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Sonata Arctica; a band that at one time fans would be very confident that their albums would be exactly what they’d be expecting. But now the modern day Sonata Arctica is not quite like that and when fans hear that a new album is about to be released, you see that tentative expression of the unknown. However with the unknown comes anticipation, but that only lasts for so long. Sonata Arctica are no longer a speed/power metal band and we’ve had about five years to get used to that. And while the have lost a fair few fans since changing metal styles, fortunately they have grabbed new fans in the process.
After the interesting but overall disappointing ‘Unia’ (released in 2005) and then ‘The Days of Grays’ (2009) which was better and showed signs of returning to the ‘Reckoning Night’ sound, Sonata Arctica found themselves in a limbo of sorts, with their old diehard fans not really sure what to make of their change of metal direction. So here comes the third and latest offering from the guys from Finland since their dramatic style change, entitled ‘Stones Grow Her Name’. While the jury is still out on what to now think of Sonata Arctica, according to certain fans, you can’t ignore the fact that Tony Kakko and co are still excellent musicians; with Kakko himself being one of the best metal vocalists in the world today.
The musical direction on ‘Stones Grow Her Name’ has continued to progress back towards the sound of ‘Reckoning Night’, that ‘The Days of Grays’ began. While the style of tracks from the previous 2 albums were quite dark in lyrics and sound, ‘Stones Grow Her Name’ is much lighter, like the band are waking up from a deep hibernation and greeting the world with brighter eyes. One thing that is noticeable when listening to the entire album and that is a fair lack of purpose and direction. Each track is fairly different from the previous but while that means each song has its own identity, the album overall lacks identity. There are lots of different genres running through this release and it appears that the chief song-writer (Kakko) may be struggling with his own emotions, not being able to focus on one particular theme and everything being put down in a sporadic form. I seem to remember thinking that with the two previous albums as well, which now begs the question – should Tony share a bigger slice the song-writing duties with his fellow band-mates or other people?
I am also struggling to place ‘Stones Grow Her Name’ into an appropriate metal genre, when some of the music you hear on this disc cannot be considered metal. Prog rock and modern pop rock has been thrown into the mix of commercialised melodic metal/rock, with progressive metal sprinkles and touches of power metal for good measure. Such a change from their original roots, however I must say that Sonata Arctica were quite one-dimensional back in those days and now with these slower paced, sporadic, chaotic and emotional discs, Sonata Arctica have much more depth, mystic and maturity than they ever did before.
One of the more commercial sounding tracks which happens to be quite effective and catchy is the 80’s tinged “Shitload O’ Money”, with band choirs in the chorus that you can’t help singing along too. The song is hardly serious but it still just happens to work and has a nice beat and melody to it. “Losing My Insanity” is more of the modern Sonata Arctica sound heard on ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ and ‘Reckoning Night’, mid-paced in tempo and signature guitar riffs from Elias Viljanen; lastly soaring and emotional vocals from Kakko. The track reminds me greatly of “Don’t Say A Word” from ‘Reckoning Night’. There’s also the emotional outpouring that is “Alone in Heaven”, which is a semi ballad of sorts, but a wonderfully crafted track and very catchy too. Tugging at the heart-strings, Kakko again, sings sensationally well on this track.
Then we come to the two “Wildfire” tracks that round out the album. Part II is alright but it just prods along and in my opinion goes on for a bit too long. Part III however keeps the tempo high from the start and is much more energetic and memorable than Part II. There are also some great slower instrumental passages through Part III that build up other parts that return to the flurry of guitar riffs and pounding drums. Kakko is brilliant on both parts, which really goes without saying. Lastly the opening track “Only The Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful)” is a very catchy track despite it being quite commercial sounding. Again an emotional song, much like most Sonata Arctica tracks, this one is very much a nutshell of the modern SA sound of the last 10 years. A memorable song, which really is one of the best on the CD.
It’s difficult to project what Sonata Arctica fans will think of this album. I feel that they will enjoy it more than ‘Unia’ and possibly also ‘The Days of Greys’ too. ‘Stones Grow Her Name’ may have a few songs that are left of centre (see “Cinderblox” as an example), and some that have come in during the experimental phase that ‘Unia’ began, but overall I feel that this disc is very much like a combination of majority ‘Reckoning Night’ with parts of ‘The Days of Greys’ and ‘Unia’ thrown in.
Most Sonata Arctica fans that did enjoy both ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ and ‘Reckoning Night’ should also enjoy what ‘Stones Grow Her Name’ has to offer. I really don’t want to say this band has improved because I never really thought they went off in the first place. Bands change and evolve and Tony Kakko wanted to take this band away from the typically generic power metal sound that was on the first couple of albums. Sonata Arctica is Tony Kakko’s personal journey, it’s his life and everything comes out for show that he has written down on paper...he’s exposed. I think that is awesome and I admire the man for being so honest, blunt and passionate. So once again, this album comes down to personal taste, just like the previous two; you’ll either like it or hate it.
