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Brilliant, daring, confused mess of an album. - 84%

Empyreal, January 23rd, 2014

I reviewed this back when it came out, but now I think, in light of more mature musical tastes, I’d like to try my hand at it again. Sonata Arctica is a great band. They have a recognizable style, a good theme to their stuff and a lot of creativity and passion in what they do. Some see them as a genre band, and judge them solely based on how close to power metal the sound is – an opinion that, while valid, really doesn’t seem like the most mature way to judge a band.

And to be fair, the sound they adopted later on isn’t exactly friendly to metalheads. This album in particular flirts with pop, groove metal and all sorts of weird prog elements that turn the whole thing into a stew of influences and sounds that is incredibly hard to describe. It’s weird, slow, sad music with emotional vocals and lovelorn themes that could be deemed emo by some. The sound veers from symphonic metal to borderline nu metal at times. It’s easy to see why people hate this shit – I wouldn’t begrudge you that.

But personally I find this incredibly engrossing. The sounds alone – synthy new-age pop music, nu metal, groove metal – are bad on paper. They’re not really sounds you want to hear from a power metal band of any stripe. In addition, the songwriting makes no sense – these songs have almost nothing to do with one another, and are crammed together in a haphazard way that makes the whole album sound like kind of a jumble. They are all good tunes, but they could have all been from different albums. So there’s a lot working against this.

Even then, though, this still manages to be entirely fascinating. While the sounds and styles the band tries its hand at are disparate and often maligned by metalheads, Sonata pulls them off with aplomb. Each song is a tapestry of synths, melodic guitars and Tony Kakko’s voice – of which he layers upon himself to decidedly eerie, chilling effects that fit the mood. Even with the groovy, downtuned plunking on “The Dead Skin” or the industrial stomping “Zeroes,” you get a real sense of the identity of the band – you feel that you are diving into Kakko’s psyche. When he screams on “The Dead Skin,” it’s a howl of absolute misery and anguish – it is pure catharsis. He pours all of himself into this. It’s not a case of a band selling out; it’s a band writing songs containing strong emotions and then finding the right musical ideas to convey those emotions.

Every track is instantly recognizable and perhaps the best among them is “Deathaura” – where the harrowingly dramatic melodies, the tremendous choirs and the celeritous synths come together in a sort of perfect storm. On the more melodic songs like “The Last Amazing Grays” and the winding, theatrical masterwork “Juliet” the band goes for a more gothic, sorrowful feel with big, jagged vocal hooks twisting and contorting the musical landscape. Others like “Breathing,” “The Truth is Out There” and “Everything Fades to Gray (Full)” almost eschew the guitars completely and instead just go for vocal and keyboard based pop, with melodies so rich that they almost become too sweet – but the complexity of the emotions behind them, all kinds of rage and sadness, elevates it to something beyond pandering pop music.

It’s just pure emotion, nothing else – the band had clear, boldly defined intentions of what they wanted to convey with each song, and so they picked the best style to go with each one. The songs are wrathful, half-insane, agonized, morose and spiteful, all at different times, and sometimes multiple emotions at once. It’s a very nontraditional approach to songwriting – most acts usually just stick to one basic sound without really varying it up that much. But this one really tries something new and different. It’s a flawed idea, and comes off as quite disorganized, but the ambition behind it really makes The Days of Grays incredibly interesting.

And that’s pretty much what I like so much about it. I value bands and artists that have this kind of single-minded vision. Music is an emotional art and I always enjoy when you can really get a sense of the person masterminding the whole affair – of their inner thoughts and fears blown up into the fantastical and exaggerated storytelling that makes up so much of our entertainment, of what they find captivating and engrossing. Whatever you want to say about the stylistic choices Sonata Arctica makes on here, it would be a mistake to label them as anything but real. This is the genuine article, a real bona fide work of expression – if you want a power metal album, it won’t be for you, but if you want something soulful and emotional, The Days of Grays may just merit a checking-out.

Not their best, but a solid grower - 65%

TrooperOfSteel, May 3rd, 2012

There has been a tense, uneasy anticipation surrounding Finnish power metal band Sonata Arctica ever since the release of ‘Unia’ back in 2007. With a noticeable change of sound from their previous releases, the CD was questioned by many and overall was slapped with a “disappointing” tag. With complex slower songs and a hint of progginess thrown about, many wondered where this band was heading to. Now fast forward two years and Sonata Arctica have returned for album number 6, entitled ‘The Days of Grays’, which also features the first CD with new guitarist Elias Viljanen.

I for one, appreciated what ‘Unia’ had to offer, and enjoyed parts of it; but overall I too gave the CD an average rating. I guess many of us were not prepared to hear a different sound and style from one of our favourite power metal bands. So when the track listing of the album was announced before anyone hearing the disc, there would have been (I expect) a lot of anxious fans, because it looked like a continuation of the previous release. But as the old saying goes “don’t judge a book by its cover”, or in this case, a CD.

