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This is my second least favorite Sonata album, but I'm still giving it a 92.
I like this album, but not as much as the others simply because it isn't my cup of tea. Compare to Ecliptica, which I simply regard as a cheap, overproduced, top-heavy imitation of Stratovarius's Visions. I think a lot of the flack this album gets is actually people coming to listen thinking they're going to get another rendition of Ecliptica and then walk away disappointed that nothing here is fast or catchy. You see this with pretty much every band that tried to change its style at some point. Stratovarius ran into a similar episode when they introduced a lot of new progressive elements on... Elements, especially Pt. 1 in 2003 and were met with cold reception. Hell, even Judas Priest got their fair share of flack whenever they tried to deviate from their original sound in any way after 1990.
This album is a different beast completely. There's two songs that could qualify as normal: "Paid in Full", the single which has a very typical structure and a good old keyboard solo that's actually a pretty good single by Sonata standards. The final ballad, "Good Enough is Good Enough", is also pretty straightforward after the intro and didn't seem to be different from tracks such as "Tallulah" when I was discovering this band many years ago. It's a little reminiscent of "Shy" and "Last Drop Falls" as well.
On the other side of the spectrum you have the songs where Tony stops caring about "structure" or "familiarity". "My Dream's But a Drop of Fuel for a Nightmare" is a six-minute thrill ride that takes you everywhere except where you expect to go. It's probably my favorite track on the album with a close second taken by the similarly-structured, but different-sounding "To Create a Warlike Feel". "The Worlds Forgotten, the Words Forbidden" is a short song that also manages to go far in under 3 minutes and really builds the atmosphere that drives this album.
This album overall is designed to be more cerebral. You can't have it running in the background and expect to get a lot out of it; it requires you to pay attention to the complex lyrical themes thrown into every song while trying to keep up with the instrumentation, wherever it goes. And rinse and repeat before you throw it away - you'll never know what comes up and it's definitely one that grows on you.
The real reason I give it a 92 is that Unia isn't something I'd listen to above all else, but it's done an outstanding job of bringing me into the world of progressive metal, and if Tony can emerge with a sound completely out of left field and still produce something I consider appealing and am willing to buy, then he's doing something right in my book.
It's funny how when finally this band found their own, original sound, they, inexplicably, got sick of it and decided to make a radical shift in their musical style, never to come back again to the power metal that made them famous. The outcome was more than frustrating for many fans, and some turned their backs against the band, and, while an argument can be made about how they should have kept the style of Reckoning Night (fuck their early records), it is their second best release to date.
Gone are the double-bass drumming, the flashy solos, the speed, the catchy choruses, and the mainly verse-chorus-verse structures. Despite keeping the amazing dark fairytale vibe of Reckoning Night, most of the songs are midpaced, the riffs are mostly rhythmic chugging, but, in a strange turn, they are way more memorable than the ones on the previous records (most of their old songs only play three simple chords under the verses), and the vocals are angrier and bitter, sometimes demented, with even screams in the background in some songs. The keyboards are more prominent than before (for those wondering about how such a thing is even possible, yes, it is possible), giving the melodies the entire time. Those are not poppy, and are not used in the traditional power metal way, being instead complex and weird, consistent with the chaotic, progressive approach to songwriting.
The production is not as polished as the one on previous records, with the guitars having a rawer, louder sound, the drum sound not being plastic or triggered (for the first time Tommy Portimo doesn't sound like a drum machine), the vocals are multilayered in many sections, and are at the front of the mix along with the keyboards, who range from the proggy sound of the previous record or a chime-like sound, to a symphonic and a carnival-esque sound, so, they're varied enough to pull off the complex structures of the music.
Now, the song structures are definitely something else, multisectioned, non-catchy, unpredictable, at times (and, at first listening, most of the time) jarring, but rewarding, for the ones who take the challenge to sit down and listen multiple times to the album. Though, it's easier to approach it by listening to individual songs. Standouts include the most 'normal' song of the bunch, 'Paid in Full', the somber and dramatic 'Caleb', the rushed, up-beat 'The Vice', 'My Dream's but a Drop of Fuel for a Nightmare', as complex as it title suggests, with plenty of symphonic arrangements (I may be exaggerating in here, but this kinda feels like a distant, light-hearted cousin of Arcturus) and the only fast (at the same time the heaviest) song of the record, and one of the best on the band's catalog, 'The Harvest'.
Unfortunately, this has its share of awkward moments, like the annoying techno-sounding keyboards that pretty much kill 'For the Sake of Revenge', and some other unfitting keyboard lines/sections scattered through all the record, the extremely corny ballad 'Under Your Tree', the annoying high-pitched vocals in some songs, and (honestly) the lack of speed, to name a few, stuff which just feels so out of place that disrupt the continuity and vibe of the songs.
The title of the album means 'Dreams' in English, and this does feel like a dream. A succession of ideas, emotions, and sensations (thank you Wikipedia) which sometimes are ordinary, but sometimes are surreal and completely bizarre. Most of the time they get out of control, and are difficult to remember, but in general they can be extremely great. This is an acquired taste, and it's not for power metal fans. If you want to check out something out of the norm, you should give this, well, not a try, because you'll loathe it at first, MANY tries, until you stop and say: 'Wait, this has grown on me', or you definitely throw it away.
Tony Kakko is a genius, but he's not the massive collection of ego that a person like Tony Sammet is. He likes the spotlight, but doesn't mind giving it over to the others in the band . I love his voice and his unique style of music writing. He loves to give something new and different to the music community and I suppose I like that because I also love doing things differently and this certainly is different. Mainstream gets boring when you spend too much time in it. Some bands like Blind Guardian manage to stay in it by finding the perfect combination of different stuff and mainstream metal that satisfies the media and fan base as well as people outside the genre. Rhapsody of Fire managed to do this after some experimentation as well in SOE 2 and Triumph or Agony and this is Sonata Arctica's experimentation album. To me, this is probably the best experimentation album I have ever heard in this genre. While Blind Guardian went for the rock metal and Rhapsody went to the orchestral (symphonic doesn't do it justice) metal side, Arctica went for the strange complex side which is absolutely fine by me and is certainly something different from all the different power metal bands out there. While I like it all, there's just too much of it and some of it can't help but sound very similar even if I know who it's by. This was refreshing for me; it's complex, but very relaxed and at the same time managing to be a fun listen, though maybe not at first, it definitely needs time to sink in.
The style of music on this album is, as I've said, complex, but not overwhelmingly so complex to the point where it's very interesting to listen to and changes constantly manage to keep you awake and wanting more. Much less speed and more focus on vocals and keyboards and little orchestral things. I love the sound on this and I love the fact that it's not just more power metal drivel, because I know that I would have been very disappointed if they had just done the same thing and I know that a lot of fans who claim to hate this album who would have been unhappy as well. Change is necessary in this genre of music and when done right it can be amazing and very unique, which is exactly what this is.
