And now – as the saying goes – for something completely different here on The Scifi and Fantasy Reviewer. I’ve done book reviews, interviews with authors, interviews with editors, even cover reveals – but I’ve never reviewed any music before. It wasn’t something that I’d really considered before, because while I think I’m pretty adept at reviewing written works by now, even with my limited knowledge of music reviews I’m aware that it takes quite a different set of skills and specialist knowledge. So in that respect, my ability to review music from a technical standpoint is distinctly limited, and as such this isn’t going to be a review that refers to things like scales and notes and being able to differentiate between different types of guitars. Not unless you’d like two thousand words comprised of “I like the bit that went nah nah nah nah naaaah‘ but was less fond of the guitar bit that went all ‘wahwahwah waaaah.‘” What I can offer you in this review, however, are both my impressions of the music from a non-technical standpoint as a listener – and perhaps more importantly, my thoughts about the band themselves and what their music does for me.
With those provisos out of the way, let’s talk about the music I’m reviewing – the upcoming single Redcoat from Forlorn Hope, a five-piece heavy metal band from Merseyside that I firmly believe are both the heirs to Sabaton’s throne, and also a band that is revolutionizing the military history subgenre of heavy metal. I thought I should mention the Swedish tank-obsessed musicians early on so we can get comparisons to them out of the way – because while those comparisons might be easy to make, they are also distinctly superficial. Yes, it’s true that ‘military-focused heavy metal’ is a relatively niche sub-genre; and yes, Sabaton have dominated it for several decades at this point with a string of superb albums and singles, as well as increasingly-elaborate music videos funded by video game companies. However, until recently it’s not like they’ve had much competition – there’s Gloryhammer and Civil War, of course, and tangentially Alestorm, but Sabaton has very much been the titan of the subgenre, easily dominating it. And I’m a huge fan of Joakim Broden and his band-mates, to the extent that until I discovered Forlorn Hope, there weren’t many other bands – heavy metal or otherwise – that I regularly listened to on a day-to-day basis. They can still produce superbly crafted singles and albums, with songs that stay in your head for ages afterwards – Soldier of Heaven and Steel Commanders are brilliant pieces that I’ll readily listen on repeat.
For a while now, I’d thought that there was something missing to Sabaton’s songs – at least for me. I’ve been listening to them for over a decade now, but in the past couple of years it felt like they weren’t quite scratching that heavy metal itch I had been feeling ever since I discovered the sub-genre. Comparing their latest songs to their earlier ones, it felt to me like they’d lost a little of their passion, their spark. Or at least to me – others can of course disagree. I’d been wandering around YouTube and Spotify for months trying to find something that would imbue me with the same passion and emotion that the earlier Sabaton albums had – but been finding nothing. That was until I was combing through Bandcamp late one night, crippled with insomnia, and stumbled across the page of a band called Forlorn Hope. The name instantly caught my eye as both a history graduate and a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series – a Forlorn Hope was an infantry column formed of volunteers and those hoping for swift advance in the ranks, sent first into a newly-formed breech in a fortification; most would die in a hail of musket balls, but those who survived would see themselves well-rewarded for their bravery – and I was intrigued enough to listen to their first single, entitled Rifles. I firmly believe that Rifles is the best song that the band have written and performed so far, despite it being one of their first – it’s a powerhouse of a song, performed at near breakneck speed by the band as it eulogizes the skill and talent of the riflemen of the 95th Rifles during the Peninsular War – the conflict that remains the key inspiration for the band’s music, alongside the battles and campaigns of the British Army. When Rifles is considered alongside their other songs, it is impossible not to conclude that there is a raw passion and ferocity in Forlorn Hope’s music that makes it stand out from its many competitors, alongside highly-talented instrumentals and an overall polish that makes it seem as if the band has been performing and recording songs for decades, akin to giants like Sabaton.
It’s no lie to say that I was genuinely entranced by the single, and found myself playing it repeatedly for the next hour – its combination of bombastic, heavy metal music, crisp vocals from lead singer Chris Simpson, and stirring keyboard and guitar backing felt absolutely perfect to me, and I knew that they had a new fan. I was lucky enough to order a limited-edition CD from the Bandcamp, just before they created their own website and then began to break into the mainstream, and from then on Forlorn Hope became one of the few bands I would listen to regularly, whether at work, commuting or just at home with my family. I eagerly purchased their first album – the superb Over The Hills – when it was released in 2019, and did the same for their First World War-themed single To The Bitter End in 2021, even painstakingly listening to my local radio station when it was featured on their weekly heavy metal programme before it was formally released. Suffice to say that the band rapidly won me over with their music – deftly described by the Sentinel Daily as “a musical version of Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ novels” – and I eagerly looked forward to seeing what they would release next.