There is no doubt that vocalist and songwriter Tony Kakko is the heart and soul of this band and no one has questioned Kakko’s writing abilities. Sonata Arctica has always be known as one of the most emotional power metal bands around; and Kakko is certainly an emotion person so it is no wonder why he puts so much feeling into his songs, especially the lyrics. On ‘The Days of Grays’ this is indeed the case, with the album being the most emotional release by the band to date. The CD can easily be described as a rollercoaster ride of human emotion, quite sporadic and intense; and all entwined together with majestic symphonic passages and epic characteristics. I knew immediately after the first spin of this new disc, that writing the review for it would be difficult.

No, ‘The Days of Grays’ is not a return to the days of ‘Silence’ or ‘Ecliptica’. That sound and style of Sonata Arctica will never return, and nor should it. All bands progress in the way they want to and they are not expected to go backwards and return to something that may have been successful 10 years ago; no matter how much some die hard fans want them too. The signs of Sonata Arctica’s progression began with ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ and has continued to progress with every release since then. I consider ‘The Days of Grays’ to be similar with ‘Unia’, particularly with the structure; while also similarities can be found from ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ and ‘Reckoning Night’. Putting all that together, with the addition of epic symphonies; ‘The Days of Grays’ is very deep and meaningful and has multiple layers of emotion which cannot be summed up after just one listen.

Take the first track after the musical intro for example. “Deathaura”, the 8 minute epic depicts everything that is within this album. With constant tempo and structure changes, the song itself feels like a rollercoaster ride. With the addition of female vocals (Johanna Kurkela) and bombastic orchestras, the song is very passionate and strong. Things settle down somewhat with the next track, entitled “The Last Amazing Grays”. Despite being relatively straightforward, this is one of the best tracks on the CD with great singing from Kakko, top-notch use of keys and lastly similar in sound to what you’ve heard from the past few releases.

“Flag in the Ground” is an uplifting fast tempo track, oozing emotion from the pen and paper of one Tony Kakko. Lyrics depicting a young family in which the man must travel to another country where he works hard to create their new life, leaving his love and child behind stirs up much feeling. Again straightforward, the track is classic Sonata from their ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ era. “Zeroes” is indeed an interesting track, quite different to what you have heard previously. With lyrics stamping a bold statement, the songs swells of aggression and anger. Through the song’s diverse nature, it has great melody and is a definite album highlight.

Other tracks which I found to be quite strong include the very emotional “The Dead Skin”, featuring aggressive yet charismatic vocals from Tony Kakko, and “The Truth Is Out There”, which is another straightforward track, but once again the vocal performance by Kakko excels and makes the track another highlight.

Despite the songs mentioned above being standouts, there are however some tracks which did miss the mark in my opinion. I felt that the ballad “Breathing” was nice, but never really got off the ground. Despite the dark and heartfelt lyrics, the song was hit and miss unfortunately. The other track which I think missed the spot is the album closer “Everything Fades To Gray”, as it is quite slow and somewhat weak and a poor way to finish the CD.

Overall ‘The Days of Grays’ is another solid release from Sonata Arctica. Being the most erratic, matured and emotional album too; there is a lot to appreciate and admire. Tony Kakko proves further that he is a master when it comes to the lyrics of a song and for someone who can pour his heart out onto paper and into music; I take my hat off to his supreme efforts on this release. Better than ‘Unia’, this CD marks an important time in Sonata Arctica’s progression and direction as a power metal band. Fans of their recent works from ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ onwards will most definitely enjoy this and appreciate the aggressive and sporadic nature of the music.

Originally written for www.themetalforge.com and www.metalcdratings.com

Weird... - 75%

ijy10152, April 22nd, 2012

This has got to be the strangest album I have ever heard, but personally I think that's part of Sonata Arctica's motif. Tony loves the strange, different, and unexpected, and he really shows this in The Days of Grays. I had not listened to Unia prior to this, and the last album I heard before this was Reckoning Night, and while I thought that was a really good album, I also thought that the ideas for that type of music was running dry a bit and that Sonata Arctica should probably branch out and try new things. To my delight, they really did on this album.

At first I was excited that they had included an introduction track on this album, and while it's decent, it's not great and it doesn't really flow into the next song very well. Deathaura is actually one of my favorite songs by Sonata Arctica, showing that new style that I was looking for with a smattering of the old Sonata Arctica, reminding me a little of Victoria's Secret. I also liked the fact that they included a song over 7 minutes on this album because I always enjoy a well done epic. The Last Amazing Grays is another good, but different song. It sounds heavy at first, but the major (tonality) feel of the song and the subject matter makes it a very enjoyable, light, and rather catchy song. These two are my favorite tracks off this album. The rest is decent, but nothing special. Flag in the Ground is a good Sonata Arctica throwback to the Silence-Winterhearts Guild-era, but the rest is a bit... strange. Zeroes is probably the strangest song on this with a really weird beginning and ending because of some really strange electronic voice settings that Tony decides to use. He really seems to like messing around with his voice, doesn't he? But I will say that it does give this album some more...personality and really sets it apart. The Dead Skin is another weird one with electronic voice filtering and the rest of the album is basically Unia with less complexity and some darker lyrical content. I really like Sonata Arctica's ballads and one of the bonus tracks for this is the best they've ever made. In the Dark is a fantastic song and will always be one of Sonata Arctica's best songs of all time for me.