The best songs on this are Black and White, Paid in Full, It Won't Fade, Caleb, the Harvest...screw it, every song is awesome on this with two exceptions. Under Your Tree is almost too relaxed and can be a little boring, but is good to fall asleep to, and The Words Forgotten, The Words Forbidden is kind of lame, but it's not even three minutes so it doesn't detract. I wish I could talk about every song on this album, but that is discouraged on this website. What I will say is that every song fits the style perfectly with little variations that make them all worth listening to in their own right. My Dream is a Drop of Fuel for a Nightmare is the best song on this album, being complex with multiple style changes that make it really fun to listen to and stays interesting. Paid in Full is another really good one, being the single off the album and probably the most catchy song of the whole thing. I personally really like the lyrics of this song and I can really connect with it; having gone through exactly what the song is about it makes it a lot more enjoyable to me.
Tony Kakko has always been a really emotive singer which makes his music really come alive in a way that some other singers can't quite manage. The emotion is very present in this album, enhancing it even more. The Harvest and Caleb should also be discussed, Caleb being the mini- epic on this album and is becoming a really popular Sonata Arctica song. It is a prequel to the story described in The End of This Chapter and Don't Say a Word, which apparently altogether form a three part story (I'm not completely sure what it's about, so don't ask me). Caleb really is a mini-epic with all the atmospheric buildup of one without the length. Its really well done and makes for a varied and interesting piece. I like The Harvest because it's probably the fastest song on this and manages to be heavy and complex, but it's also kind of catchy with a pretty good chorus and some fun riffing.
This album has been judged by most people after first glance as over complex, dark, unnecessary, and lacking direction, but under the surface, upon second or third glance, it is revealed to be pretty good. Personally, I liked it from the start and the new direction that Sonata Arctica took with this really intrigues me. Change is almost always welcome for me, although I can think of some albums where it wasn't (Nighwish - Imaginaerum and Stratovarius - Stratovarius). This was a good change. It wasn't necessarily a step forwards or backwards, but rather a step in a completely different direction, indicating a maturity and a definite style for the new Sonata Arctica. Above all, I really like the uniqueness of this album. In a world and genre of very similar sounding things, bands like this definitely have to find their own style and make it work or else they risk fading into obscurity and dying off. Sonata Arctica have firmly established their new style and won't be fading away any time soon.
Change. Some people embrace it with open minds, while others cringe, carry on and use the word “selling out” just to make themselves feel better. Change and different are the 2 words being talked about in forums and around the water cooler about Sonata Arctica’s latest CD, entitled ‘Unia’.
I’ve read a lot of comments in forums and reviews about ‘Unia’, and while there are a few... maybe even more than a few comments saying they enjoyed the different sound/feel, most have been on the negative side. And each to his/her own, I’m not here to say who’s right and who’s wrong. But after I read these forum comments and reviews, and before I actually spun the CD, I wanted to get the low down straight from the source. So I read as many interviews with frontman Tony Kakko as I could find, and I found that after reading Kakko’s explanations of the CD, I understood it better once I started listening to it.
‘Unia’ (meaning “dreams”) is purely driven by the lyrics and the musical structure. Those 2 are the main standouts with this CD. That and the notion that there are no speedy songs on it. But does it really matter that there are no speedy tracks? For me, I wasn’t too fussed. But die-hard Sonata Arctica fans, who still want every release to be an ‘Ecliptica’ clone, will find the lack of speedy tracks to be a problem. Kakko stated when he was writing ‘Unia’, that after he was 6-7 songs into it he noticed that none of them were fast, but just kept going because that’s the way the songs were going. He also stated that he didn’t want to write a speedy track because there had to be one; he just didn’t feel like writing one. Kakko didn’t want to repeat the speedy songs of the past and make it predictable. ‘Unia’ is definitely something that no one predicted.
The lyrics on this CD are quite different to what Kakko has written previously. These lyrics are rather lengthy and very abstract, which could also be said about the CD as a whole. Some people may not be able to get their heads around most of the lyrics on the CD, and will therefore call the songs boring. But I must say that ‘Unia’ held my interest from beginning to end, because it is so different. ‘Winterheart’s guild’ and ‘Reckoning night’ are both solid CDs, but I found myself getting bored with the same type of songs which are on every Sonata Arctica CD. Hearing ‘Unia’ was like reading a new chapter in the life of Sonata Arctica; it was very refreshing and unexpected.
But having said all that, I’m not going to say that this CD is a masterpiece. Yes, it’s different, yes it’s weird in a good way and yes I enjoyed the change of pace; but there are some songs on the CD where it just feels too abstract, too chaotic, and those songs suffer as a whole. The music structure changes so frequently in some of the songs, that it is rather difficult to enjoy, despite praising them for doing it. But in the end, some of the songs from ‘Unia’ are not really that different from past releases. The first 3 tracks “In black and white”, “Paid in full” and “For the sake of revenge” do sound similar to Sonata Arctica’s past mid-paced songs, especially “Paid in full”, which I consider to be the best song on the CD.
Some of the weaker tracks on the CD would include the short track entitled “The worlds forgotten, the words forbidden” and the very different and weird “My dream’s but a drop of fuel for a nightmare”. Going by Kakko, this song is about the bad omens in people’s dreams and the strange things which arise in everyone’s dreams. The musical structure of this song is constantly changing, which makes it feel chaotic and hard to enjoy. Kakko states that the reason for the overpowering structure changes during the song is to produce the feel of a strange dream, which we have no control over. All the weird dreams we’ve all had, we know that it jumps from one thing to another with almost no connection between them. Even though I think it was a good idea, I also feel that it is a bit overpowering and there is too much going on to fully enjoy it.
As for the better tracks on the CD (I already mentioned “Paid in full” and “In black and white”), I quite enjoy “Fly with the black swan”. It is one of the more melodic songs on the CD, and has a catchy chorus. Kakko’s vocals are very good on this song, as they are on the entire CD. If it wasn’t for Kakko’s powerful, emotional, graceful and at times, aggressive vocals; this CD would have been a disaster in my opinion. “Under your tree” and “Good enough is good enough” are enjoyable emotional ballads, particularly “Good enough...” due to the string orchestra and piano which you can hear throughout the song. The remaining songs sit somewhere in the middle and are both not strong but not weak either.
It is pointless to try to tell you how this CD exactly sounds, because it is virtually impossible as it is nothing you have ever heard from Sonata Arctica before. You can read all the descriptions you want from reviews and comments from people, but to fully understand it, you need to listen to it yourself and then make up your own mind. That’s what I did and now my opinion on the CD has changed. I will say this though: It does take quite a few spins to let it grow on you and to fully understand what Sonata Arctica are trying to do with this release. If you are a fan of the ‘Ecliptica’ style Sonata Arctica and always prefer them to sound that way, then you will never be able to enjoy this CD.
