without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
In the glory days of the power metal revival, which for the uninitiated ran from around 1995 until about 2004, there was a fairly clear definition of what the style was and the direction it was heading. But as with any musical movement, saturation can eventually result in dilution via experimentation. This isn't to say that experimentation in and of itself is bad, for without it we would wither and die, but for every beneficial leap in stylistic evolution there is also the opportunity for a Frankenstein monster to reap havoc upon the village. While the full blame for the rather sizable downturn in quality of output that reared its head among several longstanding power metal acts that occurred between 2004 and 2008 can't be laid at one particular band, Sonata Arctica had the unique distinction of not only taking the most extreme nosedive in quality with their 2007 abortion Unia, but rivaled Edguy in their sheer stubbornness in refusing to see where they had found themselves and continuing to excrete similarly styled auditory rubbish for years on end.
To be fair, there was a gradual degree of improvement that culminated in the inferior (compared to their seminal offerings) but respectable previous offering Pariah's Child, which had salvaged some of the better moments of Reckoning Night. One would think that an album containing the sequel of one of the more impressive offerings of said album would hint at a continuation of this better direction, not to mention the band trotting out an updated version of their powerful debut outing Ecliptica, but The Ninth Hour sees Kakko and company having some different ideas. About the only thing that really separates this from the plodding with occasional moments of coasting and meandering that was this band's sad 2007 flop is a handful of elements lifted from other slightly less terrible successors that followed prior to 2014. The production is pristine to the point of drowning the ears in a sea of syrup, with the keyboards taking on a heavy degree of prominence, and the vocals being a tad bit more focused, but all of the other elements don't really manage to hit the mark, or any mark to be honest.
If the majority of the songs on this album could be summed up in a single word, it would be frustrating, and in the most monumental sense of the word. A fair degree of competence in both technique and emotive feel are articulated in coasting, mid-paced songs like "Closer To The Animal", "Life" and "Fairytale", specifically with regard to the flashy keyboards and Kakko's vocal character, but there is absolutely no sense of cadence or any hooks to speak of, just a stream of ideas that feel incomplete that flow out in the most banal way possible. There is a slight helping of faster attempts at the glorious sound of old, but they continually get bogged down in novelty moments and balladry, resulting in truly stilted and disjointed crappers like "Till Death's Done Us Apart" and somewhat animated yet directionless semi-speeders like "Fly, Navigate, Communicate". The only song on here that really manages to stay consistent is "Rise A Night", which functions as a slightly less memorable answer to "Flag In The Ground", itself a half-hearted attempt at visiting the pre-Unia days.
It is truly a sad statement that the best and most memorable thing to be included on this album is a Bryan Adams cover song, but the existing hooks in "Run To You" have a bit more to do with what power metal was prior to 2005 than anything else on this album. Perhaps it is just a bit of icing on this decrepit cake given that its 2007 forerunner also had a cover song as its crowning musical achievement. A number of fans have basically written Sonata Arctica off as a band that probably should have hung it up 10 years ago, and it is kind of hard to argue against this when this is what is passed off as their take on power metal. Truth be told, this isn't power metal, but more an extremely convoluted mishmash of power metal, progressive and hard rock, synth pop and some traces of a bad Broadway performance. Maybe the next album will be better, but the smart money is one waiting for the next Cain's Offering LP and leaving this sad shell of a band to wallow in their self-indulgent experimentation.