I'm dedicating a section of this review to bonus tracks because for the first time in a long time I believe that they truly deserve mentioning. After Deathaura, In The Dark is my favorite song, being very emotional and very romantic this actually became the song for my first girlfriend and I, just because we felt that it really captured a truly romantic feel and because the emotion in it is done so incredibly well; only Tony Kakko could put emotion like this into metal music. Nothing More is also really good, capturing some of the spirit from Reckoning Night combined with a little Unia in regards to the progressive nature of it. You're a Giant in My Eyes is pretty good as well reminding me a lot of The Last Amazing Grays, with smatterings of the rest of the album in it. The bass is clearly audible in this song which is nice and it's fairly heavy making it a really good addition to this album.

All in all, this isn't as good as Unia or any album before it, but it's also difficult to compare it to them because it's nearly completely different from every album they have done so far. I did enjoy the experimentation in this album, but personally I hope they go back to the Reckoning Night/Unia-type stuff or maybe even use Deathaura for inspiration, because that is easily the best song on this. This is a very good album and I can't wait for Stones Grow Her Name, the most anticipated album of 2012!

Peace

Much Different, But Still Enjoyable - 84%

WishmasterTheDark, November 29th, 2011

Sonata Arctica continue their progressive metal journey which started with studio album Unia. If the journey continues with this style, they will become standard progressive metal band. In that case power metal remains just a part of their discography which consists of symphonic metal and progressive metal too. That is not the valid reason to label them as "power progressive symphonic metal", but just - progressive metal. This release is done with the similar style as Unia, but much darker and creepier, and a bit less complex. Songs are shorter comparing to Unia, which had songs approximately 5 to 6 minutes long, and even shorter songs had so goddamn complex structure. This release has much more symphonic metal elements and orchestrations. Remains of original Sonata Arctica are rare, but still present in few songs. They didn't change just their style, but also their line-up a bit.

Jani is gone, and Elias is his replacement now. Believe me, it's not easy to be Jani's replacement, 'cause there are only few guitarists who can be compared with Jani... Elias is not one of them. He is not as half as skilled and creative as Jani, but actually he didn't have lot of job here, because this studio album doesn't lack insane guitar skills, but guitar solos in general. Last Amazing Grays, In My Eyes You're A Giant, No Dream Can Heal A Broken Heart and The Dead Skin are the songs where Elias instead of arpeggios, sweeps, shredding and tapping made solid crunchy riffs only. He has interesting, fast, technical and enjoyable solo in Flag In The Ground, an attempt to do something technical and fast in the song Deathaura, but that solo is too short, that's why it's nothing special. Breathing has slower solo with more feel, made perfectly to fit the tempo and emotions which song possesses. Nothing More has guitar vs keyboard solo just like in the song Flag In The Ground.

Unfortunately Nothing More, one of few songs which remind of old Sonata Arctica, is included as a bonus track. Flag In The Ground, The Last Amazing Grays and In My Eyes You're A Giant are other excellent songs done in the vein of The Cage, Victoria's Secret and My Selene. That doesn't mean that they are the same, nor that they are repeating themselves. They are so different when you compare them with each other, but they common Sonata Arctica original style. In My Eyes You're A Giant is more aggressive than others, Flag In The ground is the most melodic, The Last Amazing grays is the most complex, and Nothing More is like mix of all these without aggressive elements. Deathaura proves that not only old-school songs are excellent. This one is the longest from this album, the most symphonic, progressive, complex and has an excellent contrast of melodic vocals and dark ambient. Everything Fades To Gray, the opener, is really enjoyable instrumental piece, where keyboards and orchestrations play the main role. Also Breathing is slow, melodic and very emotional ballad. It has similar piano work like in their song Shamandalie, but this one has sad, melancholic mood.

Besides lots of excellent songs, Zeroes and No Dream Can Heal A Broken Heart are two very good songs. The only reason why they are not excellent is the stupid ambient in some parts of these songs. For example Zeroes has totally unnecessarily annoying beginning and the same ending, and No Dream Can Heal A Broken Heart has some really weird and annoying keyboard sounds in the beginning, and some parts in the middle. I don't understand why the hell was that for. That is also the part of those experiments I really don't like, and I will never get used to them. Anyway, these two songs have lots of interesting and excellent parts to prevent these songs from total ruin. Like the songs I mentioned before, these have intelligent lyrics, great progressions and ambient during the whole song's duration, and excellent catchy sing-along refrains.