In no way do I think ‘Unia’ is Sonata Arctica’s best release, but I do think that it’s fairly good and I enjoy the change of pace you hear on the CD. It may be chaotic and abstract and different, but if you can get past that, there are a lot of things to enjoy from this CD. This one will come down to personal preference.
Originally written for www.metalcdratings.com
After years of doing power metal, Tony Kakko decided to try out something different. It's his decision only. I don't think he got blackmailed by Nuclear Blast Records, nor by anyone. He is the mastermind of this band, what he decides, it has to be done. This is not commercial album, because these songs are too much complex, and made with passionate artistic approach, so it's not made for everyone. I don't say this album is bad, but it is much different comparing to their earlier studio albums. This is very good studio album, and thanks to it I got into Sonata Arctica, but I must admit that this studio album is not as great as their first four. Not because this is less power metal, and more progressive metal direction. I am open-minded for any sub-genre of heavy metal music. All I want are excellent songs. There are lots of excellent songs, but less good as well. I can split this album into three parts.
Part one is related to instantly memorable songs. Opener song In Black And White is made of killer heavy, powerful riffs combined with keyboard melodies, amazing Tony's vocals, aggressive drum work, which constantly changes from fast to slow, and so on. Oh wait, you have guitar solo which lasts amazing 25 seconds. Well, here on this album guitar solos are rare. I am surprised that Jani had guitar solo that long. After that guitar part, yes, keyboards jump in. Ah, I like keyboards, they are part of heavy metal tradition. Some classic heavy, melodic heavy, power, progressive, symphonic and viking metal bands use keyboards. But I don't like keyboards which interrupt guitar solos, specially where amazing guitarist like Jani Liimatainen don't have enough space for soloing. And to make things worse, keyboards choke them even more. I completely understand why Jani left the band. I like them a lot, but this is just too much. When he left, he formed his own band Cain's Offering, brought annoying pop singer Timo Kotipelto, and he used even more keyboards than Sonata Arctica, specially in parts where guitar solo should come in. He didn't learn a thing from his career.
Now back on topic. Paid In Full is the most catchy song from this album, and it is totally understandable why did they make music video. Again they used the same amazing formula, keyboard melodies followed by strong power-chords, incredible lyrics and enjoyable tempo. It's not easy sing-along song, 'cause it's a bit complex, just like the rest of this album. Instead of guitar solo, they put keyboard solo. Why?! Like they haven't had enough. Caleb is another thing that will instantly catch listener's attention. This one proves that song can be complex, long, and instant favorite. Again Tony showed his incredible voice and art of lyrics writing. I say this again because I want to give the credit this man fully deserves. Jani made amazing guitar solo here, so pay attention, it won't repeat on this album. Another very memorable song is Under Your Tree. That is the most unique ballad I have ever heard. Calm tempo, electric guitar, keyboards, drums, vocals, lyrics, everything is done so strange. It makes me so relaxed and hypnotized. I have never experienced anything like that while listening to a song. For The Sake Of Revenge is another complex and slower song, not as slow as Under Your Tree, but not as fast as others. They covered Gary Moore's song Out In The Fields, and made it sound bombastic and better. It is easily done better than original, and it sounds like their own.
Part two are songs which have to grow on you. At first, the only interesting thing is the refrain in these songs. It Won't Fade has much stronger, and much better sing-along refrain than It Won't Fade. With time you will digest these complex songs with insane and sometimes sudden change of tempos, those heavy and blazing riffs and weird, but pleasant ambient. Although progressions in Fly With The Black Swan are done even better, and suddenly you may ask yourself what the fuck has happened. In few seconds whole aggressive riff-driven and melodic ambient turns into something calm, done with clean guitars, and bass guitar comes to expression. That makes an amazing contrast, and songs are even better because of that. My Dream's But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare is probably the most chaotic song, and Tony did amazing job there. He wanted to get you into his nightmare, and sure he did. The whole thing is so messy, yet so awesome. They made incremental version too, and that is a hell of an enjoyable instrumental piece.
Good Enough Is Good Enough and They Follow are piano driven songs. Probably some people find these songs catchier than me, or maybe more catchier than other songs which have to grow on you. I just had to get used to these really weird, and non-standard Sonata Arctica's songs. Good Enough Is Good Enough sounds like a romantic ballad without distorted guitars, while They Follow has power chords here and there to fulfill the power of emotions. Anyway, you'll fall in love with these slow songs. The worst part is part is part three. There is nothing much to say about these songs, because they do not have much to offer. The Vice is the only very good song from this group. It's not excellent because there's too much lyrics, too much progressive elements, and it's way too complex and chaotic. This is definitely not something that will grow on you. The rest of the songs are just not made well. You may enjoy a melody, a riff, a written word, or some vocal parts, but there's nothing memorable at all.
Good sides of this release:
You'll find lots of excellent songs here, and songs much different than they did before. But this is maybe not good album to start with this band. For someone who wants to get into this band I recommend albums before this one, not because this one is bad, but because of the sound change. Long time fans may be disappointed a bit.
Bad sides of this release:
There are songs which belong in the group of the Sonata Arctica's weakest. Also, this is a big sound change, and border between the old and new Sonata Arctica.
In Black And White, Paid In Full, For The Sake Of Revenge, It Won't Fade, Under Your Tree, Caleb, My Dream's A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare, Fly With The Black Swan, Good Enough Is Good Enough, They Follow, Out In The Fields (Gary Moore cover) and My Dream's But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare (instrumental version).
Changing just to change isn't necessarily a good thing, as Sonata Arctica's fifth album, Unia, demonstrates. Unia isn't an album that's weak on effort or musical talent, but neither are used effectively. Instead of using their vast imagination and talent to make the interesting type of power metal (with memorable melodies but darker themes) that made them popular, they try to move to a progressive metalish (some of the songs barely are metal) type of music that lacks any coherency or consistency. While I don't mind an album with surprises, Unia is so full of weird effects and unorganized song writing that the surprises make the music far worse. Incoherent parts of songs are standard on this album, and are ultimately it's downfall.
The first song on the album, “In Black and White”, is full of little parts that just don't fit with the rest of the song, but it's still one of the more developed songs on the album. The melody is somewhat memorable and the instruments play their roles well at some parts, but the song still seems like every member of the band is trying to impress the audience with their 'technical brilliance' rather than impress them with a good song. There are parts where the vast array of vocals (ranging from screaming, to clean vocals, to a whole array of electronically altered vocals) that the lead singer tries to employ directly clashes with the guitar which directly clashes with the keyboard. Even the drummer seems out of place when the band suddenly decides to change direction with the song (which happens several times in just this song just when the band is starting to meld).
The problem is that Sonata Arctica sounds really good when they're actually working together with the common goal of creating a good song, and the second song on the album, “Paid in Full”, demonstrates this. The keyboard doesn't try to do anything fancy, but still creates a memorable flowing part that provides the background to the whole song. The guitar stays in one mode and just pumps out memorable riffs, and doesn't bounce around from style to style as it does in many of the other songs on Unia. The lead singer just stays with his clean vocals (by far his best type of vocals, they have a quality that makes them seem like they're almost soaring). Everything fits together well because the band isn't trying to constantly change their music to sound progressive.