Originally written for www.themetalforge.com
Akin to many of you, I was a huge fan of Sonata Arctica years ago, but have gradually lost interest as the years rolled on. Ecliptica was a masterful piece of power metal, and their next few outings were certainly not lacking for potency, but the later offerings have not really grabbed me. To be fair, I will not decree, like so many others, that the band have grown uninteresting simply because they have abandoned the sphere of power metal. No, I am not nearly so petty or close-minded, as even though I prefer their more traditional offerings by a long shot, it is not simply because they have shifted stylistically. Indeed, I encourage growth in any artist who feels the impetus to do so, but I will only continue to be interested, obviously, if the result ends up steering in a compelling direction. This, in essence, is where I find inherent fault in this newest offering from Finnish power-pop icons Sonata Arctica. It’s not so much the fact that they have changed, but the inevitable result in such a mutation, an airy, flowery product that flounders in its attempt at super-stardom. To put it simply, in an attempt to be as palatable as possible, Sonata Arctica have effectively eradicated most of the flavors that made them such a compelling snack to begin with.
Right out the gate we have a prime example of the dumbed-down nature of the songwriting in Only the Broken Hearts. Though far from terrible, it remains terribly pedestrian in its quest for arena-rock, heart-throb acceptance, drowned in repetitious, flower-sniffing choruses. I like the midsection though, strangely demented in its own happy way. Shitload of Money has a certain cocaine glamour to it, and proves fairly fun, even if it repeats itself and drags on a bit much, a complaint I had with the album at large. Losing my Insanity is one of the better tracks, a good galloping song with some dreamy synths and a more legitimate power metal atmosphere than the rest of the album, even if it succumbs to incessant chorus repetition that negates a portion of its impact. Somewhere Close to You is similar, but has a fun rhythmic stomp to it that provides a fine counterpoint to the Shakespearian romance of the lyrical matter, and is perhaps the best track on the album.
I Have a Right, however, is absolutely sickening. My stomach has a tendency to literally churn when presented with music of such unsubstantial, sugary texture. It’s an endless repetition of sap and lame, flowery sensibilities that fail to evoke any emotional impact beyond repulsion, despite the noble message intended. This is the essence of the disease that has infected Sonata Arctica, fluffy and glittery and pink, without innovation, solely hanging on the strength of unsettling pop hooks, a glittery prima donna that lacks in plain old soul.
Alone in Heaven fares a bit better, with a bit of darkness creeping into its fairy tale overcoat, though it’s still far from greatness, without much strength behind its simplistic, dreamy grasp towards the stars. The Day is like the narrative of some lame romantic soap opera, though it flows quite well, and it’s tragic, upbeat nature is admittedly infectious, even if it’s completely embarrassing. Cinderbox is a hokey, okie, hillbilly stargazer of a song that succeeds in capturing its desired Western flavor, but Kakko’s vocal inflections make it sound overwhelmingly silly during the pre-chorus, almost clownish, unfortunately dragging the whole affair into laughable, if somewhat endearing, stupidity. Don’t Be Mean also falls flat, its all-too-obvious balladic nature lacking the desired poignancy, and would likely fail in any circumstance beyond my turning into a 14 year old girl, with Tony’s mug plastered on my school notebook. Not a likely scenario. The Wildfire songs that close the album attempt a more varied, progressive nature than the continuous pop-dream sterility of the album proper, and they are some of the better cuts, but it feels like too little too late.
Barring a few truly awful moments, I wouldn’t really call Stones Grow Her Name a bad album, though it is quite a middling expedition, at length. I don't really like the majority of it, but it's not really that bad, if that makes sense. It's really, really not my thing. Indeed, I fear my soul is just too slathered in misanthropy to be able to enjoy such rainbow-sparkled melodrama, even the well-constructed bits. It’s too poppy, too flashy, and in the end, too empty. That, coming from a man who enjoys the flash of Children of Bodom, and the emotional hooks of In Flames and Nightwish, and the condemnation grows even bolder. It doesn’t offend outright (besides I Have a Right, whose sparkling unicorn sap dribbles into my worst fucking nightmares), and it’s lightly enjoyable at times, but it produces nothing I’m going to want to revisit in a week, let alone in a year. The sole exception is Somewhere Close to You, the only song I fully enjoy.
I must clarify; I have no problem with pop if it’s done well. Indeed, I enjoy a good amount of rather sugary music, and I grew up worshiping groups like The Cure and AFI. If the band had brought the bombastic, memorable power of their early performances into this more conventional, succinct shell, I would be ecstatic. As it stands, though, Stones Grow Her Name isn’t much more than a pink, bubbly ride through a field of ineffective fluff, about as nutritious and satisfying as a ball of cotton candy, with roughly as much weight. Upon reflection, the fact that it still is identifiably Sonata Arctica likely makes my opinion much more lenient, as it’s a band I’ve long enjoyed, sort of an odd juxtaposition to my unfettered loathing of new Morbid Angel. I want to like it, I really do. At length, though, as a fan of heartfelt, interesting music, this barely gets a pass. It might contain just enough legitimate Sonata Arctica to be worth a bargain bin purchase, and some fans will likely find a bit of value tucked within its inoffensive folds, especially if they have a stomach for melodramatic simplicity, but the majority of you need not apply. If, however, your idea of fun music is horrifying swill like Kelly Clarkson or Adam Lambert, this might just be that badass new album you’ve been waiting for.