The rest of the songs have excellent lyrics, few good riffs, some great ambient parts, but these sound experiments make these songs sound so annoying. Electronic edited vocals kill these parts of the song. I don't understand why Tony decided to "play" with his voice. The Dead Skin, Juliet, Zeroes and Everything Fades To Gray have vocals edit which is not present during the whole duration of these songs, but in some parts, and that's enough to ruin them. Also some of them have only memorable refrains like The Dead Skin, followed with great riffs, but just great lyrics, catchy refrains and few good riffs. That's not enough to make an excellent song, at least not if the vocals are ruined with electronic edit, and song has some boring and non-memorable parts.

Good sides of this release:
You'll be able to explore ability of Sonata Arctica when they attempt to take different direction inside heavy metal music. But that thing is not that good, because it is pissing off the long time fans, unless they are ready for a change. Fans of progressive and symphonic metal will enjoy this album more than people who are used to Sonata Arctica before Unia. However, great and intelligent lyrics, orgasmic melodies and great sing along refrains are still here.

Bad sides of this release:
Although most of the songs grew on me, there are some things which can't grow on me as a metalhead. Electronic edited vocals and tons of lyrics without great instrumental parts as a backup in these mediocre songs, some weird ambient parts of some songs and lack of guitar solos. This album is not worse than others just because Jani left. Even if he was a part of this whole thing I don't think that he would be capable of cleaning the mess this studio album has. With song structures like here, no guitarist would be capable of giving his best. If you want to find out more about Elias, you'll have to check out his solo career. I mentioned guitar solos so many times, because that is one of synonyms for Sonata Arctica (besides intelligent lyrics, killer combination of melodies and riffs/power chords), and yet that synonym is gone now. Long-time fans may be disappointed with this release, and most of them already are. People who want to check out Sonata Arctica, if they are not familiar with them, should start listening chronologically - from the first album, to this one.

Highlights:
Everything Fades To Gray (instrumental version), Deathaura, The Last Amazing Grays, Flag In The Ground, Breathing, In The Dark, In My Eyes You're A Giant and Nothing More.

A headache inducing picture of grayness. - 37%

hells_unicorn, July 18th, 2011

The latter 2000s were fairly unkind to a number of established power metal acts, but perhaps the most blatant case of a change in musical direction pummeling a band into painful mediocrity was found in Sonata Arctica’s allegedly dark, but largely commercial venture in “Unia”. While whether one going commercial is a bad thing or not can be relative, the slowed down, overdramatic and meandering mess that permeated each directionless song gave new meaning to the concept of crash and burn. Perhaps the most troubling thing of all was that with the lead up to their latest work “Days Of Grays”, Tony and company dispelled any hopes for a much needed return to form, thus expectations were very low when I happened upon this album just recently in a $5 bin at my local music store.

As best as can be explained, this album is a much needed departure from the boring, repetitive, arduous tendencies of its predecessor, but unfortunately it carries a fairly strong remnant of the overbearing vocal tendencies of the 2007 flop, and also abandons any attempt at exploring this band’s strengths. The sound has a strong helping of pop and AOR influences, though the largest influence tends to be latter day Nightwish and Epica. The deep, dark and murky guitar tone of newly recruited axe man Elias Viljanen is an almost perfect imitation of Mark Jansen’s signature guitar sound, though the thrashing gallops are not as prominent, in favor of a more groove oriented, quasi-progressive riff set along similar lines to that of Unia. A female vocalist is even employed from time to time, though lacking the operatic beauty of a Simone Simons or a Floor Jansen, and generally resembles a number of interchangeable pop singers.

But to this album’s credit, it does have an actual sense of catchiness and sees this outfit remembering how to write a song. Unfortunately most of what is found on here is either a shadow of a better time in this band’s history, or an extremely lackluster rehash of territory that After Forever had already explored 8 years ago. Things start off on a positive note with a fairly well put together instrumental in “Everything Fades To Gray”, taking some ideas from Danny Elfman, and generally features the piano. But as the songs begin to unfold with “Deathaura” and “The Last Amazing Grays”, things are marked by a very mixed vocal job out of Tony Kakko, who can’t seem to stop shouting long enough to carry an entire melodic phrases. As the album unfolds, the overt symphonic and melodic tendencies begin to intermingle with decrepit pop gimmicks, coming to a head with the nu-metal sounding crapshoot that is “Zeroes”.

To be fair, there are a few spots of brilliance that stick out like a handful of roses amidst a land of sand and jagged rocks. The big surprise and, ironically, a somewhat hypocritical reverting to past practices is “Flag In The Ground”, which all but completely embodies everything that made “Silence” the undeniable classic that it was. The guitar tone is naturally a good bit deeper, the solo section is much shorter and not as flashy, but that signature speed metal chorus with all the glorious vocal harmonies just gets me every time. The other confirmed diamond in the rough, like as was the case with “Unia”, is actually the bonus track “In The Dark”. It’s a bit slower and very simple compared to most of the regular album tracks, but has a solid vocal job and a good atmosphere, not to mention that it avoids all of the odd pop and symphonic genre splicing that throws off most of the continuity of the album.