Unfortunately, “Paid In Full”, is really their only good song on the album (I say 'their' because they also do a cover of “Out in the Fields” by Gary Moore, which is extremely good, but not really their song). Every song has it's excellent qualities: the middle of “For The Sake of Revenge” has an excellent melody and excellent work between all the members of the band; the beginning of “Caleb” has some excellent keyboard work in the beginning. The problem is, though, that the band never stays with one tactic long enough for it to make a song consistent or great. “For the Sake of Revenge” is ruined by an extremely annoying, techno-like beginning and stupid word emphasis that actually throws off the whole tempo of the song, and “Caleb” just drags on and on trying to go about playing the song in many different ways, but never focusing on one and never creating any flow. The good parts in some songs seem like they were more luck, with the band saying 'let's try everything and we're bound to play something good', than intentional skill.
No song on this album sounds terrible because there are plenty of excellent parts scatted throughout the albums, but apart from Paid In Full, the band doesn't stick to those parts for long enough to make any of the songs really good. The guitarist has excellent solos, but can't create a good riff because he can't stay on style long enough for it to be memorable for the listener. The lead singer understands how to sing, but is too busy trying to do too many different things to really focus on his strengths. The keyboardist can create a great background and can add not just tempo but strengthen the melody, but he's often too busy finding random buttons to press and seeing what noises they make. In the end Unia is just too inconsistent of an album to be any good. Sonata Arctica didn't need to change their successful (not to mention generally consistent) formula of creating a good melody and developing a good song as a unit. They did, though, and the unfortunately underwhelming outcome is Unia.
I don't like this album as much as Reckoning Night, but that doesn't mean I'm going to say "I hate this because it's different. Sell-outs!" Yes, their style did have a pretty significant change. There are a lot more progressive influences on this album than on their previous work, but I don’t see why that led so many people to say that this album is so much worse than their older stuff. Sure, the songs take more getting used to since a lot of them don’t even have choruses, and there are a lot of ballads on here, but the album still grew on me and I think it’s another masterpiece from the best band in the world.
This album is very complex. Rather than sticking to your average ABAB pop format, they decided to give some of the songs on this album more depth. Songs like “The Worlds Forgotten, the Words Forbidden” and “The Vice” don’t have any chorus at all. In fact, in the booklet with the lyrics, they put in times for when each section of “The Vice” starts. It sounds almost like a metal version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” only not as cheesy. Because of the complexity, the two aforementioned songs and several of the others had to grow on me. In fact, the only songs I can really say I loved the first time were “For the Sake of Revenge,” the bonus track “Out in the Fields,” and “It Won’t Fade.” But even those still got better after a few listens. Just don’t sell this album after one listen.
Like I said earlier, this album has a lot of ballads. I don’t think that that’s a bad thing, though, because Sonata Arctica writes amazing ballads. Some bands like Iced Earth and Dream Evil just can’t, but Sonata Arctica’s Stratovarius influences probably helped them to be able to do so (Check out the ballads on their Polaris album). Anyway, songs like “Under Your Tree” and “The Worlds Forgotten, the Words Forbidden” are so beautiful that they don’t really need to be catchy. But then there are also songs like “Paid in Full” and “Caleb” which are beautiful, but at the same time they have the catchiness and power of a normal power metal song.
There are also plenty of heavier songs for people who want true power metal. “In Black and White,” “It Won’t Fade,” “The Vice,” “The Harvest,” and “Fly with the Black Swan” fall under this category. These are all really amazing songs. “It Won’t Fade” is definitely my favorite out of these. It has a chorus that is really amazing and sounds a little like “White Pearl, Black Oceans” from Reckoning Night. The verses are really powerful, and it’s got some great guitar work in the middle of the song. “Fly with the Black Swan” is another amazing and freakishly underrated masterpiece. Even though the lyrics are hard to understand, I really love them for some reason. I want to get one of those shirts that says, “Must keep those black wings folded, until the time is right” on it. I love that line!
If you have ever been a fan of Sonata Arctica, give this album a few listens and ignore what the reviews say. I think you should at least find some songs on here that you’ll love.
Highlights: “Caleb,” “It Won’t Fade,” “Fly with the Black Swan”
After four albums with each one containing increased progressive influences, the time is finally here: a true progressive album. Having almost totally abandoned their trademark sound of power metal, Unia is much heavier and more mid-paced. Velocities of old will not be told, not even hinted at, and there are some changes in the overall sound. Are these changes for the good or for the bad? I think it’s for both. But first let me tell you this, if you plan to listen to Unia, plan to let go of the good old power metal. You will only like this album if you can take it for what it is, instead for hating it for what it isn’t. Having said that, let’s have a close look at the album.
As soon as the album begins we are already confronted with the heavy guitar, displaying a simple riff, serving as an aggressive intro in combination with Tony Kakko’s vocals. And there the song “In Black and White” kicks off! No more power metal, but a mid-tempo song full of keyboards. Though the guitar sound is way heavier than on previous albums, the songs are not necessarily heavier. “For the Sake of Revenge” for example almost doesn’t feature any guitar, but instead has a very annoying low keys-tone during the verses. Keyboards truly are the most dominant on this album, with the guitars merely as a companion, and the vocals as guidelines. And believe me, there are a lot of vocals on this album. Multi-voicing, singing contradicting melodies in between, and the normal melody.
The biggest change of this album has not really been mentioned. It’s progressive! Key, bar, and mood changes occur all the time. Sonata’s vision of progressive metal sounds very enthusiastically at times, pretty chaotic, at times even weird or awkward, but also playful. It seems now that they’ve decided to go progressive, they intend to make sure they aren’t mistaken for playing something else. A song like “To Create a Warlike Feel” for example, though merely a bonus track, can’t hold steady for a few bars or there it changes again. At times it sounds a bit chaotic, but it actually has its charms. It does take quite some time to get used to, but that only increases the fun of it all, right?
Done analyzing, let’s start the rating. Did this change of sound turn out for the good? Partly, but I can assure you that the good part overshadows the bad part by far. First the bad part: the album might drag a little. I almost never have the urge to listen to Unia, simply because it’s way too complex. I’d rather listen to Winterheart’s Guild or Reckoning Night, simply because they are more energetic and catchier. Now, the good side of this album is the quality. The songwriting is really topnotch. Tony Kakko knew what he was doing, so it seems. From no. 1 hit “Paid in Full” to a complex epic like “My Dream’s But a Drop of Fuel for a Nightmare” it sounds very professional. It also sounds a bit crowded like on “The Harvest” or “The Vice”. But there’s also just a beautiful ballad like “The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden” or “Good Enough is Good Enough”. When listening the album all the songs sound great, whether they are crowded, complex, ballad or aggressive. Long song titles though.