-Left Hand of Dog
I guess the first thing I have to establish is that I am, in fact, a fan of power metal. It may not be the manliest, heaviest or best genre of metal, hell it’s not even my favorite, but I am a fan to a certain extent. Next we must establish that I am a fan of Sonata Arctica, I’ve seen them live twice and own all their albums, and have found all their demos as well. Finally it should be noted that I’m not necessarily amongst those ex- fans who feel the band won’t be good again until Jani is back, every album is Ecliptica again, and every song is Wolf and Raven.
Sonata Arctica have come a long way from their power metal roots, and although some say they get better every album, I tend to think Reckoning Day has been their high point thus far. And as much as I love Wolf and Raven, it’s not longer my most listened to track (My Selene), falling to about number 30 or so.
A quick history lesson for those new to Sonata. Sonata Arctica started off as a band called Tricky Means or Tricky Beans, depending on the demo. What they played was clearly more of a poppy rock, but with clear power metal influence. As time went on they leaned more towards their power metal tendencies, until they released the FullMoon demo, a pure Stratovarious-styled power metal demo that got them signed for their first album, which three of the FullMoon songs on actually were re-recorded for, FullMoon actually becoming a long-term fan favorite. And the fourth track became a B-Side. After spending one album as more or less a Stratovarius cover band, and a pair of good but not groundbreaking power metal albums with touches of experimentation, Sonata Arctica released Reckoning Day, power metal with a progressive edge, before going a bit TOO prog. with Unia. While I don’t consider it the utter abomination that many others do, I rarely listen to more than 6 songs on it. They followed this up with Days of Grays, which may actually be my second favorite Sonata album, which kept the progressive tendencies, but put them in a more stomachable form. While Unia seemed to wander around aimlessly in its own darkness, Days of Grays was more streamlined, and had more of a rock backbone.
So what does this have to do with Stones Grow Her Name? Well, after Unia and Days of Grays, the band felt they had gone as far as they could with the progressive style, and wanted to strip their sound back some. The band rightly referred to it as a return to their “old sound,” but this is NOT a return to the “Ecliptica” old sound, but instead the old sound of the Tricky Beans demos. Power Metal inspired, but often radio friendly rock music. Pop might be too strong of a word for some of these songs, but certainly many of these could be played on mainstream rock stations. Not a bad thing in and of itself, but how do these songs stack up to previous releases?
It’s… Incredibly ok. I don’t know about Insanity, but Sonata have certainly lost SOMETHING. First off, let’s look at what little power metal Sonata have given us this time. Only the Broken Hearts, while maybe not pure power metal, I could put next to Flag in the Ground, the closest Days of Grays had to a power metal song. Which, Flag in the Ground was originally a Tricky Beans song called BlackOut. Just saying. Losing My Insanity is the most pure power metal song on the album, however it was originally written by lead singer Tony Kakko for Ari Koivunen in 2007. So Tony Wrote it for Ari, Ari recorded it, and then Tony re-recorded it. So only “kind of” a new song. Also, Cinderblox, which I’ll get back to.
So how about the rest of the album…
Shitload of Money is corny as shit, and probably the most poor lyrics I’ve ever heard Tony write. Which, on one hand, I Often love his lyrics, but on the other hand, he has done some corny shit. I Have a Right falls into a category of a decent radio single, except for the fact the chorus is repeated to a ridiculous level. Bad? Not really. But overly repetitive. Alone in Heaven has a chorus that’s catchy as hell, but the rest of the song is largely forgettable. Which is the same trap Somewhere Close to You falls into, except in addition to being forgettable in the verse and catchy in the chorus, this has also been called the heaviest Sonata Arctica song yet. It sounds like it belongs on Unia. Well, as cool as that sounds, let’s think about it. Unia was heavy as hell, but almost universally considered their worst. Somewhere Close To You is decent but unremarkable.
The Day is a ballad where Tony’s awkward English is at the most awkward I’ve heard it since maybe silence. It’s a song that about halfway through changes, and although it becomes more catchy, it falls into the same catchy but repetitive trap as I Have A Right. Now I’ve read other sites thatg say Don’t Be mean has awkward English. I disagree; the most awkward part I think is “give relief.” Which I’m ok with. I just think the song itself comes off as whiney. Dear Tony, Even in Power Metal ‘Don’t be mean to me’ is kind of a gay thing to say. Musically, it’s your standard Sonata Arctica ballad. Think: Shy/Tallulah/Last Drop Falls/Sing In Sile-no wait, that one had a significant drum beat/The Misery/Draw Me/ Shamandalie/Breathing… in short you could say, if you want a return to form this… is not what we need.