Sonata Arctica seems pretty well determined to dig their heels in and not admit that a monumental mistake was made when “Unia” was passed off as being an album worthy of the same band that put out “Winterheart’s Guild” and “Ecliptica”. A key element of what made this band work so well was their unique variation on the fast, melodic style of Stratovarius, which was picked up by Celesty and thankfully not dropped in the name of appealing to mainline rock radio types. If Tony Kakko were taken out of the mix, there would literally be know way to identify 95% of what is on here as being Sonata Arctica. Some may find this sort of sudden bursts of musical mutation appealing, but I’m not one of them, nor do I think are most of the band’s core audience, though most of them probably jumped ship upon realizing that this band no longer had any interest in maintaining their status as purveyors of power metal orthodoxy. Let’s just hope that they break up before embarrassing themselves further.

It grows on you. - 90%

PowerDaso, June 7th, 2010

Sonata Arctica has faced some serious problems on the recent years. First, their album "Unia" receiving no acceptance from the fans because whatever causes, then losing Jani Liimatainen, their extremelly talented guitar player. Fans were unable to expect something good from their forthcoming album, even more when they were announced that it would be "the same vein as Unia, but not as complex". Knowing all of this, nothing was able to save this album from... or at least it seemed that way. Kakko did all the efforts possible to accomplish a sound following the line of Unia, and seemingly, he succeeded. So, this is "The Days of Grays".

The music on this album is all about evoking emotions. There are various elements contributing to this factor, such as the more frequent use of keyboards, which are always in there, backing up, whether it may be as some organ, strings, fanfares, the usual piano; it gives the album a dramatic feeling in almost every single song. The down tuning and 7th string on the guitar also cooperate in this, adding a heavier sound to the songs, making them much more aggressive where needed. Indeed, the vocals have the main focus where all this drama and sadness in the album refers to. Kakko doesn't overuses the falsetto in here, but rather sings in lower tones and at times screams his heart out, just like in "Deathaura" or "Zeroes". The songs are definitely slower than the ones in other albums, fitting just adequate to the task; this also keeps the role of the albums mood.

The lyrics are also really important in here, since they contain the main essence of what the album is all about. The topic of the lyrics variate in the first half. They go from a man being in love with a witch that got killed in "Deathaura" to this guy who goes on an adventure seeking for a better life in "Flag in the Ground". The tracks in the first half are fun listening to, but only individually. When heard all at once it can be quite confusing, since the sound among them varies a lot. The second half is my personal favorite. All of the lyrics in there are related to spite in some sense. The sound in this half is overall sadder and much more emotive.

Musically, there are a few things you should look for. First of all, the bass. It is the first time I listen to Paasikoski's bass, and I must say I am impressed. He gets interludes and even to play a solo on "The Dead Skin" and "In The Dark" (a bonus track, hopefully you'll get it). Second, the riffs. I'm not talking about all the riffs in the album, but about some heavy breakdown sections in several songs like "The Last Amazing Grays" or "The Dead Skin", they'll get you headbanging in no time. Third, the keyboards. I know I previously mentioned them, but they really stand out in here. My personal favorites in this would be "The Truth is Out There" and "Zeroes".

As the sound of the album is not like the old Sonata Arctica, you may not like it at first. This is one of those albums you have to listen to many times and with attention, since there are elements in here that you'll like a lot after a little time. Give it a try, believe me, you won't regret it at all.

Highlights: All of them, except "Everything Fades to Gray" (both of them) and "No Dream Can Heal a Broken Heart".

All I need now is the sex change - 60%

autothrall, February 17th, 2010

The last Sonata Arctica album I enjoyed was their 1999 debut Ecliptica, which I took for a more intense, extreme alternative to fellow Finns Stratovarius. Formulaic, melodic power metal with some good hooks and savage musical skill. Since that time there have been a few decent tracks spotting their catalog, and a decade (and a great deal of success) later we have their 6th opus The Days of Grays. Though it features some fine symphonic elements and a few exciting tracks, the remainder of the album is unfortunately a dull excursion into territory far too 'safe' and uninspired.