In the end, Unia is a pretty good album. Though it has its flaws and it needs getting used to, the quality of the songs is no less than on previous albums; it’s just no longer that power metal they used to make. I would like to recommend this album to all progressive metal fans and to open-minded Sonata Arctica fans.
Stronger tracks: “Caleb”, “My Dream’s But a Drop...”, “Fly with the Black Swan”, “To Create a Warlike Feel” and “The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden”.
Maybe I must send a letter to Sonata Arctica, because what they are basically doing is digging their own grave. After Ecliptica everything Sonata Arctica put out was rather average. Not bad, but there were some stinkers in every album. Their biggest mistake was to influence themselves by (awesome) progpower metal bands such as . They try to much to sound "menacing" and "true" but end up sounding uncomfortable and downright annoying. Take Broken for example, from Winterheart's Guild. The first half of the "riff" consists of 4 power chords. 3 of them sound nice, leading towards a rather hopeful last chord, but it never comes. Instead of that we get a chord that is completely uncalled for. Maybe that's a way of sounding prog, but it still sucks. So much trying to be prog ruins an otherwise standard, but great collection of chords (I don't call it a riff...). This keeps happening a lot. Everything past Ecliptica, their only truly good record (guess why...), has the obvious prog metal songs that suck. Silence had The Power of One and The End of this Chapter. Winterheart's Guild had Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited. A song that could have been great if it weren't for the uncalled for random notes spread through some standard power metal chord progressions. Reckoning Night even crossed that barrier with practically every song having stupid prog influences; Shamandalie and Ain't your Fairytale being the only song it actually sounded good.
Unia actually happened to go any further. Good riddance on breaking the record and twisting my mind completely. I already had no clue why those random chords where thrown in otherwise great songs. Now I even doubt their personalities. First I just thought they did it so that people would label them progressive. With Unia they sort of self-proclaimed their "progressive" side, as if it is anything near a compliment. Composing long songs with stupid names may seem progressive. Just as it is the case with completely dismissing the guitar. Yeah, maybe there is a reason to go totally atonal just to question the listener WHY the hell that happened (and HOW the CD can be turned off). But being progressive doesn't come that easy. Yeah, go to wikipedia to find sources saying that they have going totally progressive with this record. Could be that, or adding a few minutes of extra nonsense and turning the guitar volume down is just downright stupid. It's not as if they want it that way? Don't they? Well, it seems as if they believe in theirselves. That's good, but those melodramatic tones are just useless. Turn on Virgin Steele's Emelaith to hear something dramatic. Compared tot that song this is as emotional as nails scratching a chalkboard, not to mention the fact that Emelaith has guitar playing all through the song. There are some moments of joy, usually when the guitar kicks in. Not because the guitar is doing the right thing, but because the sound finally sounds somewhat stronger.
You see, there is this such thing called melody. In the early days Sonata Arctica knew what it was and how to handle it. With Unia they managed to create an hearable abyss. The teeth-grinding crap that only proves that there can't be anything divine watching and controlling us. 90 Percent of the time the guitar gives of a perfect blend of mallcore and power metal. Perfect not in the sense that it is anything good, but more that 50 percent is mallcore. And not even the good kind of mallcore with the fun singalong choruses, but anything Korn related. Sometimes the guitar goes into a groove orientated riff. Nothing near to good power metal style, but it's a start. There are even some times, usually just before or after a guitar solo, when the guitar provides us with a nice high-fret melody. Sadly it is as rare as Cookie Monster consuming a salad. It comes over as dark, but not the brooding dark. It's the disturbing dark, as if you're trying to find the toilet without turning on the lights. Ironically, the guitar isn't used as much. Hell, buy the time I've finished this talk about the guitar, more than half of the time I had no guitar to concentrate on. For the Sake of Revenge for example could be a great song. Could be.. As in, it's not. It's pretty decent, but there are too many moments without a guitar, while the guitar was definitely needed over there. There are 5 people in the band, so use them!
The most prominent instrument is, surprise surprise, the keyboard. Just as ironic as the guitar, though completely the other way around, the keyboard is practically useless. Usually it serves as a one-two note melody stretched over several beats, as if it wants to give away the chords used there. On the other hand, there are some times where the keyboard uses a twinklestar like sound (Use a Yamaha keyboard and it's under Crystal). This, again, serves no purpose as it's filling up every space provided with seemingly random notes fitting whatever chord is being used. It's a Children of Bodom thing to do, creating melodies without substance, and even they didn't got away with it, Sonata Arctica even less. Whenever it get's even more dramatic, a piano sound is provided. It's probably the best out of three, and aside from its dreadful reason to use it, it's quite good. More than on one occasion it creates the feeling that the band is complete, even though it's obviously untrue. The keys and the guitars seem to contribute little to no good to the sound, but it is not as backed up as the bass and the drum. The drums in Sonata Arctica, or this kind of power metal for that matter, has never been outstanding. But here it even ceases to bring up any power. Usually it's the slowish drumbeat I'm trying to learn my 12 year old student, and usually it stays that way for too long. Not that it's substancial for a good record to have outstanding drums. It's just too typical and ironic to bring a smile on my face. Just as is the bass, which is quite nonexistant. Again, that's usually the way, but it doesn't help anyways. Complete that with the rather annyoing vocals and everything is complete. Speaking of the vocals, it's the best thing of the band. The accent is annoying, the lyrics are made up by 15 year old girly boys in rehad (or anything else that's basically bad, for that matter) and the vocal lines are usually way to monotone. Aside from that, some vocal lines are complex, and the dude behind the mic has some great vocal range.
At the moment I'm listening to the intro of My Dream's but a blablabla... And I can't think of what's more painful. The song or my bruised leg from Snowboarding. Honestly, if there was an award of a combination of fake emotion and pseudo progressive, this song would win by a landslide. It's all so freshly done, as nobody ever stepped this low, but at the same time so typical. The "emotional" piano, the high clean vocals hitting notes Mozart played ages ago. Again something typical, the hysterical orchestration parts. As if any orchestra that comes with metal should be pompous, pretentious and devoid of any musical technicallity other than playing fast. Many of the songs come over as this. Not exact the same way of sucking, but in a somewhat camouflaged way. Good Enough is Good Enough is a horrible way to end the album. It ends on a soft tone, and because of its lack of anything that raises my heart beat it's very boring. Some piano noodling, some vocal noodling. Ends softly fading away, coming back for no reason and ends again softly fading away. This may be meant as emotionally, moving and epic, but it's not. I probably don't need to tell what adjectives do come up, it's the usual cliché thing to do. There is also Fly with the Black Swan. A name which reminds me of On the Wings of Tonight from Virgin Steele but lacks the coolness. Its way to add the "heavy" guitar playing seems like a way to creat a wall-like feeling. Something that doesn't work at all. It's not epic, it's not menacing, it's not brooding. There are way too many unnecesery notes and structure choices. It doesn't make sense. Not in the way of Gorguts's Obscura, but in the way of why the hell is Metallica metal's fronting band even though they abandoned metal 20 years ago. There are more disappointing songs. In fact, the only songs that are at about average or decent are For the Sake of Revenge, Caleb and The Harvest. The first lacks guitar and features annoying vocal accents/lyrics, but has a tremendous chorus. Caleb and The Harvest are average, but finally feature some old-school Sonata Arctica influences, which is despite its average-ness still beter than this piece of junk.
