Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sabaton - Shiroyama

“Encircled by a vulture,
The end of ancient culture,
The dawn of destiny draws near.”

Speaking of new albums in 2016, Sabaton released their eighth studio album titled “The Last Stand.”

I have discussed Sabaton twice before and they are likely to become a mainstay on this blog since they are one of the most exciting active bands I have discovered in recent years. Sabaton’s whole thing is that they are a metal band and all their songs are about European military history. Seriously I learned a lot about the rise and fall of the Swedish empire and many major battles in world war two just by listening to these guys. It is like I am getting an education while rocking out, which is pretty ideal.

Sabaton’s latest work is, more or less, the same sort of thing we have seen before, more badass metal songs about military history, the only notable slight difference is that there appears to be a theme of finality, the end of something, many of the battles presented in music form on “The Last Stand” are exactly just that, a last stand, a final conclusion to things.

The song “Sparta” is about the battle of Thermopylae, the hot gates, where famously three hundred Spartan warriors held off a Persian invasion that outnumber them absurdly for an absurdly long time, resulting in the death of every Spartan hoplite. While this was far from the end of the Sparta city state or their military presence in Peloponnesian peninsula, it was certainly one of the most epic ends to a military campaign and the lives of those who fought in history of all warfare.

The title track “The Last Stand” is about the Pope Clement the seventh’s Swiss guard defending his escape from the Hasburg Spain attack. The Swiss Guard was thoroughly annihilated and ceased to exist for a long time until the Hasburg occupation ceased, so this was literally the last stand of the Holy See’s military guard.

Lastly, we have “Shiroyama” which is understandably about the battle Shiroyama, the final battle in the Satsuma Rebellion. As Sabaton points out, this is the last stand of the samurai, and in many ways, I feel this song better captures the spirit of the album “The Last Stand” than even the title track of the same name. Spartans would bounce back from the loss of three hundred men and arguably win the war against their Athenian rivals. The Swiss Guard exist today, so while temporarily removed from activity the Swiss Guard did recover. Samurais however are no more, and Shiroyama was the last time the way of the samurai would have any meaningful military or political significance. Of the three songs I have pointed too only once depicts the literal final end of a military body and way of life, “Shiroyama” is a song that literally is about the last stand of samurais in all human history.

“Shiroyama” is my favorite song from the new album. It helps that I love Samurais. I made it an issue to see as many castles as I could when I visited Japan. Also I made a day trip to Kitakyushu and Ganryujima where the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro took place. It also helps that “Shiroyama” has one of the catchiest guitar rifts in all Sabaton’s playlist. “Shiroyama” stands out as one of Sabaton’s best songs to date and that is saying a lot given how strongly I feel about their previous albums “Charlos Rex,” “Coat of Arms,” and “The Art of War.”

One cannot do a review of a Sabaton song without a history lesson so here it is.

The Satsuma Rebellion was fought between the newly established Empire of Japan and the Satsuma Domain.

The Empire of Japan came from the Meiji Restoration/Renovation/Revolution/Reform/Renewal, or whatever we decide to call it, where Emperor Meiji was restored as the emperor of Japan but more importantly, at least for this conversation, the Empire of Japan ushered in the technological advancement in both industry and military. The Empire of Japan would lead Japan to becoming a world power and transformed itself in 1947 into the modern Japanese federal government that we know today.

The Satsuma Domain was one of the most powerful feudal domains in the Tokugawa Japan and among the wealthiest throughout the Edo period. Unsurprisingly they remained a classical samurai culture and were hugely disenfranchised by the rapid changes in the politics and culture of Japan’s primary ruling forces. The rebellion spawned from a resistance to these changes as well as a shift in power dynamics. It is difficult, or impossible, for the old ways to survive in the face of change, especially when that change represents technological and military advancement; or how Sabaton puts it:

“It's the nature of time,
That the old ways must give in.
It's the nature of time,
that the new ways come in sin.

When the new meets the old.
It always ends the ancient ways,
And as history told,
The old ways go out in a blaze.”

It was not just military supremacy of the Empire of Japan that resulted in their unavoidable eventual victory over Satsuma Samurais, but also the power of numbers. The old ways were dying out, and there grew to be less and less people living in Japan who held on to the traditions of the Samurai by the time the Satsuma Rebellion transpired. They were impossibly outnumbered as well as brutally out armed.

“Imperial force defied,
Facing 500 samurai.
Surrounded and outnumbered,
60 to 1 the sword face the gun.
Bushido dignified,
It's the last stand of the samurai,
surrounded and outnumbered.”

Saigo Takamori.  Leader of the
Satsuma Rebellion.
Argubably the last samurai.

Given the basic common knowledge we all possess of Samurais it should come as no surprise that the Satsuma soldiers elected to fight to the death instead of surrendering. Their leader Saigo Takamori suffered a bullet wound and escape to either die from the injury or was killed by his own men who then buried his head elsewhere so the enemy would not find it; all of this done to preserve their leader’s honour. Then the forty remaining samurai drew their sword and refusing to surrender die in battle.

"An offer of surrender,
Saigo ignore contender,
The dawn of destiny is here."

The wind of change is an unstoppable juggernaut and will not be denied. It is easy to point to the guns and cannons as the deciding factor in the demise of the samurai, and the failed Satsuma Rebellion, for how could they possibly combat such a superior fighting force? However the Satsuma samurais were also in use of some canons and guns, the change of face of combat and war had already affected all serious fighting forces on the islands of Japan, and indeed everywhere. It was always just a matter of time before the sword was replaced with the gun.

War will forever be a dark yet glorious subject, however in the conversation of the battle of Shiroyama there is an added level of tragedy. The bravery and extreme devotion to their warrior’s code of honour is inspiring and everything about that way of life was wiped out in this fateful battle in Kagoshima. It is very tragic, but then again, all war is.

- King of Braves

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