The instrumental "Everything Fades to Gray" is a nice start to the album, with an ascending symphonic melody. "Deathaura" opens with further classical instrumentation and a female vocal narration (not totally annoying, mind you). At this point, you realize The Days of Grays will be smothered in that same fairy tale atmosphere as previous records. The rest of the track is pretty epic, and few bands can incorporate the symphonic angle and sound this good in the mix (Sonata Arctica spares nothing from the warchest to make their productions huge). Tony Kakko's vocals are clear and melodic with a little twinge of accent which actually adds to their value, but rarely are the lines catchy enough to stand out. It's no surprise that the better songs on this album are the 'heavy' ones, like the charging "Flag in the Ground" or the dopily titled, proggish "No Dream Can Heal a Broken Heart". These are counterbalanced by the 'power ballads' of the album ("Breathing" or "As if the World Wasn't Ending") which have all the depth of an overhyped, shallow track from Pink or Christina Agiluera. Remember when this type of song was actually catchy? Very rarely does it succeed in a metal band.

Lyrically, there is some interesting sentimentality to a few of the tracks, like "The Last Amazing Grays" which deals with aging in a pleasant way, lacking condescension. Then you've got tripe like this, from the wrist-cutting "The Dead Skin":

'Tears don't mean anything
If we don't know when we're sorry
No one will win today we can't play this game... this way
We cannot soar and still stay on the ground
Don't wanna see me, hear me, hate me...'

This album was really a mixed bag for me. There are a few moments where it truly soars, and then others when it seems complacent with its mediocrity. Sonata Arctica tries to tell stories with some of these songs and perhaps there is a narrative disconnect. They are an ambitious (and proficient) band, but I wish this ambition would find some escape velocity and abandon the 'safe' zone so many of their albums play around in. It's the same issue I have with most of the Stratovarius catalogue, though this band travels slightly further out of the box.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

Their Days of Grace - 95%

The_CrY, February 13th, 2010

What have we here? A new album by Sonata Arctica, entitled The Days of Grays, depressingly misspelling Grace as Grays. Well, that does sum up the themes of the lyrics, they are pretty depressing. Yet the music would fit better with the correctly spelled version of that word. For we have once more a great album by Sonata Arctica and it’s the follow-up to the progressive Unia. What should we expect here? I expected a Unia II, but instead we got something a bit more worthwhile.

So, what do we have here? In sound, The Days of Grays is still very progressive, like Unia, but it’s much more in touch with their power metal past. In fact, this album even contains a traditional Sonata Arctica power metal song “Flag in the Ground”, which is easily one of the best songs from the album! Perhaps they were born to make power metal after all... hmm? Anyway, there’s been a slight change in the Sonata line-up on the guitar part: Jani Liimatainen out, in comes Elias Viljanen. I don’t notice any decent changes in playing style, probably because Tony Kakko still writes all the songs. The guitar sound did change however, they now have turned down all the bass on the amp, it seems. It’s a downright ugly sound, but luckily the guitar is never the main instrument in Sonata, so the album can (and will) still be saved! The album has a very dark sound overall, and this is not a bad thing. Winterheart’s Guild also was a bit darker than their previous releases, and is second to this one my favorite Sonata album. Luckily depressing lyrics are mostly compensated by great music with these guys.

The album opens with a progressive piece “Deathaura”, showing off a balanced mix between progressive and power metal. The changes in mood, key and bar still occur like on Unia, but the speed has been turned up like on Silence. The first single “The Last Amazing Grace” on the other hand is a song that wouldn’t have appeared on any of those albums; it’s really a typical song for this current album. It’s progressive in a way, but without all the key, bar and mood changes. This time it’s a real song, with true sing-along choruses and bridges like we are used to on albums like Reckoning Night, yet this time it’s not accompanied by the fast double bass rhythms. The good best part of this album must be the set of songs right after “Breathing”, a quite unnoted ballad. Especially “Zeroes” gets my full praise! It’s so swinging with its offbeat drums and its ‘so-wrong-it’s-cool’ vocals. Not to mention it is followed directly by “The Dead Skin”, another highlight. This one shines mostly in the progressive part. There’s a very heavy instrumental piece in the middle of this song, and it’s just great to bang your head to that. Apart from that, the chorus is very catchy. Some say the melodies on here are almost poppy, but I assure you that it’s no poppier than on previous albums. As if we are not already on a highlight there is “Juliet”, again a progressive piece with many themes full of melodies, telling Shakespeare’s tale about Romeo and Juliet in from a different perspective. We are still not out of highlights, but I can go and describe the next few tracks as detailed as I would like, it would not come over as such.

In short: I think this album is their best yet. I see almost no flaws, and they have achieved the perfect balance between Unia and Winterheart’s Guild on this album, with the Unia-part still being the most dominant. This album is a true grower, and I truly run out of words when I’m trying to describe its greatness. I would highly recommend this album to anyone who likes progressive metal and Sonata Arctica.

Strongest tracks: “Flag in the Ground”, “Zeroes”, “The Dead Skin”, “No Dream Can Heal a Broken Heart” and “The Truth Is Out There”.

http://thecryreviews.blogspot.com/

A fantastic album...just not perfect. - 85%

WhiskerDude, October 28th, 2009

I think there are a few things everyone should realize before listening to this album. One, Jani is gone and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Second, Sonata Arctica is never going to go back to their roots. If you want that then just go listen to their older albums. You won't find that anywhere on this album minus a few certain nostalgic moments. Lastly, just because a band decides to progress in a new direction, does not mean that it is a change for the worse. As is the case for Sonata Arctica. If there is one word that will describe this album it is weird, but it works for them.

