Hello reader and welcome back to Recently, I’ve been spending quite some time listening to Sabaton. For those of you who might not know what Sabaton is, it is the Swedish heavy metal band. Their art is dedicated to war history and acts of heroism. But who would have thought that one of Bach’s pieces would have found its place in such music. Today, I am going to talk about one of the most striking songs by Sabaton and Bach’s influence that can be found in it.

Sabaton – Hearts Of Iron

The song Hearts of Iron is one of the twelve songs from the album Heroes, released in May 2014, their 7th studio album. It was inspired by the heroic act of the German General (of the branch) who disobeyed the direct order from Adolf Hitler and saved many civilians, as well as comrade soldiers. His name was Walther Wenck. In the Battle of Berlin in April 1945 he received the orders from Hitler himself, to defend the city of Berlin at all costs. However, a smart officer like him was aware of a futile sacrifice. The war was lost and that’s it.

Instead of letting his men die for absolutely nothing, he decided, therefore disobeyed the direct order, to conduct the evacuation. He was the commander of the 12th Army at the time. His army, parts of the 9th Army and many civilians managed to cross the river Elbe and surrender to the US Army. Wenck’s main goal was to save civilians from both the fighting, and the Soviets. Therefore, by doing all these things, he had violated several rules of service, and if he had been caught, he would‘ve been shot for treason. In case the Nazi’s won, survived and arrested him.

Sabaton meets Bach

Now, how does Bach and his music fit into this story? Well, Bach wrote a wonderful piece many years before WWII happened. Its name is Third orchestral suite in D minor BWV 1068. It is very important to understand that, in general, a suite is a set of dances with different characters. Heaving said that, the part of the Third orchestral suite that was revived in Sabaton’s song is very interesting. It is the second movement, Air in D Major. Term Air is quite old and its roots can be found as early as in late 16th century. Described as a form of song, most commonly lyrical, its character and even genre strongly doesn’t fit into the concept of Suite. However, Bach used it. And boy what a masterpiece that was!

There's more though!

Another thing is also interesting. Third orchestral suite was written for 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, violins (I, II), viola and basso continuo. But, the second movement is played by strings and continuo only. Therefore, my understanding of this is that Bach needed an absolute purity of musical expression, which was possible only by using strings exclusively. The character of the piece has exceptionally lyrical, with almost prayer-like aura around it. After all, Bach was one of the greatest composers of sacred music that ever lived on this planet. However, Air is originally a secular genre. Perhaps, we could talk about genre fusing in this case. What I think had happened was that Bach had wanted to create such a musical expression that would represent the prayer of a simple man in his natural habitat. Far from church, perhaps unable to find one, but keen to believe in better tomorrow.

Sabaton Berlin 1945
Ruins of the Kroll Opera House, Berlin, Germany, May 1945 Source: ww2dbase

Hearts Of Iron and Air

Now, in Sabaton’s song, the melody of Bach’s Air arises in the guitar solo, which comes after these lines:

“See the city burn on the other side,
Going down in flames as two worlds collide.
Who can now look back with a sense of pride?
On the other shore, there’s the end of the war.”

At the start of these lines musical flow begins to take on a different character in contrast to the earlier parts of it. Guitar riffs (distortions) and bass guitar disappears. All that’s left are the voice, the choir and the bass drum. The lines repeat one more time, with the added snare drum to the instrumentation.

A Terrifying Sight

I can almost picture Walther Wenck, leader of the once mighty 12th army, watching his city while it burns, asking himself what was the point of it all and, as the lyrics said, who can now look back with a sense of pride. But, he knows that that fight was not about Berlin anymore. It was about men, women and children that would have to find the way to live in a world after the war is over. At that point, guitar solo arises.  Like the most sincere prayer, guitar’s cry represents the desire for salvation from the hell of the war. Everything freezes for a moment while the prayer takes its place. Solo guitar, choir, bass guitar and simple 4/4 rhythm of the drums exemplify this act.

A brief moment of contemplation is disrupted with the back to reality moment when the chorus starts with these lines:

“It’s the end, the war has been lost,
Keeping them safe ‘till the river’s been crossed.”

And the reality was filled with bullets, artillery shells, death and suffering.

The final impression

This kind of intertextuality (citation) gives Sabaton’s song a certain depth in terms of musical expression. I decided to share this case of motivic interaction with you primarily because it moved me deeply. History is sort of my second passion, after music, therefore, such a beautiful combination really made me wonder what an impact one baroque melody could have in a type of music that is power metal (or any other non-classical actually).

If you like this post, please share it with your friends, colleagues and everyone that might be interested in this kind of analysis. Two more posts about Sabaton’s songs under the influence of Bach and another famous composer are coming, so be sure to subscribe if you want to receive a notification when the posts get posted. If you would like to know how Sibelius musically “painted” the Far North, click here. Until the next reading, stay safe and enjoy music!

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