Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sonata Arctica - Stones Grow Her Name (2012)

With a style that remains distinct, yet wholly accessible after sixteen long years, Sonata Arctica aren't about to change for anyone. One of Finland's proudest exports, this keyboard-led melodic metal five piece has accomplished damn near everything you could want to in a career, with legions of fans across the world hanging on every note. But even more important than that is their ability to stay true to the dream. And on "Stones Grow Her Name," there may be new wrinkles to the signature formula, but the flavor is still the same.

With an opening that kicks into high gear immediately, "Only The Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful)" sees the band at their emotional best, combining an uptempo musical assault with frontman Tony Kakko's poignant lyrical talent. The harmony of melodic guitars with a constant booming kick drum drives the track forward, while fluttering keys add accents throughout. Kakko's vocal delivery, his flow if you will, has always been a bright spot and this is no different.With seemingly endless layers stacked atop one another, you have a tremendous depth of sound to take in. What follows is a track with a name that may seem a tad curious, but a track that is anything but. "Shitload Of Money" isn't the most subtle title, but the sound is a new take on the classic heavy metal, done in a way that is unique and refreshing. Guitarist Elias Viljanen gives you some strong riffs, with a flourish of keyboard produced tones pad out the mix. Kakko takes his voice to new places, touching on glam metal before laying down his own brand of hook. This is a track that will stick for hours and days.

If you have been feeling the lack of a strong keyboard presence so far, "Losing My Insanity" will rectify that. A beautifully played intro, classically inspired, leads into a raucous guitar lead. There is a definite similarity to the "Unia" sound of 2007, mainly in the vocal and drum contributions. With a relentless battery of percussion, there is nothing holding Viljanen back from delivery finger licking solos and catchy chorus riffs. It would be crass to say that this track oozes anything but pure Sonata Arctica. But with a heavier edge, "Somewhere Close To You" will open your ears in a different way, with guitars that will carve you in new ways. Even the breakdown and solo sections have an eerie sort of feel, with the keyboards filling a hole with ominous whines. It is both beautiful and bold, especially when thrown in the middle of two much different tracks, as "I Have A Right" quickly shows. This boasts the most straight forward message, one that could be summed up by saying "I should be allowed to be me." And while this might not be the standard metal message, it works here, thanks largely to the execution on all fronts. Musically, the keyboards are clincher, with a dazzling melody rolling from start to finish.

A soulful, acoustic opening launches "Alone In Heaven," a song that sees Kakko delivery a very clear story in lyric form. And inside that message is an almost disturbingly good question: "How can this be Heaven if my best friends burn in Hell?" It carries the musical weight of a ballad, but the lyrical weight of something more, something that may invoke a thought or two. Some of that carries over into "The Day," with a combination of twirling guitar riffs and winding keyboards. There is something almost triumphant in the way Kakko delivers his lyrics, as simple as they may be. The way the song is constructed has so much to do with the end result, as layers and layers of sounds come together in a perfect mix of sour and sweet. Now, the southern twang that seems to find a place in the opening riffs of "Cinderblox" may leave you in shock. It's as if the most popular jug band has enlisted a drummer and guitarist, and released a crossover effort. Granted, that feeling only lasts a short time at first, but the emergence of a banjo style playing from time to time is a bit of a curveball. This is not to say it doesn't work on some level, but it may not have the result that you wanted. Let the Finnish hoe-down begin!

Slowing things down, "Don't Be Mean" sees Kakko taking a more sullen approach, paired with light keys. This is the rest track, the one that gives you a chance to recoup your thoughts without killing the pace of the album. Instead, they follow it with two epic tracks, "Wildfire, Part II" and "Wildfire, Part III." The former builds up from silence into a chugging fury. The band is back in full swing, with dazzling keyboard backing. Encased in this eight minute offering a little bit of everything you have come to expect. Rolling double bass, blazing guitar riffs and a method of singing that is unique to Kakko alone.The latter track is an assault of the senses, with things picking up steam for one final launch. You may detect a more power metal edge to this one, as the drumming shifts into high gear. But when things slow down, and the keyboards take over, there is something much more enticing to enjoy. The composition that inhabits the middle portion is subtle, but beautiful, in a way that warrants a few repeated listen of that piece alone. One final burst, and nature takes you to an end.

The name of the game is, and has always been, evolution. rather than going back and remaking the same album year after year, Sonata Arctica grows. Every effort shows off a new aspect of their sound, while still retaining the elements that have made them a fan favorite for the better part of two decades. So, while you can certainly pick out pieces that remind you of "Unia," or even "Winterheart’s Guild," these eleven tracks will become synonymous with this album. If you have been fortunate to bear witness to the constant shifting of what "metal" is, then you can appreciate even more of what this band does. With "Stones Grow Her Name," they have given you a lot to hear, and even more to think about.


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1 comment:

  1. Very excited about this one - the last album was excellent. Thanks for the review!