Now to bring up the two Wildfires. Wildfire 2 I’m ok with. I’ve heard complaints about the minute or so of Jig before the actual song, but in the liner notes it makes sense of it. It states that the Wildfire man would return “during a festival or party.” Believe it or not, yes, that’s good enough for me. That and I really like jigs. The song itself is ok enough. Not fantastic, but all right. The plot is what concerns me. If you never heard Wildfire, it’s about a man who burns down his town because he feels he was cast out because of some never-really-defined thing his father had done. Wildfire 2 just seems to be about his returning and again burning the town down, even though apparently no one remembers him except through their ancestors’ writings, or perhaps he’s the son of the wildfire man. I’m not here to interpret, just to point out that burning the town again years later, for no real reason, makes you kind of a jerk. Wildfire 3 is where I have a problem. It seems for no reason, the Wildfire man is interested in destroying the town because the environment is pretty awesome. Tony seems to suggest in a recent interview it’s because, surprise, even though it was never really referenced in the original Wildfire, the Wildfire man was actually hated because his family was witches. What. And being witches, they knew the environment was some pretty nifty shit. So let’s kill people so we can have more wolves for tony not to write songs about on this album. Now I don’t have a problem with their environmental songs per se, such as Respect the Wilderness, but it seems they changed the meaning of the original to suit this need. It’s like when a movie sequel forgets its past continuity. Like when Amityville Horror 4 made the haunting not in the house, but in a demonically possessed lamp. Oh, you never saw that? Of course not, it was fucking dumb. And so is this. Don’t ‘what a twist’ me Tony, you’re not M. Night Shyamalon. And he sucks anyway. Oh yeah, and musically they’re just ‘ok’. So yeah, big letdown from the original Wildfire.
Oh. I forgot Cinderblox. Except intentionally. Because it’s the best song on this album. By a lot. It took a little while to get it, but buried under that banjo is the most power metal song on the album. When Sonata Arctica said they had a country inspired song, I cringed. I’m not a fan of modern country. The country music I like involves people with not just music, but criminal records. Willie, Waylon, Cash and Coe I always say, except that I don’t. But this is pure power metal except with a sweet banjo riff. And I love me some banjo. Real roots bluegrass music, I enjoy. Does it fit into the continuity of the album? No, not really, it’s a little awkward when you compare it to stuff like Somewhere Close to You, but goddamn it’s refreshing after some of the serious mediocrity on this album.
Quick coverage on the bonus tracks. If you can find the version with One-Two-Free-Fall, it’s a great power metal song, and will… honestly probably make you wish the rest of the album sounded like it. Tonight I Dance Alone isn’t bad, but is another Sonata power ballad. But really, with that name, did you expect anything otherwise. Neither is a bad bonus track, and really depends on your taste. If you love Sonata’s ballads, go for Tonight I Dance Alone, if you’re the guy yelling ‘SAN SEBASTIAN’ between songs, go for One-Two-Free-Fall.
Overall, not a bad album, but so far, but as of right now, my least favorite by Sonata Arctica aside from Unia, and at least Unia was experimental enough to have a reason to be a letdown. This doesn’t even put forth the effort required to suck. It’s just ok, hanging in a limbo of all-rightness. I’d compare it to an album of less enjoyable filler songs, which to be fair, some of Sonata Arctica’s filler songs are better than some other band’s hit singles. But sometimes, when a band releases an album like this, you’d rather it just suck. At least then you’re let down, but it’s over. But I keep trying to like this album more than I do. And that hurts worse. It’s incredibly painful. It’s Kidney Stones Grow Her name.
In the end, I’d recommend to hardcore fans only. Otherwise, check out Reckoning Night and Days of Grays.
Sonata Arctica are power metal legends hailing from Finland but have dominated the power metal scene worldwide since 1996. In the beginning they were known as Tricky Beans, but despite how the name sounds, they took their music just as seriously. Their early demos are as good as their later works, and that has really helped propel the band into an international market. This year, Sonata Arctica released their latest album, Stones Grow Her Name. This album hit gold status in their home country of Finland, and ranked #9 on Billboard’s Heatseekers charts for the USA within the first week. The band was so excited for the popularity the album had in North America that they’ve announced a possible North American tour in the works!
The album generated tons of buzz, both positive and negative, before the album even came out. The past two albums released by Sonata Arctica began showing the band’s maturity and progression into a new style, while still staying true to the roots of power metal. Stones Grow Her Name has an ability to pull many different moods from you, and seems to have lost the somber tones of the past two albums. In fact, the first track Only the Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful) opens the album up with what seems like a beautifully stated middle finger to anyone who has hurt these guys in the past. I thought of it like an anthem written to help us all forget about the times we were hurt and down on ourselves, and realize that all of these negative things that happen truly make us beautiful.
That said, this album as a whole has me feeling that Sonata Arctica wanted to stop fantasizing about wolves and ravens and various mythologies and fairy tales, and really start saying what they feel. They too in fact live in the REAL WORLD as you and I do…we can’t all live in the world of Tolkien, as much as us power metal fans would love that. This is a true STATEMENT album, it’s not as lighthearted or fluffy as some of theirs in the past (not that either of those is a bad thing, I love this band enough to have their logo tattooed on my arm).
The very first spin of this album, I heard of lot of influences from Unia (released in 2007). Losing My Insanity is probably one of my favorites on this new album, but feels very reminiscent of the sound they developed in Unia. Then they surprise us with tracks like Cinderblox in the very middle of the album which has a banjo playing the entire time while Tony seems to have magically developed a southern North-American accent like he’s straight out of a country band. It’s strange hearing a Finnish man sound like a Texan… However cute this song sounds, it has some very well-written lyrics as I would expect nothing less from the band. It seems like Tony was in love with a woman, but when he returned to her he finds out that the whole town seems to “know” her… if you know what I’m saying…
Right after Cinderblox comes a beautifully written song Don’t Be Mean. It’s a very straight forward song, but has such an awesome sound to it. Despite the last song being so lighthearted and happy, Tony really reels you back in with his amazing tenor vocal skill and makes you feel for him as he tries to escape an unhealthy relationship. For fans of Reckoning Night (released in 2004) Sonata Arctica has written a part II and III to Wildfire, explaining what has happened to the character we’d grown to love that burned down his town. Being a massive follower of this band and their music, it’s really cool that they tied these two albums together in such a way. You can clearly hear the band’s growth and maturity between 2004 and now, but the story continues!
