Time to have a look at Talviyö (translates to “winter night”), the upcoming album of Finnish power metal legends Sonata Arctica. This is a band that means a lot to me – in fact, Sonata Arctica was the first band that got me into metal. I was 12 when I stumbled upon their cover of “Still Loving You”, and I promptly became obsessed with them – singer and primary songwriter Tony Kakko is an amazing storyteller who has a way of making songs stick with you for years. The album “The Days Of Grays” had just come out back then, and the following albums received very mixed reactions from fans as the band moved away from their classic style. I didn’t even listen to the 2014 album “Pariah’s Child” in its entirety because I was so disappointed with the stylistic changes. So I started listening to Talviyö with a healthy dose of skepticism, but I was also hopeful that this album would turn the tide and bring back the good ol’ Sonata Arctica that I loved.
The album starts out strong with “Message From The Sun”: a fairly heavy anthem which tastes like old-school Sonata with its uplifting fast beat and electric guitars. Followed by “Whirlwind”, a love song with a very interesting keyboard and electric guitar riff – I really like the song, but I can’t shake the feeling that the riff doesn’t fit with the rest of the song, like it was stitched together quickly. Then comes “Cold” which dabbles in ‘feel-good rock/arena rock’ territory here and there, but it’s beginning to grow on me. “Storm the Armada” is the first of two songs dealing with climate change, and I think it has a very beautiful melody, but the song as a whole is somewhat boring and even poppy at times.
“The Last Of The Lambs” – I LOVE this one. The slow, eerie ballad continues the ‘Caleb’ saga (a series of Sonata songs following the tragic life of a deranged stalker who eventually dies at the hand of his victim). The vibe of the song fits to the creepy saga, as Caleb bittersweetly sings “Now, when you cry on your bed – could’ve loved me instead” to, presumably, his victim. It’s very beautiful and insane. Although I’m not sure how exactly to interpret this song in the context of the previous ‘Caleb’ songs – is he singing from the afterlife? Or does this take place before he died? Or did he not die at all, and my interpretation is just wrong? Either way, this song is haunting.
“Who Failed The Most” is about how we are failing the future generations by not taking action to hault climate change, instead leaving them a planet in a “state of dystopia”. It sounds very upbeat, while also being depressing. It has it all: each instrument shines, cool bassline, catchy chorus, and the song fits perfectly to Tony’s iconic voice. The instrumental “Ismo’s Got Good Reactors” feels like an awesome jam session where guitarist Elias Viljanen especially shines. Also features a great keytar solo by Henrik Klingenberg. Very fun song that showcases Sonata’s power metal roots. Followed by the politically charged “Demon’s Cage” which sounds very “The Days Of Grays” in the best way – it’s a perfect mixture of power and symphonic, with an amazing piano riff throughout, and drummer Tommy Portimo really ties the song together with a fast power metal beat. Not to mention great lyrics: “Pave the streets with broken glass, working man kneel and kiss my beautiful…”. 🙂
Then comes “A Little Less Understanding” which has already been released as a single. I think that this song is too much ‘arena rock’ for me to like it, and I don’t understand why they keep releasing the weaker songs first. Next song is the very symphonic “The Raven Still Flies With You”, a story about a lost child – not my favorite but with some very good pieces, and a folk-y bridge. The final track of the album is “The Garden” which has a very sentimental piano melody and acoustic guitars. It’s a subdued song about being thankful for the good things in your life. Nice message, but this lullaby-esque song is not really to my taste… but it’s not the first time that they throw in a song like this – “Don’t Be Mean” comes to mind.
So. Let’s evaluate. Sonata Arctica worked with an external producer, Mikko Tegelman, for the first time. The production value of the album is definitely better than that of their previous two albums – you can hear each instrument much more clearly. The album was produced with the intention of replicating the band’s live sound – they wanted to transfer their live energy to the studio album. I would say they succeeded in this regard, and I am looking forward to hearing the songs live.
I have to applaud the band’s work on this album. It’s a bit of a meme at this point that every time Sonata releases a new album, they claim that it will sound like ‘old Sonata’ and that they’ve gone back to their roots. But I think it rings true this time – you can really feel that Tony has worked to capture the elements that people loved about their older albums, and blended it with their new style. The lyricism is captivating, dealing with the beauty/tragedy of humanity which Tony has always been great at writing about, and the songs are incredibly diverse in style and sound. And while I find some of the songs a bit bland, I like the album a little more each time I replay it, and I find myself appreciating nuances I didn’t notice before.
Genre-wise, the album is a gray area – there’s a lot of good power/symphonic metal moments, but also some strange pop/rock elements. The band has said on multiple occasions that they don’t consider themselves power metal, but you can tell that they’ve been struggling with genres and expectations on their last 3-4 albums – they want to cater to their old fans while also wanting to experiment with sounds that are less typical for a metal band, and it can sometimes be awkward to balance that, but I think they did it pretty well on this album. It’s important to remember that Sonata Arctica was never super hardcore metal in the first place. I loved them for their cheesy power-ish metal that tells stories, and this album is exactly that: cheesy power-ish metal that tells stories. It has been 20 years since “Ecliptica”, arguably one of the best metal albums ever – maybe it’s time we stop demanding a new “Ecliptica” or “Silence” and instead appreciate that these Finns are still making innovative music despite the constant pressure of matching their first albums. I think that Sonata Arctica has done a great job at establishing their new style and direction on this album. The storytelling and musical creativity are brilliant as always – their style is different, but change is not necessarily a bad thing. And while I don’t love every song, the ones I do love fill me with a nice feeling of nostalgia from my first ever metal band.
01. Message From The Sun
04. Storm The Armada
05. The Last Of The Lambs
06. Who Failed The Most
07. Ismo's Got Good Reactors
08. Demon's Cage
09. A Little Less Understanding
10. The Raven Still Flies With You
11. The Garden
Playing Time: 56:28
Tony Kakko / Lead Vocals
Henrik Klingenberg / Keyboard, Keytar
Elias Viljanen / Guitars
Tommy Portimo / Drums
Pasi Kauppinen / Bass