Finnish Sonata Arctica never was a favourite band of mine, although I’m very much into power metal – they were a bit too soft and “tralala-happy” for my taste. However, with this, their 5th album, they apparently changed their style and approach to composing, generally getting a harder, darker and more progressive edge than before, and it’s more to my liking.
This album demands some attention in listening to, and more than one turn in the player to get into, being more varied and complex than the more straightforward power metal on previous albums. The verses and choruses in some of the songs are still quite straight forward, but in particular, bridges and solo parts aren’t. At first there might not be as many songs to sing along or hum the melody to, but it seems the band are trying out different styles or moods, not to get stuck with one type of songs, and generally broaden their repertoire. This will probably make it longer lasting on my playlist. Fans and followers of their previous style might not agree with me on the positive in the development of the bands general style and the experiments on this album, and might have some problems with the changes, but with skilled musicians as the ones in S.A. it would be strange if they didn’t want to use their technical potential and wanting to develop their composing and playing.
Somehow, some of the tracks remind me of Danish heavy rockers Pretty Maids from their earlier (heavier) days, and that’s a positive comparison coming from me.
First track “In Black And White” almost reaches the quality of one of my favourite (prog) power metal bands Pagan’s Mind, with a strong singing in the intro and through the song, and some distinct progressive musical elements in the many bridge parts in the middle of the song. A few songs later on the album almost reaches the same level, but some of the tracks, like “Paid In Full” and the slower, softer songs like “For the Sake Of Revenge”, “Under Your Tree” and “Good Enough Is Good Enough”, still is a little too “tralala” and cheesy for my ears, not very varied in neither singing nor playing – like they need a break from the fast&hard...I don’t.
I clearly prefer the harder and/or faster parts of the songs – it’s here I think they really show their strength in vocal and instrumental work (for example some really awesome solos), as well as in composing.
Lead vocalist Tony Kakko has a good melodic voice, and are able to do harder vocal work too, but I don’t think he does the softest parts that convincing. Unfortunately, there’s generally not that much guitar (apart from rhythm and solos) on this album, the playing abilities of Jani Liimatainen isn’t made to the best possible use in playing the melodies. On the other hand, there’s a lot of keyboard, that creates a big part of the mood of the album – but a shift towards some more guitar compared to keyboards would please someone like me…
Summing it up: A few really good tracks (see below), but also some uninteresting or directly cheesy, skilful playing in the solos, a little too much keyboard compared to guitar, some cool progressive elements and generally good vocal work – Nice that a band dares to do experiments, and not just stick to a sure and well tested formula.
I wonder what they’ll do live and how the next album will sound like…
Recommended tracks: "In Black and White", "Caleb" & "My Dream’s but a Drop of Fuel for a Nightmare" (last half).