This brings me to the last song I want to mention, their single they released an official video for I Have a Right. I’m risking my reputation here as being a super strong Viking woman with little to no pussy emotions… but this song made me cry. It’s a wonderful statement song about raising children in this world and that everyone has a right to be heard, seen, and loved. There’s something about Tony’s voice, which even in a genre as rough and tumble as heavy metal, we have people out there fighting for basic human rights, which shockingly – so many people are missing out on! It’s about time we all start thinking about these kinds of things and not constantly be fighting about what “is” true metal and what “isn’t”. There are much bigger problems in this world.
All in all, if I had to rate this album on a scale of 1-10, I would give it an 8.5. I feel like Sonata Arctica doesn’t want to step away from their beloved power metal scene, I just think they want to try and focus on songs with more of a purpose. Anyone out there who has read other opinions on the album and maybe has been afraid to listen to it because it’s too “different” please, I beg you to invest in this album. Don’t expect to hear songs reminiscent of Ecliptica or Reckoning Night, because yes this band has matured. This album is full of songs about Tony’s personal experiences, thoughts about death, moving on from being in love, and being alone. But it’s beautiful, and so well-written, as Sonata Arctica is famous for.
[Originally written for themetalreview.com]
I love the old Sonata Arctica stuff. Ecliptica's caffeine-addicted, pelting rush, Silence's melodic catchiness, all of that good shit. Great music for someone with a penchant for cheesy stuff and with the attention span of a Jack Russell. Unfortunately, with that kind of attention span, there were only two songs I listened to repeatedly from the last two records, 'Paid In Full' and 'Flag in the Ground' respectively. The rest of it just didn't have the same "fun" feeling the band's early work did. And Sonata Arctica, and power metal in general I reckon, is supposed to be fun.
Now they've released the absurdly titled Stones Grow Her Name, adorned with some absolutely batshit cover art, and people seem to hate it. Well, the lead single sounds like it should be a Eurovision entry, and the actual style of the album is all over the place. This is no return to power metal, and I get the feeling these guys are never going back there. But what it is, is loads of fun again. Still with us? A few of you? Allllllrighty then!
It's absolutely nuts, and pretty much everything they could think of is crammed in here. A lot of the time this gets some excellent, if insane results. Now Sonata Arctica never were a power metal group at their demo stage, so it isn't surprising in a way that they've mixed in all this crazy extra shit. 'Only the Broken Hearts' leads off with funky keytar, Nightwish style synths and a quirky chorus from Tony Kakko. 'Shitload of Money' is like some hyperactive hard rock from a crazy futuristic Tokyo, like it should be on the soundtrack to a movie about wraparound-wearing yakuzas throwing down with a rival gang while pixellated neon signs glare all around and hovercars queue at a sushi drive through nearby. The Eurovision one, 'I Have A Right' is actually one of my faves. It's basically pop music, dominated more by its cute plonking keys and repetitive ditty of a chorus than by the rhythmic guitars, but Kakko sounds awesome and it's just catchy as hell, so fuck you.
This basket-case, funky salad approach to songwriting doesn't see them through the whole album though. There's a bit of dead, or at least termite-infested wood. 'Somewhere Close to You' is a pretty dull chugging song, like something that one Italian band Raintime might have done. Powercore, you could call it. 'Alone in Heaven' features terrific lyrics ("what the hell am I going to do in heaven if all my best friends are in hell?") but is really fairly dull. 'Don't Be Mean' is an mm'kay ballad, and although I don't exactly skip it, it's not the first thing here I go for.
The way I've described it probably makes it seem properly bizarre, even the parts I liked. Which it is. But the things I love about Sonata Arctica are still there - glorious vocals from Mr. Kakko, cheesy lyrics about flying in big blue skies, a general uplifting mood and great, if simple guitarwork. It's just all in a different shape. 'Losing My Insanity' and 'The Day' for example take all the Sonata Arctica tropes, pianos, passionate singing, heroic power chords, and somehow turn into songs that sound like they should be in a musical. Then you have 'Cinderblox', which is the best thing here: a more traditional Sonata Arctica scorcher with a kickass singalong chorus, but with banjos and electric violins all the way through. I mean why not, eh. I love it.
Almost as a peace offering though, or a reconciliation, the album closes with two eight minute opuses that function as sequels to the Reckoning Night song 'Wildfire'. 'Wildfire, Part II - One With the Mountain' brings back the wild west feel for an atmospheric intro that reminds me of Firefly (always good), and turns into a chugging epic coated with schizophrenic singing, at times tender and times as unhinged as in the original song eight years ago. 'Wildfire, Part III - Wildfire Town, Population: 0' is a rather more violent, thrashing work, lots of double-bass, tense throbbing guitars and guitar squeals to match the theatrical, transcendent vocal performance. Pretty solid way to end the record.
