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This is flower metal. There can be no argument otherwise in this case. High pitched singing, guitar riffs that are more drenched in synth than being able to wallow in their own un-originality, and hyper melodic guitar leads. Drums are almost non existent as very little is done. And yet, it works. Sonata Arctica have proved here that you can be power metal and then at the same time, not be metal. Somehow, some way, it is catchy epic, and full of pop splendor all at the same time.
Flag in the Ground is at the same time a grueling trip through a pop influenced wasteland, and yet it is at times aggressive. And at times melodic; some of the guitar leads feel like they belong on a Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas album. The sound that Sonata Arctica gives you is very tight and confident sounding nonetheless. Keys dominate but they are built on a solid rhythm section that gets the job done.
The guitars follow a simple riff for the majority of the song, the kind of thing that would appear on a deathcore breakdown without the massive down tuning and laughable tough guy brutality. When not following this simple and delightful pattern, simple tremolo riffs are evident, satisfying my need for guitar all the while.
When the guitars venture further than that, the guitarists procure some really memorable and simply joyous guitar leads. They are not complex but they are well put together within the whole song and add texture and will bring you back to their infectious happy uppity spirit. When a guitar solo does come in it is short, sweet, and features some pretty sick shredding, if only for a second.
Bass. It’s there. It doesn’t do much outside of chugging at a solid pace. I suppose I’ll throw in my two cents about the drum here as well. The double bass mostly play around with the same rhythms that the guitars and bass do, with simple snare-cymbal routines playing alongside that you’ve heard a thousand times before. On occasion, the double bass assumes a nice quick pattern which really adds a lot of energy compared to the bare bones work heard elsewhere in the piece.
The keys offer another dominant aspect of this album and can be attributed for a good degree of the pop sounding effects. When the guitars and bass assume their basic and nice chugging rhythms, the keys deliver a melody in a flurry of notes that is both impressive and easy to follow and melodic. They have a certain Jordan Rudess- esque touch as they never seem to know that there is indeed a band around them and they can play as well, if not better than you at their respective instruments than you.
I’ll try to not get too worked up. The keyboard work is indeed well written and melodic to an extreme with the vocalist introduced solo sections. They change up octaves on the same set of notes for different sections of the repeated chorus, which adds an epic appeal and satisfies my music theory requisites. He is indeed a skilled man at his craft, but he just needs to tone it down. His doing is a major pattern in the offensive-to-some flower metal.
The singing here is fantastic, as much as it pains me to say it. His voice goes quite a bit higher than I am usually comfortable with, but I wouldn’t, and I’m sure SA wouldn’t have it any other way. His voice has a certain warming texture that you would hear in the soprano section of a professional choir, but he sings metal. He has a lot of character and energy that he brings and it is heard quite clear. I’m unsure whether or not he wrote the lyrics, but they are also a nice touch. Actual choruses in the background are also a nice aspect that comes back now and then.
I have to say, the music here is just well written all around. The melodies intertwine nicely and the climax at the end where different melody lines introduced prior in the music come together in a giant cacophony of Christmas-time charm. Another part of what makes this so appealing is how catchy it is. Just getting it stuck in your head prevents me from totally loathing it. It’s a fun song. It’s not metal or hard core in any degree, but the guys clearly had fun making it, something that is lost in a sea of depressed and suicidal black metal bands (irrelevant but I made my point).
Normally this stuff would not appeal to me, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I really do not enjoy much of SA’s other works, as they lack gall. Here they show some aggression by playing lower notes and featuring more mournful vocals. The melody that they build themselves on is still there, but Flag in the Ground takes that, contorts it, and reforms it in such a way that it takes on a truly epic feel. So go ahead, get this on a free compilation like I did. Enjoy it, but don’t let it change your previous view of the band.