As such, I was incredibly excited when the band announced a new single, and even more so when it was revealed that it was titled Redcoat and would stretch across multiple centuries to look at the experiences of the titular Redcoats as they undertook campaigns across multiple continents. I was intrigued, and also a little curious – it sounded like a challenging concept to try and pull off across an entire album, let alone a single. And yet I figured if there was a band that could pull that off – well, it was Forlorn Hope.
And they did – and it’s an incredible song as a result. Redcoat feels like not just the best song that Forlorn Hope have ever released – even managing to surpass my previous favourite Rifles – but it also feels like a crucial evolution of the band’s music in terms of lyrics, instrumentals and vocals. Many of the songs from the band have a powerful opening that draws you in, but the one for Redcoat is so powerful it borders on epic, instantly transporting you to the Redcoat era with its drumming – reminiscent of the Napoleonic pas de charge – before launching into a glorious mixture of guitars, keyboards and Chris Simpson’s powerful and distinctive voice intoning that “Redcoat is his name” as the song begins to move through the campaigns and battles in which the redcoats earnt their undying reputation. However, the song is anything but a mindless recitation of battles and hard-won glories – indeed, what makes the song stand out so much to me is the way in which the instrumentals provide a powerful and near-irresistable backing to lyrics that seek to both entertain and educate the listener about the lives and actions of the soldier of the British Army. It’s a testament to the band’s huge amount of talent that the song is able to take us through a complex and often deeply controversial history, one that includes “rebels lashed to cannons” and a redcoat simultaneously considered “hero to his country and a vagabond reviled” without seeming either trite or lecturing. It’s an absolute triumph, and a tour-de-force that permanently cements Forlorn Hope’s place in the heavy metal genre – it’s no wonder that the band are rightly proud of their achievement with the single.
As if that wasn’t enough, Redcoat is accompanied by a richly-narrated audiohistory by the band, which examines the historical period covered by the track, and during which the red-coated soldiers of the British Army fought across continents and defended and expanded the reaches of the British Empire as a result. Audiohistory and documentaries seem to becoming more and more common, especially in heavy metal bands, and of course Sabaton’s collaboration with actor, musician and YouTuber Indy Neidell is probably the most well-known. Now I enjoy those collaborations a great deal, as they often delve into little-known historical events, and they’re often pretty high-budget affairs with video, audio-visual effects and stock historical footage pulled together to create professional documentary-level videos. I want to put all that detail there so I can highlight that the Redcoat audiohistory is just as good as Sabaton and Neidell’s collaborations; and in fact, I think I prefer it by comparison. Because while Chris Simpson and his bandmates may not (yet!) have the budget for video and props and so forth, they have instead focused on crafting a highly-polished, deeply fascinating and highly entertaining audiohistory that effortlessly spans the Redcoat period. The voice-acting is superb throughout, and I was genuinely surprised when elements of voice-acting were introduced; I’m not sure who impersonated Lord Wellington, but it was delightfully reminiscent of Hugh Fraser’s performance in the Sharpe ITV series. While I’d consider myself relatively knowledgeable about the period covered by the audiobook, having studied it in-depth at university, I was still able to learn some interesting new facts, to my delight; and equally, I think the audiohistory would serve as an ideal introduction to the period for a neophyte. It really is a crowning achievement – and while I know that creating the audiohistory must have been a significant time and money investment for the band, such is its quality that I can only selfishly hope that they do more for their future releases.
Redcoat is not only the best song released by Forlorn Hope in their career as a heavy metal band, but I would go so far as to say that it is one of the best heavy metal songs that I have ever listened to in my life, easily standing up-to anything that giants of the genre like Sabaton have performed. The single is a clear demonstration of the depth and variety of talent found within Forlorn Hope, and their ability to deftly blend together superb lyrics, awesome vocals and utterly sublime instrumentals to create something that lodges itself in your head long after the song itself has finished, and happily lingers for a long time afterwards. You’ll find yourself – as I did – humming the chorus and repeating those sublime lyrics randomly throughout the day – before going back and listening to Redcoat on repeat for a while longer. It’s clear and undeniable proof of Forlorn Hope’s incredible talent as a heavy metal band, one that is on their way to the very top, and I cannot wait to see what their second album sounds like when it’s released later this year. You can be sure I’ll be reviewing it here as well, as soon as I can.