It's not perfect, but it is good, with almost minimal need for the Skip button. For the first time in six years I'm actually looking forward to finding out what the next thing Sonata Arctica do will be. I wouldn't call this album progression so much as I would a tangential, eccentric revisit to their earlier inspirations, but it certainly made me want to sit on a haybale chewing straw while listening to it, and you can't argue with that.
This album is a statement of purpose for Sonata Arctica, who have spent the better part of the last 5 years wallowing in depression – the visceral Unia was as aggressive and wrathful as anything I’ve ever heard, and The Days of Grays was a portrait of pure sorrow and longing. One had to wonder where Kakko would go next with his band’s sound – even further down the annals of the wretched and the depraved? The long-awaited follow up Stones Grow Her Name sees the band breaking through their clouds of depression and into a much sprightlier, more varied set of moods.
Opener “Only the Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful)” is a stirring anthem that pretty much outright states that they’re done mourning lost loves and vowing revenge, an anthem that says we’re done weeping; you aren’t worth it! The tone is spitefully joyous, that of someone just coming out of a bad break-up and looking for every reason not to mourn his lover any longer, which I think is a great way to open up this album, in the context of the band’s recent direction. The lyrics even make fun of the band’s previous ones a bit with lines like “I burned myself for a page of rhymes” – being depressed just wasn’t worth it, not just for some lyrics alone. Kakko gives us one hell of a rousing, kick-ass chorus for the opening of this new album. This is one of their best songs ever, just a pure delight to listen to and instantly memorable, too. You will catch yourself singing this all day. This album really does boast Kakko’s strongest vocal performance yet, showcasing everything he’s good at and he just sounds plain old awesome. One of rock’s best performers today.
Further songs show a really bright, varied palette of elements that both reaches into Sonata’s past at times and throws in some new elements too. There’s a big focus on a more melodic heavy metal base for the guitars here, and songs like the bouncy “Shitload of Money,” the anthemic “Losing My Insanity” and the towering melodies of “Alone in Heaven” are the most direct and simplistic the band has ever done, but no less powerful for it. New guitarist Elias Viljanen, previously a bit undefined, really steps up here and delivers some tight, hook-fisted melodies and hard-rocking riffs that, while not exactly like the band’s classic material, do offer a view to a bright new horizon for them. He’s good.
“Somewhere Close to You” will probably alienate some fans, as it’s basically what Killswitch Engage would sound like if you took out the shitty harsh vocals and injected catchier hooks – a very distorted, chugging beast of a song that has a poppish structure reminiscent of some early 2000s metalcore. Normally I probably wouldn’t like that, but I think it’s actually a kick ass song, heavy, mean and full of venom. Leave it to a great band to find a way to make an unappealing style template somehow work for them. “Cinderblox” is an absolutely wonderful song that sets this awesome seedy old Western atmosphere with a traditional Sonata-styled chorus running over it like a flowing brook. Just a fun, boisterous and raunchy tune with cool lyrics about running from the mafia to boot, just like they would have written on Ecliptica. Another one you’ll be singing over and over. Single “I Have a Right” is still pretty good, with a big hymnal chorus chant, but it’s pretty much the worst on here. There are just way better songs on offer.
The main talking point on here is the “Wildfire” duo. The first part, “One with the Mountain,” is the better of the two, longer and uncoiling like a serpent from the grass, with some haunting vocal melodies and churning atmospherics. It builds up from a sort of zombie-like drone to a very fiery, passionate swell by the end with Kakko bellowing “I don’t want to dance anymore!” Powerful stuff. The story behind it is pretty unclear, but you can get a general idea – exiled guy comes back to his hometown after previously trying to burn it down. The second part, “Population: 0,” is a lot heavier and faster, maybe the most ‘metal’ tune on this album, but the lyrics have almost nothing to do with the whole Wildfire storyline; instead you get some crap about environmental rights. It’s well written, but I dunno, I expected more of a storyline between these two songs. I mean, they DO share a common heading. Oh well; they’re both still good tunes.
The album’s highest point, though, is “The Day,” which is the band’s most delicate and subtle moment perhaps in their entire career. With concise, bittersweet lyrics about a man losing his family to a flood and a very reined-in, somber performance by Kakko, this song coasts along into a fine, majestic, weeping crest by the end. When he sings “I feel you in the wiiiiiind…” yeah, it’s cheesy as hell, sure, but the way he sings it is just so chillingly beautiful. The whole song is simple yet deceptively complex, with a sense of sorrow that isn’t the completely broken down and miserable Kakko we saw on Unia or The Days of Grays, but a more focused and graceful acceptance of things that shows a lot more maturity. With one four-minute stroke the band has crafted arguably their most tragic, yet also touching, song yet. Unfiltered, channeled rage and sorrow have their places, but it’s nice to see the band evolving and putting out more mature themes now, the way I expected them to. Even if the whole album wasn’t the focused and unified emotional ride I hoped for, this one song makes up for it. What a stunning, beautiful piece – perhaps my favorite song of 2012 so far.
I’ve been talking about the lyrics a lot, but frankly, that is one of the best things about this band. They weave their addictive melodies and hooks around sublime lyrics that, while a bit self-centered on mainman Kakko, offer a unique portrait of the man, and the way he articulates himself and tells stories is really, really captivating. Despite not growing up in a predominantly English-speaking country, he has grown from a mediocre if passionate lyricist into a really great writer over the years, and I like seeing that. What else can I say except that he really knows how to tell a story and I appreciate the honesty, passion and heart that go into his lyrics – one of the defining parts that makes this band so good.
