you are into heavy metal, darn good. If you are history minded, it really gives you pause. Just how badly did the Thirty Years War and the Great Northern War afflict Europe? Well, someone wrote a suite of heavy metal songs about them 400 years after the Defenestration of Prague.

If you know German history and literature, you know the Thirty Years War as a major break point in both. The havoc wreaked by thirty years of intermittent conflict that ranged from the southern Rhineland to Poland to Vienna, Prague, and other areas was a disaster, coming on top of the climate misery of the period 1590-1640. What started ostensibly as a religious conflict ended with the Catholic French supporting the very Lutheran Swedes against the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor… And the Dutch War/ Eighty Years War got folded into the mess, with the English Civil War and the Swedish Deluge (Poland) as chasers. The Great Northern War of Charles X against Peter the Great was the icing on a horrible cake for a lot of people.

It makes for fascinating and thought-provoking music. Metal is a good genre for the topic, and Sabaton a good band to carry it off. The album is half in English, half in Swedish, with Latin and German tossed in as needed. The diction on the English is excellent. The tunes are catchy, if one can call metal catchy, and the music flows well from song to song. It starts blisteringly fast, then slows, then accelerates again before screeching to a slow finish.

The songs are told from several perspectives. Outside observers, Charles X, Swedish soldiers, people caught in the middle of the mess… I get the strong impression that the composer was not enamored of Charles X. His piece (“Caroleus Rex”) makes him come across as fixated on his own glory and power, no matter what it costs other people and his home country. Granted, soft introspection and modesty are not concepts one associates with warrior kings or heavy metal, but the futility of his fights shines through.

This ends up in many ways being an anti-war album. That is partly because of the subject matter. You can’t study the Thirty Years War and other northern conflicts and come away glorifying war. There were some  individuals, and I respect the men who fought, and the people who did their best to protect themselves, their homes, and families. But you look at Europe in 1618 and again in 1648 and 1700, and really wonder if the misery and barbarity changed anything. Yes, they did (international law, battlefield medicine, the modern profession of arms, the English Bill of Rights,) but if you were not a monarch or one of the people who gained power and land from the wars, then the entire experience was dire. If you were in Magdeburg, or in one of the cities caught in the Swedish Deluge, may G-d have mercy on your soul, because the besieging army had no mercy at all.

If you want something to listen to that’s good fight-scene music, good heavy metal, then this is an excellent album. I wouldn’t recommend it to learn history, but I may use bits to show my students how war can linger in popular memory and culture.

However, as I was walking and listening, I had this strange urge to invade either Poland or Russia. Make of it what you will.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this album for my own use and received no compensation from either the publisher or the rock group.



14 thoughts on “Music Review: Caroleus Rex

  1. Well, it’s Sabaton.
    The only anti-war song I’m aware of that competes with their “To Hell and Back” is The Pogues’ “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. Honoring the soldiers while forthrightly acknowledging the costs is a fine line to tread. (And until encountering that song, I naively assumed that Audie Murphy came home to a hero’s welcome from a grateful nation. I did not realize the hell he went through between the war, and playing himself in the movies. Or the random chance that someone involved with Hollywood casting happened to recognize a drug-addled bum on the street who he had served with.)

    Of their songs, I’d also highlight “The Wnged Hussars” (about the relief of the Seige of Vienna) and “Resist and Bite” (about a WWII Belgian unit that didn’t receive the order to surrender, and fought the invading Nazis by themselves).

  2. “Defenestration of Prague”–I’m not familiar with that bit of history, but when I read the name I got a picture of someone throwing a city out of a window.

    You have most eclectic tastes in music. I suspect you could find music to drive anyone away. (Not too many years ago, stores tried to keep teenagers from loitering by playing Mozart.)

    • Just listened to a YouTube clip. Granted, it’s meant to be unnaturally loud, but it’s far more tame than much of Charles Ives or Max Reger. Or Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (if I’ve got that spelling right).
      Are modern listeners too sensitive, unable (in the words of Ives) to sit down and take their dissonance like men, or am I too jaded? Or just insensitive (burnt out?) on Hulk-heavy beats?

    • To make a convoluted political saga short, nobles in Prague tossed three representatives of Holy Roman Emperor (and King of Bohemia) Ferdinand out of a window in Prague Castle, with the intent of killing them. Instead they landed in the largest manure pile on castle hill and were only badly injured. The Defenestration of Prague (actually the second, and there would be one more in the 20th century*) is the unofficial start of the Thirty Years War.

      *Avoid windows when visiting Prague on political missions. Avoid windows in Prague when other people are visiting on what turn out to be political missions.

      • The largest manure pile … is somehow (giggle) better (chortle) than the (belly laugh) intended outcome. Monty Python would be proud.

    • I find that I start picking out lyrics after listening over and over again. But I have that issue with every band.

  3. I’ve using music as part of some of my mad attempts to organize the creative WIP. (I’m hoping to title all the chapters with lyric fragments.)

    I like Sabaton, so I’ve been trying to find songs of theirs that fit both mood and have the category of lyrics I am searching for. Very little luck compared to others. I think Nightwish has given me the best results of any single band.

    Anyway, No Bullets Fly looks like it might work, so gets mentioned.

    More generally, Uprising.

  4. I’ve surprised myself by liking some Blind Guardian, so cues it up to try once the person in the next room is awake. (can’t stand headphones.).

    And I like it, Haven’t liked others of their work I’ve tried, but this one is ok.

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