When I had first heard they were releasing a new album, I will admit that I was extremely ecstatic. After the different, yet amazing album that was Unia, I couldn't wait to see what they were able to bring around this time. I will admit that when I first heard The Days of Grays, I was kind of let down. Notice I only say "Kind of", because this album eventually grew to become one of the best I have heard since Winterheart's Guild. Obviously this is not the back-to-the-roots album alot of fans wanted, but in my personal opinion I think that doing so would have been a mistake. Now, there are a few sections of the album that have obvious tributes to the band's older sound. The most obvious one here being the song "Flag in the Ground." It is probably the closest thing to Winterheart's Guild era Sonata that you will find on this album. I remember when I first heard that song I immediately thought of "The Cage." This album excells in almost every way. Almost...yet it does have a few minor set backs which prevent it from being a truly perfect album.

So let's start this off with the obvious choice: The vocals. Tony's voice has always been one that I admire. It seems that with every album he continues to improve. Such songs as "Deathaura", "The Last Amazing Grays", and "The Truth is out There" show that he has no intentions of not trying to perfect his voice. There are certain times where it does seem to not fit in as well. "Flag in the Ground" has certain parts(mainly the verses) where his voice seems to contradict everything that is going on. He nails the chorus, but those certain parts definitley made me cringe when I first heard them. The album also ends so have plenty of experimenting with vocal effects such as multi-layering and weird filters. It almost seems as if during the mixing process someone hit a wrong button and Tony said, "Hey...that actually sounds pretty cool. I say we keep it." I could totally see that happening. Just go and listen to the song "Zeroes" and you will see what I mean. Aside from that Tony's voice is fantastic as always and the female vocals in "Deathaura" and "No Dream Can Heal a Broken Heart" are fantastic too.

Now, onto the instrumentation. First thing any listener will notice is the abundance of an orchestra on at least 4 of the songs. This is different, but not exactly a bad thing. If anything, it makes them sound a bit more like their Finnish counterparts Nightwish. Another thing one would notice is the odd lack of solos in general. I'm just giving you fair warning if you came expecting a solo on every song you will be dissappointed. The only songs with solos would be: "Deathaura", "Flag in the Ground" (Dueling keyboard and guitar on that one...almost.) "Breathing", "Zeroes", and "As if the World Wasn't Ending". Oddly enough however, the lack of solos does not kill the album as much as you would think. The ones that are there are fantastic and don't dissappoint. While we're on the subject of guitars, one thing I was annoyed at was the direction it took. It seems they have taken a background spot giving way to the vocals and keyboards. You can still hear the guitar, but it is just "eaten" by all the melody flying around everywhere. Which brings me to the keyboards. They seem to be a bit more laid back on this album. Once again taking a back seat to Tony's vocals. However, at least they are there more so than the guitar. The seem to be there playing what is being song alot of the times and other times they are just playing a slight differentiating melody. They are still great, but not what you would expect with the band. Heck, even on Unia they were everywhere, but here they just seem be more laid back. The bass is there, but you have to listen closely to hear it, except on the song "The Dead Skin" where it gets a few second to stand out. The drums aren't doing anything special really, but it's still great.

Overall, the album is something that will take awhile to get used to. While it has it's faults (Lack of solos and overpowering vocals) once you listen to it a few times you will realize The Days of Grays is an amazing album. Almost every chorus will force itself into your head and the lyrics are fantasticly done. There are a few lines that are borderline cheese, but it's still the dark, melodramatic, beautiful lyrics Tony seems to be proficient at writing. In fact...if you think about it...there is so much going on in this album. Maybe too much. I think they tried to hard to be innovative as with Unia and it didn't turn out as fantastic as they wanted. Regardless this is an excellent album that is one of Sonata's best once you look past the minor mistakes. It will take a few listens, but this album is like a parasite. It will force its way into your head and feed off of your emotions.

Everyone seems to think that the direction Sonata has taken on these past two albums is stupid and that they should stick to what they used to do. In all honesty I'm glad that they have found a style for themselves...now if only they could perfect it. The Days of Grays is a huge improvement over Unia in the direction they want to take and I believe that the next album they release will be their big break in the style. As long as they don't try to do so much on one album and maybe fix the balance then it will be perfect. They did a great job on this album, just not a flawless one.

HEAVY POP PROG? - 50%

alexxhighlander, October 24th, 2009

I would love to tell you this album is a hopeless piece of fetid turd, but the problem is I'd be lying. And lying is one thing this band did not do when they said The Days of Grays would NOT be a return to their roots. It is not.