Sonata Arctica didn't abandoned all metalness on this record. And if they did, that's not an excuse for releasing this piece of crap. I do believe however that they can redeem itself. They still have a tiny bit of power metal awesomeness a la Ecliptica hidden somewhere in their body. Supressed by the viruses of commercial music. Now we can only hope their bodies are strong enough to conquer those bloody viruses, which is also a stab of their loss of power. Because if they can live through their illness, they can release another power metal album. Many people happy to have a great record, me happy with a decent record. I guess that's how It would happen. But, just like JD's daydreams of Scrubs, it probably doesn't happen. And why blame them. They like what they do, they earn money with it. It's how every metal band wants to end, with earning enough from it to quit any crappy job. Still, for some dramatic power metal I recommend Virgin Steele. They may have about 30 times fewer plays on Lastfm, but their quality is 90 times better. That's what I suggest you to do, just check them out. If you like them, good for you and good for Virgin Steele. If not, well good for you, and I think Sonata Arctica probably don't even care. They've got enough fans anyways.
Throughout the years, Sonata Arctica have been one of those bands that continued in the vein of Stratovarius inspired power metal, creating soaring melodies with blazing solos, along with the occasional ballad. I have been a personal fan of the band for a couple years now, after being introduced to their Reckoning Night album that came out back in 2004. After reading in a magazine, some time ago, that Sonata Arctica were releasing a brand new album, I was nothing short of eager and drooling in anticipation. Upon first thought after hearing the album, I was very skeptical that what I had just heard was, in fact, the Sonata Arctica that I grew to love and to be so fond of. I immediately discarded the album in utter disbelief that one of my favorite power metal bands could have forsaken me in such a way. However, upon another listen, many more months later, I have found some sort of compulsion to like this album, and I actually do. I will try to briefly describe the album in its entirety.
First off, the entire feel of the album is completely different than your standard Sonata Arctica release. The overall atmosphere of the CD is much heavier. I'm not entirely sure if this is due to a different tone used by the band, or the production quality. Regardless, this doesn't have the normal "upbeat" approach that used to be at the forefront of SA's songwriting. But don't be too upset, they make good use of it throughout the album and it does mold well with the song structures.
Secondly, the lyrics of this particular release are quite good, given the time to become accustomed to them. There are many serious and emotional songs, like Caleb and Under Your Tree, both of which almost brought a tear to my eye. All in all, the lyrics are really well written, as they usually are. Not much more to be said here.
Thirdly, as stated earlier, the entire feel of the album seems... off. This may be the big killer for older Sonata Arctica fans, because they don't continue their approach with the standard power metal formula. The instruments are more down tempo on this album, for whatever reason, but do do the album some justice. This creates more of a dramatic atmosphere for the said songs, especially the more "serious" ones.
Next, Tony Kakko's vocals are one of the more finer things to be had on this album. He rarely, if all, makes use of his falsetto, which for many is a good thing. His voice molds perfectly with all of the songs featured on this release and shows just how well of a singer he really is, without the theatrics involved.
In conclusion, older fans will likely hate this album, and do according to some of the reviews that I have read. However, give this album a chance and don't be so harsh upon the first listen because I can guarantee that this album will find it's way into your heart sometime down the road. This may not be the gem of the Sonata Arctica legacy, but it is a great addition to their collection. Is this a new beginning for Finland's premier power metal monster? I do believe so.
It is understandable that people would want to defend a great band during a low period or a lackluster release by stressing that it isn’t as bad as everyone’s making it out to be. Hell, even giving a more forgiving score simply because of a band’s established history as a consistent musical mainstay who has put out a solid body of work is defensible. But going around and lauding a completely disorganized, meandering, groove heavy, dumb-down mess like this as some sort of pinnacle of innovation, or an even more serious effort than before is well beyond reproach.
To say that I’m not particularly pleased with all the modern-rock nonsense seeping its way into the power metal genre of late would be an understatement. But even the most disgustingly tuned down pile of guitar grooves can be forgiven provided that the band within the genre remembers what makes the style so great, and that is the choruses. Unfortunately, this is precisely what Sonata Arctica all but completely stripped from their sound on here. Some of these recitations guising as refrains sound so disjointed melodically and syllabic that I wonder if Tony Kakko simply jotted down a bunch of random free verse poems and then tried to put music around it.
Although Sonata Arctica was never a heavily riff oriented band, at least there were riffs accompanying the ultra-melodic Stratovarius and Helloween worship. But I guess after the atmospheric and quasi-progressive “Reckoning Night” the well just ran dry and all that was left to go for was the groove, and boy did they go for it on here. Just a single listen to “Paid in Full”, “Caleb” or “Fly with the black swan” will give you an earful of mentally handicapped open-note chugging nonsense and off-beat muted 3 note jokes that only a Killswitch Engage fan boy could fully appreciate. Naturally they try to compensate by ratcheting up the keyboard presence, resulting in something completely devoid of direction.
Tony Kakko’s vocal style has incorporated a fair amount of metalcore influences to lend at least a semblance of stylistic continuity, albeit one of the worst ones possible. I was critical on certain songs on past albums of him being a little overdramatic in his vocal approach, particularly on the ballads, but here almost every song has been steeped in over-the-top musical theater oriented singspiel and pretentious shouting tirades. Would be decent rock oriented songs such as “In black and white” and “The vice” are instantly morphed into hokey musical outtakes from Rent with an angry Romeo replacing the HIV positive drag queen.
To label this as power/prog or some oddball variant of progressive metal is to sully the good names of several great bands. There are barely any guitar solos on here to speak of or anything really technically extravagant so comparisons to Dream Theater or Patrick Rondat go out the window. And I doubt anyone would attribute the epic and mystical sounds of Pagan’s Mind or Anubis Gate to this pile of musically confused collages. The very idea that anyone could confuse the fruitless meandering on here with anything remotely connected to progressive or epic metal is amusing to the sheer point of pain inducing absurdity.
And the ballads, oh my how they screwed up on these. If you were hoping for a fit of melancholy brilliance like on “Last Drop Falls” or “The Misery”, or even the cheesy yet catchy flowing goodness of “Replica”, you are really in for a rude awakening. “Under your tree” takes my pick for the lamest, sappiest, most grating variant on a pop/acoustic ballad I’ve heard. It just plods on and on, occasionally resembling a Gin Blossoms or Goo Goo Dolls ballad, only without any discernable hooks and a lot of lyrical meandering. “Good enough is good enough” is the same story but with a piano and a string quartet backup, nothing to grab on to here, not to mention Kakko taking the occasion to write lyrics that are unintentionally hilarious.