So Stones Grow Her Name is one of the better albums thus far this year. It’s fun, fresh, individual and constantly reminds us why Sonata Arctica is a kick ass band. If you want power metal alone…go for the old stuff, as this has a ton of elements from hard rock, pop and all sorts of other stuff – but we must remind ourselves that that’s how this band started off on their demos in the first place, so really it’s not that big of a surprise. If you’re like me and you just think these guys are great songwriters no matter what, this album is a shining example of why you like them so much.
“Dr. Stein grows funny creatures, lets them run into the night. They become great rock musicians, and their time is right” (Helloween, Keeper Of The Seven Keys Pt. 2)
It’s a little bit ironic that Helloween’s pioneering power metal efforts in the late 80s with Michael Kiske at the helm pop into my head upon hearing Sonata Arctica’s latest creation, primarily because the band has pretty well severed ties with their former power metal orthodoxy. Then again, “Stones Grow Her Name” does hearken a little bit closer to the band’s more glorious past than would be assumed by their grotesque single “I Have A Right”, but more in the sense that a visual artist trying to get back to simple portrait painting after a decade of trying to emulate Picasso. To say that Tony Kakko and company struggle through making what seems to be trying to be a consistent album would be putting it mildly, yet somehow they manage to squeeze out a few powerful moments, though littered amongst a lot of half-hearted, half measures.
For the most part, the best of what this album has to offer is found at either of its extremities, or more plainly, frontloaded at the beginning or saved for the very end. A few goofy effects driven gimmicks and “what the…?” lyrical moments aside, “Only The Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful) and “Shitload Of Money” manage to be both catchy and reasonably entertaining, owing in part to their being mercifully short (unlike the meandering mess that was “Unia”) and free of unnecessary rock opera nonsense ( “Days Of Grays” anyone?). At their respective zeniths, both of these songs remind heavily of several mid tempo hits from earlier efforts, mostly “Don’t Say A Word”, though there is a dramatic dichotomy of ultra-heavy guitar riffs that are buried under, yet somehow not wholly gutted by the massive keyboard presence. “Losing My Insanity” gets a bit faster and heavily enticing, almost to the point of resembling “Black Sheep”.
However, as things go further along the album takes a decided nasty nose dive in quality as a consistent songwriting formula with a few forgivable quirks gives way for a nightmare in over-experimentation. Not everything found on the middle contents of this album is outright terrible, but enough of it is that it makes the brighter parts difficult to notice. The obvious bore fest with sappy lyrics that is “I Have A Right” actually proves to not be the worst moment on here, though it competes pretty strongly with the annoying banjo and hillbilly nonsense that cuts the legs out from under an otherwise reasonably decent speeding cruiser of a power metal song in “Cinderblox”. Then of course there’s the over-representation in the ballad department that induces sleep before the remaining scraps of metallic pseudo-redemption show up. It’s not until the 2 sequels to “Wildfire” come in at the closing of the album that things return to a reasonably decent state, and even here it’s largely inconsistent as experimentation with drum patterns and occasional novelty quirks like bizarre spoken sections and more American folk music chime-ins continue to perplex the ears.
Surprisingly enough, Sonata Arctica has shown some measure of improvement, though it isn’t quite enough to make me encourage anyone to blow $10 on a copy of this. There are plenty of flashy guitar solos and Tony Kakko is his usual neurotic prima donna self, but it still suffers from some really massive identity issues. When it’s on, it manages to churn out some pretty rock solid material, but when it’s off it comes off as a nightmare in a gene-splicing experiment right out of the Helloween classic “Dr. Stein”. When will these dopey ex-power metal trustees learn that you can’t grow anyone’s name from stones, especially hers’, whoever the hell she actually is?
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 21, 2012.
Power metal is not exactly the most appreciated subgenre in metal. Actually, it seems quite the opposite. Few, if any, bands ever receive the kind of near-universal acceptance that bands such as Opeth, Primordial, Moonsorrow, and Sigh receive (even if some do not deserve it). Power metal, more often than not, is received as a "guilty pleasure," it seems. Then comes Sonata Arctica and... well, gives complete justification to that response. Truly, they've always had a poppy, fluffy feel to them from which even a lot of standard power metal fans turn away. Yet, even so, their sound just has a certain magic that makes many like me fall in love with it. This is mostly led by Tony Kakko's excellent vocals; indeed, he's among the best vocalists in power metal (which is saying a lot, since power metal's trademark is excellent vocals).
However, when Unia came, it seems everybody and their cats decided to turn in complete revolt. I'm still trying to figure out why, considering it incorporated a lot of progressive tendencies, and that's something almost everyone approves of. It is for that reason I am pointing this out: if you didn't like Unia, you will not like Stones Grow Her Name. Almost everything about it reminds of Unia. There is but one key difference... this album eschews much of the progressive tendencies established in Unia and perfectly evolved in The Days of Grays (which is their magnum opus, in my opinion), and instead opts for a sound even more poppy yet. One look at the tracklist, seeing titles such as "Shitload of Money" and "Don't Be Mean," and you'll see that they are influenced by a more mainstream culture. I'd like to say this right now: I really have no clue what drug Tony was on when he decided this was a good idea, but I want him in fucking rehab before it's time to start writing the eight album.
