SONATA ARCTICA - ECLIPTICA - SPINEFARM
I am glad to report that, for a change, the hype emanating from the band biography is based in actuality. Referring to the band as the kings of melodic metal, etc. the band's extremely accomplished debut CD confirms most of what is written about these young newcomers. The band is hardly heavy metal, what with all the keyboards layered in their music; but in the pop/pomp rock category the Finnish quartet is nearly unparalleled taking into account the band's inexperience. Musically taking their very mature cues from the likes of Stratovarius and Dream Theater, the band presents a complicated barrage of progressive wizardry guided by multi-layered keyboard interludes from start to finish. Be that as it may, it is in the vocal department that the band shines through. Hard to believe the front man doesn't have years of experience and training behind him, but Tony Kakko's incredible range pushes tracks like Full Moon and Blank File that much further. Imagine a soaring mixture of fellow Finns Stratovarius and Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian holding the mike! Not exactly the stuff of heavy metal dreams, but very competent nevertheless. - Ali "The Metallian"
SONATA ARCTICA - SILENCE - SPINEFARM/CENTURY MEDIA
Here is another product of Century Media's recent contract with Spinefarm to sell the former label's product in North America. Past the cute cover artwork and listening to Sonata Arctica's second full length album and already several things are clear. The Finnish band, whose line up has seen some modification here, is a melodic band with all the elements one would justifiably expect from a Finnish pomp rock formation. The sound is crisp and clear and a lot of emphasis is placed on melody. The band's closest comparison is its older cousin Stratovarius, although Edguy, Dream Theater and the odd moment of Amorphism is also to be heard. The band consciously is trying to mix things up, something that comes to the fore, for example, on Land Of The Free which sports a fist pumping chant. Then Last Drop Falls is a slower and more sombre song. The individual members do a good job overall here, and despite the presence of both guitar and keyboard leads; the constant doubling up of the vocals, no one performer dominates it all. Now what about that album title? - Ali "The Metallian"
SONATA ARCTICA - WINTERHEART'S GUILD - SPINEFARM/CENTURY MEDIA
Sonata Arctica stands head and shoulders above other Finnish bands. The young yet successful act has proven again it knows the secret to conceiving an elegant album. Winterheart's Guild combines a beautiful cover, a strong production and colourful music. The band's use of the keyboard is unimportant compared to its ability to evoke fantastic emotions in the listener. Having said that, the band's faster numbers are clearly the winners, managing to better showcase the quintet's talents. Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited and The Ruins Of My Life are all good songs laden with feeling. The singer soars, albeit in moderate register, the guitar flashes in limited doses and it all culminates in an effect not far removed from what Stratovarius often delivers. Coincidentally, keyboardist Jens Johansson of the aforementioned band guests here. Then there is Broken, a song noteworthy for its distinct sound.
All is not well with the band though. Most importantly, Tommy Portimo's drumming leaves a lot to be desired. His monotonous and straight-forward approach begs for imagination. The album's slower tunes are not optimal either. They often drag, especially compared to the preceding upbeat songs. The album clocks in at 55 minutes, but that is because the CD has five minutes of blank space at its end. At least, they spared the listener from waiting to hear the Finnish dialogue at the end of Draw Me. All in all, WG is a good album worthy of exploration. - Ali "The Metallian"
SONATA ARCTICA - RECKONING NIGHT - NUCLEAR BLAST
There is no doubt that Sonata Arctica does what it does very well and that the band is poised for even bigger things which is saying something given the Finns' fast rise in the scene. The band's 2004 album, Reckoning Night, is like most genre albums from Scandinavia in that it is Classically-based. The tight rhythm, fantastic vocals and upbeat instrumentation push the pomp rockers into the stratosphere. The music has a sense of adventure and fantasy which will hardly disappoint old or new fans - the heavily compressed and high-gain production notwithstanding. Having said that, one wishes that the band would either drop the synthesizers and become a real metal band or just drop the act and go for the popular jugular. The band certainly has the dynamics and the beats for the former, and the potential for accessibility of the latter. A song like Blinded No More, after all, sounds downright like Europe. The album's first half features more of the band's regular fare while the second half sees the band experimenting a tad. - Ali "The Metallian"
SONATA ARCTICA - FOR THE SAKE OF REVENGE - NUCLEAR BLAST
Most readers are by now probably familiar with my judgement that live albums are useless in the day and age of live videos. For that reason, and to deter online music piracy and boost sales, Nuclear Blast has issued For The Sake Of Revenge as a double-disc DVD/CD combo. Now that is value for money. On the flip side, it was only three and a half years ago that the band released a live album. Is there really so much demand for live material these days?
The sound is uncannily clear leading to indications of studio tampering. The live vocals otherwise are impressive. Even better than the sound though is the absolutely majestic and noble depiction of a wolf on the cover. The creature is magnanimous.
The set list on the discs approximate one another and features songs from earlier and newer Sonata Arctica albums. Singer Tony Kakko refers to one song (Victoria’s Secret) as “underwear music” and far be it from us at Metallian Towers to argue. In fact, let’s call the entire album “underwear music.” Why not? It sounds hipper than pomp rock. Of course, the Finns mix progressive rock with metal and arena rock. No wonder several riffs approximate Bon Jovi and Europe. The chorus of Blinded No More is close to Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer. This might explain why the band is 'big in Japan.' To further drive the point home the band does its best arena rock impression dividing the audience into the ”˜hey’ and the ”˜ho’ sides. On another interlude the singer emphasizes the routine by asking “Are you ready to rock tonight?” He might be related to Gene Simmons, you know. Then there is the sing-along and the 'I can’t hear you routine.' Now where did we dump those Poison LPs? Other band names that come to mind upon hearing Sonata Arctica are Helloween and Dream Theater. The latter band is a constant especially during the soaring vocal parts and the keyboard solos.
The video disc is exceptionally clear and showcases a young band that has conquered the stage. Sonata Arctica has garnered itself a commanding stage presence. The members are enthusiastic and move around quite a bit. Still, the sight of a keyboardist banging his head will never fail to be funny. Who knows, perhaps he figures himself a metal head? - Ali “The Metallian”
SONATA ARCTICA - UNIA - NUCLEAR BLAST
In Black And White starts off this 'decidedly progressive and theatrical' release. The opener is a typical yet decent representative of the progressive hard rock sound that is Sonata Arctica. Paid In Full has a very commercial and mainstream start with Tony Kakko doing his best Finnish idol audition and even though the unoriginal sounding music becomes more prominent the impression that Tony is the main man is inescapable. For The Sake Of Revenge is remarkably similar in structure to the song before it, however it does manage more in the catchiness department. It Won’t Fade is more promising as it seems to carry a more aggressive tone, which unfortunately doesn’t last too long. Under Your Tree ventures into folk territory, somehow not too surprising considering the country name beside the name of the band. Caleb sees the band borrowing a Dream Theatre riff or two. The Vice is ready made for success on any European sales chart. Listening to My Dream’s But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare one reminisces of Threshold. The Harvest is heavier, faster and more guitar oriented than the rest and as such is a welcome wake up call. The World’s Forgotten, The World’s Forbidden is a very unoriginal ballad. Fly With The Black Swan is given life by the occasional solid rhythm guitars. Good Enough Is Good Enough’s title is an odd choice for a closing song on any album and sees the band delve into classical music realms. - Anna Tergel