But just when things couldn’t get any worse, we are treated to the best song on the album, a bonus track and a cover song. If you have my version, you’ll know that I’m speaking of the Gary Moore song “Out in the Fields”. Some view this song as something of a proto-power metal song by a rock guitarist which heavily influenced much of the mid-tempo songs first put forth by Helloween and later by Gamma Ray, and when you compare it to everything else on here it can be plainly observed that this is not a power metal album at all. The song itself is well preformed, although since Sonata Arctica has essentially developed a hatred for giving the guitar prominence of late, they’ve given all of the lead duties to the keyboards. Tony Kakko’s vocals are still overdramatic, but somehow manage to not sound ridiculous. If you want to hear this song really done well, check out the Riot version on “The Brethren of the Long House”.
If you are a power metal fan, I don’t care what your persuasion, don’t waste your money on this. If you like progressive metal, don’t bother with it either unless you want to have your intelligence insulted. I don’t know what these guys were thinking when they put this album together, but I am hopeful that they get it out of their heads quick. But the bigger mystery is; what the hell are all of these people praising this album thinking, mainly those who spoke highly of their previous efforts? Anything that even remotely resembles “Reckoning Night” sounds like “Don’t Say a Word” minus the amazing chorus, and I’m not sure the rest even qualifies as metal, unless these guys are pioneering a hybrid style of metalcore meets 80s new wave. I’ll take the most generic melodic power metal album ever over this; it might not be original, but at least I can listen to it without envying the hearing impaired.
"Unia" is definitely one of the best releases by Sonata Arctica so far. It's not only a little better than the experimental "Reckoning Night"; it's also the weirdest album I've ever listened. At least 10 of the 15 songs (included in all versions of the album) include more than 2 or 3 different rhythms, many of them have no chorus, and one even includes in the lyrics the exact time the verse is sung (although the time isn't mentioned in the song). Scary, isn't it? But it makes it better.
This album also features a new sound by Sonata Arctica: a strange atmosphere, like taken out of a fair or a music box. Maybe that's the reason why it was named "Unia" ("Dreams" in Finnish): the dreams are the most childish part of us, the part that keeps us a little innocent no matter what happens in our lives. The constant references to clowns, sad faces, friends from childhood, raising and immature love confirm this.
Two very short guest vocal appearances are featured on this album, in two songs: "Black and White" (a little phrase by Starbuck) and "Caleb" (Milla V as a storyteller at the beginning, and a "whatever God" at the end by Starbuck). Also, this is the first time we see a very soild song by Sonata Arctica whose music is entirely led by strings: "Good Enough is Good Enough". But the entire childhood atmosphere is gathered in a very peculiar song that it's not the best but it's very interesting: "My Dream's But a Drop of Fuel For a Nightmare". "Paid in Full", "To Create a Warlike Feel" and "They Follow" also add the new sound to their music.
But nothing is perfect, and this time there are three songs that I completely hate: "The Harvest" (a very pathetic song that has good lyrics but bad music), "The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden" (a very short song that seems to last forever) and "Fly With The Black Swan" (a confusing song that needs some arrangements to become a real song). All the other songs are worth to be listened to.
This time, it seems that we have three masterpieces instead of one (like it's usual): "Under Your Tree", "Caleb" and "They Follow". I'll talk shortly about them.
"Under Your Tree" is a very beautiful ballad. Its lyrics are very sad and depressive, and the music is perfect for them. It talks about the loss of a friend of the childhood, and how a tree was planted on the same place the man that tells the story and his friend used to spend the time together. I won't lie to you: the first time I listened to this song, I burst out in tears like never before. It's also one of the songs of the album that does not have a specific chorus or refrain.
"Caleb" is also another song that does not have a chorus or refrain, and this is becuase the song is actually a story written in prose-style. A story about a man named Caleb, that was raised by his mother in order to hate his father, but then he finds him and finds out that her mother had always lied to him. The song is aggressive and a little hard to get used to at the beginning due to its peculiar rhythm.
And "They Follow" is a bonus track of the album, only included in the Japanese Version. It's a ballad that includes acoustic guitars at the beginning, but then they are relaced by electric guitars. It talks about how to avoid being carried away by the current of people's words and the life itself. It's a beautiful song, with beautiful lyrics, and yes, it features a chorus.
Another outstanding songs of the album are: "Paid in Full" (the only single of the album, an excellent song), "For The Sake of Revenge" (a song with two different rhythms for the chorus, one for the first and the second for the last), "It Won't Fade" (one of the most aggressive songs of the album, its lyrics are the weirdest of all the album because apparently they don't talk about anything), "The Vice" (a fast song, rushed by the indicated time in the lyrics for the verses), "My Dream's But a Drop of Fuel For a Nightmare", "Good Enough is Good Enough", "Out in The Fields" (a Gary Moore cover, it's incredibly good) and "To Create a Warlike Feel" (an aggressive song, the hidden track and one of the most strange songs of the album).
I'll finish with my personal rankings for every song featured in the album. The last bonus track, the Instrumental Version of "My Dream's But a Drop of Fuel For a Nightmare", is not included.
In Black and White - 8.9/10
Paid in Full - 9.7/10
For The Sake of Revenge - 9.8/10
It Won't Fade - 9.7/10
Under Your Tree - 10/10
Caleb - 10/10
The Vice - 9.6/10
My Dream's But a Drop of Fuel For a Nightmare - 9.5/10
The Harvest - 1.6/10
To Create a Warlike Feel - 9.7/10
The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden - 0.2/10
Fly With The Black Swan - 3.5/10
Good Enough is Good Enough - 9.6/10
Out in The Fields - 9.5/10
They Follow - 10/10
To begin with I was going to describe this album as inconsistent. You have some pretty darn good songs like Black and White, Caleb, The Vice and It Won't Fade. But the rest of the album is a batch of confusing neither here-nor-there songs. They're either not heavy enough, or maybe you could say there's just too many ballads on this album because half of it is pointless and meanders around, achieving nothing because the audience has gone to sleep. But I'm not going to call this inconsistent because it's actually just overly consistent with Sonata Arctica's style - they've fallen victim to all of the worst aspects of their music at once on this album it seems.
Then the heavier parts of the album are frankly, not sufficiently heavy. This may be a matter of taste but some of these songs could have been really good if they played faster or tuned up their guitars and played some proper chords (not just power chords the whole album!). Several fairly decent solos fade into the music because similar melodies come through clearly from the keyboard because there's not much of a tune coming through from the guitars.
The album isn't a complete loss though, Kakko's songwriting salvages the occasional enjoyable listen to at least some of the songs and listening to the often excessively crypic lyrics and eclectic song structures. His vocals haven't diminished from their high standard and at least the drumming hasn't backslid towards the irritating banality of SA's earlier albums, but it's a poor successor (pun unintentional) to the brilliant Reckoning Night.