That said, the sound is so similar to Unia that this seems far more like a natural progression from it than The Days of Grays does. I'll even go out on a limb here and say that none of the songs are bad. This album actually is more cohesive with a much better flow than Unia had, though there are no real standout tracks like the first four of Unia were for me.
Of course, the Sonata Arctica traits are still here, with ballads (namely "Don't Be Mean"), fluffy anthems ("Only the Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful)" and "I Have a Right"), and groovier, heavier tracks ("Losing My Insanity" being the best). They even threw me for a loop with Cinderblox, where there's a constant rhythm played on a banjo (yes, a banjo), and Tony occasionally puts a country accent to use. It's almost like he was sitting around thinking of a transitional song that will attract country music fans, then came up with this. Yet, despite every part of me wanting to hate it, everything about it works... and it may even be a highlight of the album. The progressive tendencies of the past two albums have not been completely abandoned, as well, with the biggest example also being the biggest highlight of the album: the two Wildfire tracks. Complete with non-linear songwriting and unexpected rhythm changes, these two easily could've been (and probably should've been) on Unia.
I don't know if I've made it clear yet, but this album is in the same damn style as Unia. I have seen this album described as Unia + Reckoning Night; I can kind of see that, in that the majority songs sound like Unia, but feature dumbed down progressive qualities that are only semi-used like Reckoning Night. This results in lesser quality material for Sonata Arctica. While I still consider this a good album with some great moments (I do really like the Wildfire tracks), it is one that needs a lot of growing space to even be acceptable. My initial reaction to this was, "What the actual fuck am I listening to?"
Yeah, I really wish they would've evolved off the symphonic and, most importantly, sophisticated sound of The Days of Grays instead.
This is a very interesting album. Stones Grow Her Name was my most anticipated album of 2012 as well as my biggest disappointment so far this year. After the…intriguing The Days Of Grays, I had no idea where they were going next. I thought that perhaps they would go for a Shakespearean musical type of direction as was kind of hinted at in The Days Of Grays, but no, Sonata Arctica brings… this… to the table. I really wanted to enjoy their latest, but it just doesn’t work as a full album and it’s not fully metal. On the whole, the band’s new work is a lot slower and with more rock elements as well as some rather interesting instruments brought into play (like the banjo).
When it comes to individual songs, it feels like they meant for every last one to be a hit. Each song (except for the last two) has the potential to be a single, which definitely explains Tony’s statement that “it was really hard to choose a single for this album”. Personally, I would have picked “Only The Broken Hearts” for this. The problem with this feeling is that every song feels like it’s competing to be the best and most memorable, making it hard for me to pick one out. My favorites include “Losing My Insanity”, “Cinderblox”, and possibly “The Day”. Anyways, “Losing My Insanity” feels very much like a Sonata Arctica song that might have come off of Reckoning Night, and it’s probably the best metal song here. In “Cinderblox” I love the use of the banjo; it really adds an element that sets the feel of the whole album, which is only reinforced by the “Wildfire” duo (more on them later), that of a western mining town kind of in the middle of nowhere. This is an entirely different and very different feel from the previous album and one which I have dubbed “bluegrass metal”. “Alone In Heaven” has my favorite chorus on the album and is a fun half-ballad that I greatly enjoy.
The sound of this album is…interesting as well. It sounds like rock and roll at some parts, but there is a metal influence that you can tell is definitely Sonata Arctica. I’m not even sure if I could define in one word what sub-genre this album fits into. It sounds like progressive metal at some points, but then changes to a more prog-rock feel. Adding to that problem where every song is very different, “The Day” is a good progressive metal song with some interesting lines while “Somewhere Close To You” is a heavy metal song with a good chorus. It’s kind of haunting because Tony uses some really harsh vocals, which add to the intrigue. I also really enjoy the lyrical topics covered in this album. They have a lot to do with accepting people for who they are, friendship, morals, and shit like that. It’s a bit diverse, of course, which is part of why they don’t all fit well together. I especially enjoyed the lyrics in “Alone in Heaven”: “is this really heaven, when my friends all burn in hell?”. “I Have A Right” is awful! It’s pop metal, and while Sonata Arctica has written bad songs before, this one is on a whole new level. It’s repetitive, boring, and cheesier than Luca Turilli spending a weekend hanging out with Timo Tolkki.
Now last but not least, the “Wildfire” duo is very complex and very, VERY intriguing. Continuing the story from the song “Wildfire”, which is about a young, disturbed man who feels mistreated and blamed for everything, so he tries to burn down the town, “Wildfire ll” is about his return and him getting pissed off about being cast out for killing a family. Part three isn’t as good as part two, but it’s still enjoyable with some rather abrupt stops and starts that add to the atmosphere (though I have no idea what part three is about).
Stones Grow Her Name really is a very atmospheric album and just as emotional as any of their previous releases. I do still love the emotion that Tony pours into his singing and is what sets Sonata apart in my books. However, this is not a great album by any means. Most of the songs work well individually, but not together. The album feels disjointed and I would say suffers from SA trying too hard to do…something, hell if I know what.
For myself and a lot of fans, the next album will either end our fandom or keep us in the fold because they’re kind of losing me with this one.