Some of the other reviews on this page are right: this CD does grow on you. But that's exactly for the opposite reason that made Unia suck so bad. Unia was dark and heavy, so at least they had that. This album is hard to define, but it relies very much on POP, mainly on its choruses and its approach to the overall sound, with the guitars buried way down under a ton of pop sounding keyboards, not a single memorable riff or solo ever heard from them. So, why is pop called pop? There you go.

In terms of metal, even melodic power metal, this is really bad. Add to that the fact that the drums never ever do anything remotely close to amazing and that Kakko keeps to the lower end of his vocal range the entire time (except when he sounds way too much like later Hansi Kursh, and that is NOT a compliment) and you are perhaps listening to the wrong band for your double bass speed of light guitars extravaganza fix... Don't get me wrong, he does sing very well on this album, but mostly it's just bland.

So, why 'heavy pop prog' then? Because it is heavier than most pop music anyway. And because it has enough twists and turns, enough variation, enough unexpected changes to grant it that title, even if not for the musicianship, I mean, definitely not for the musicianship... There are no tempo changes or any such thing, just enough variation, like I said.

They even hired a Finnish female pop singer to do the female vocals. That's who she is, or what she is, in case you didn't know. And she did a good job, considering what was asked of her: to sing softly and beautifully, and, very accessibly. That's what most songs feature: beautiful melodies, some nice ideas, sing along stuff here and there, mid tempo ballads with twists and turns.

To cut a long review short, with the exception of Flag In The Ground, there is nothing on this album to quench the power metal thirst of fans of Sonata Arctica of old, and even that specific song doesn't truly do the trick. Jani's departure has certainly been felt, and one can only assume it was for the better, once one listens to the guitar work presented on this album, always taking a backseat to the keyboards.The lyrics are the typical sad, broken hearted lyrics Kakko is known for, with maybe a few more cliches thrown in for good commercial reasons (lines that sound like something you'd hear on an Alanis Morrisette album).

So, if you want to hear some good old Sonata style power metal, with fast drumming and great guitars and amazing vocals, get Cain's Offering debut album. It's Jani's band, with Kotipelto on vocals. It figures, doesn't it?

This time, it actually does grow on you - 94%

Ecliptik, October 7th, 2009

On the first day I had this album, my brother, knowing I had listened to it, called me up, begging for me to tell him that it was amazing. After the audio-abomination that was Unia, the both of us just couldn’t stand to hear another let down. I must say I answered him with a resounding “No.”, but after a week in my possession, I must also say that that answer was much too premature.

On the first go ‘round, my first impression was exactly like Unia: too heavy, too dark, too slow, too weird. It appeared to be just another step in a completely wrong direction, another utter disappointment. But through all the grief, one thing about this album stood out, something that I couldn’t ignore; that every song had its own catchy little slice to it. As the next day rolled around, I found myself recalling and replaying these bits of songs in my head, until I realized that I was recalling short snippets of nearly every song. Intrigued, I gave it another go.

Now it seemed a bit more organized, like it has a goal. The choppy start-and-stop opening to Deathaura actually seemed to flow quite nicely. The bizarre chant/scream-like Zeroes was no longer so repulsing, on the contrary, it was rather endearing. And so as the album went on, as I kept an ear out for the pleasant parts of the songs I remembered, doing so caused me to notice subtle things I had either missed before, or completely overlooked. Tony’s vocals, for instance. In no other Sonata Arctica album will you find as wide a range of vocal style as in The Days of Grays, and it’s apparent as soon as he comes in on Deathaura – loud, proud, and powerful - essentially screaming “III’M BAAAACK!!” Almost as if he’s reassuring everybody that he, and his creativity, didn’t go anywhere.

And so the more time I had to digest the subtle/overlooked qualities of this increasingly impressive album, the more time I also had to scrutinize another one of Sonata’s new undertakings: heaviness. Sonata Arctica have never been a heavy band, that’s obvious. So the chug-a-lug heavy metal guitars never quite set well with me when it came from them… at least in the case, again, of Unia. The difference here is that now the heaviness is no longer empty, pointless riffs. Now, they’re either setting down the groundwork for an ambience, or a groove. Take The Last Amazing Grays, Deathaura, and As If the World Wasn’t Ending. The guitar work is like the primer, and the keyboards are like the paint. The guitars actually let the keyboards to come in and grip, allowing both to display their beauty and color to their peak. The “ding-a-ling” keyboards, rampant throughout Unia, now have something to support them, and bring them out tastefully and without being overbearing.

So, could this be it? Could Sonata Arctica finally be turning back around, away from their giant progressive mistake? The Days of Grays is, without a shadow of a doubt, a gigantic improvement. A rock-solid release and a far cry from Unia, it seems the boys are finally mastering the new sound they’ve been looking for. And while nothing can ever hold a candle to their old music, if they can just master their new style even a little more, then Sonata Arctica will no doubt be back on the golden road.