You've got to be kidding me. This is the same Finnish pop metal band that recorded the superb-yet-flawed Stratovarius-esque debut album Ecliptica back in 1999? The same band with the cheesy, happy choruses and the broken English lyrics? The same band with the double bass speed attack drums and the keyboards drenched over everything like a blanket?
Could've fooled me.
It's been three long years since Sonata Arctica's fourth studio full length Reckoning Night, and the question on everybody's tongue is "does this album live up to that one?" I'll spare you any further pretensions and say yes, it indeed does live up to and surpass it's acclaimed predecessor with style and class to boot. Sonata Arctica have always been an article of controversy amongst the metal crowd, attracting either the "they're fucking awesome" side of the argument or its polar opposite - those people who claim the band have always been exceedingly homosexual. Well, that argument is about to have the rug pulled out from under it with the release of Unia, as this is nothing like the poppy, happy, melodic power metal band you may have known and loved/loathed (change to suit your taste).
Here on Unia, Sonata Arctica have taken a big leap and done something completely different from their back catalogue and completely different from everything that's currently popular in the music scene in general. They've ditched any semblance of pop-sensible songwriting, and they've also ditched the clear, light, fluffy production values they so embraced on previous albums. The band has ushered out the speedy double bass seizure attacks and the fluttery, melodic solos and brought in a host of heavy, chugging, almost mechanical riffs and rhythms, layered over with a plethora of dark, sorrow-drenched, romantic keyboards that invoke images of sprawling, twisted landscapes under a bright, relentless moon. Tony Kakko has stopped using his upper range, instead utilizing a more midranged, theatrical style of vocals backed by layers and layers of choirs. They've done this before, but never to the extent as is displayed on Unia. Here, we get everything from straightforward power metal singing to throaty, almost thrashy rasping and growling, to a deep, baritonal chant, and everything in between.
I mentioned the songwriting before, and it's a huge step up from what the band has done previously. In the past, the band focused a lot on catchy, ear-candy-esque melodies and big, hymn-wide choruses that were fit to play live, and it was a fun formula, but not one that the band could keep up forever if they wanted to remain a prominent entity in the Finnish power metal scene. They've taken a leap forward here, and the songs here are complex and intricate, not radio friendly in the least. None of them have distinguishable choruses; instead focusing on a constant stream of Tony Kakko's vocals and lyrics that carry the song forward, usually topped with tons of the aforementioned vocal layers. The music itself is a majestic cascade of driving synths and heavy, downtuned riffs that might not be appealing on first listen, but something new will reveal itself every time. There are a few shades of old Sonata Arctica popping up now and then, but this is a progressive refinement of everything they've done before, and more. Each song is a wild ride of odd, enchanting arrangements that will grow on you with each passing listen; truly a captivating album from beginning to end.
The opening blast of the grooving, angry "In Black and White" reveals a band that has clearly spent a lot of time on their music, and the rest of the album doesn't fail to please. "It Won't Fade" is a grinding, almost menacing tune with choirs that raise higher and higher until the song drops out toward the end with one last pained shriek from Kakko; truly an engaging song if you give it time to grow on you. "Under Your Tree" is shamelessly and blatantly balladesque, although it lacks a lot of the smarmy cheese that plagued earlier ballads by the band; a sorrowful, moving song accented with light, romantic violin melodies. The album's centerpiece is "Caleb," a stirring, foreboding mini-epic, splattered with mechanical stop-and-go riffs throughout, and here we have a turning point as well - for the biggest progression in the band's sound is evident in the songs following this one. "The Vice," "The Harvest" and "Fly with the Black Swan" are all stunning displays of furiously vivid, lively progressive mastery that will sweep you away to worlds unknown and unseen by human eyes, and "My Dream's But a Drop of Fuel for a Nightmare" is possibly one of the best songs the band has ever written; 6 minutes and 13 seconds of pure, sweeping, majestic bliss caught on CD.
In a year where many other power metal bands have gone down the shitter, Sonata Arctica provide a breath of much-needed fresh air. Unia is progressive, twisted, daring and dreamlike; a fascinating roller coaster ride through the darkest corners of humanity that will reveal it's shining jewels after multiple listens. There are a few weaker tracks, but this is one of those albums that's meant to be heard as a whole, not as a collection of single songs - and if you can't deal with that, then go back to "San Sebastian" and "Letter to Dana," because the band doesn't need you either. This is a deeply involving and intricate musical drama that is not just a bunch of songs, but a whole album. Sonata Arctica have completely reversed their terrible mistakes with last year's The Collection, and this is possibly one of the best albums of the year, as it gets better every time I hear it. I'm not giving it a perfect score due to the fact that I feel the band can do even better on their next efforts, but I will recommend this ridiculously highly to anyone who isn't afraid of the unexpected and the unknown.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Sonata Arctica are one of the great enigmas of my life as a music fan. They play almost strictly generic "flower" metal and have nothing in their music that can't be heard in a boatload of other power metal bands, even from their homeland of Finland. There is no reason that I should love Sonata Arctica as much as I do, and yet they are my favorite power metal band.
Their fifth studio album is (for once) a departure from their tried-and-true power metal roots, and is actually quite progressive. However, I don't feel that all of the "progression" on Unia is completely necessary. Progressiveness should not be achieved by setting out to be proggy, it should grow naturally in the songwriting process. Many of the "prog" sections on here seem forced. This doesn't ruin the album, it just seems blatantly evident at times that this is a serious transitional album for Sonata Arctica.
Certain songs are greatly strengthened by their proginess, such as the six minute mini-epics "It Won't Fade" and "My Dream's But a Drop of Fuel for a Nightmare". Straightforward rockers, while in less abundance than on past SA releases, are present and are as excellent as ever: opener "In Black and White" headbangs its way across the floor and "The Harvest" wouldn't be out of place on an 80s thrash outing (sans Finnish-inflection drenched balls-in-the-vice vox, of course).
Pointless filler exists as well: pussy ballad "Under Your Tree" (about singer Tony Kakko's fucking dog) and the utterly confusing "The Vice" come to mind, but this album as a whole is a lot more listenable for people who don't like Sonata Arctica, and probably pretty bad if you wanted them to stick to their roots.
Music, like all things, must evolve. Sonata Arctica had no generic power metal left in them, so they made a prog metal record. There are kinks that need to be worked out: for example, the balance between keys and guitar is tipped a bit too far in favor of the former. But by the next record, I have faith that SA will have the gears working as a reinvented band and will kick our (well, my) ass all over again.
When I found out that Sonata Arctica was releasing a new album, I was extremely excited. Sonata Arctica and Dragonforce are what made me love power metal--heavy, fast, and infectiously melodic. I'm not sure if it's purely a new artistic direction or a selling out, but Unia is like water torture.
First off, the high speed and soaring tempos are gone. Mid-tempo is the rule, occasionally drifting off to the utterly slow. Perhaps the drummer fell asleep? The riffs aren't heavy so much as muddy, and not in a sleazy rock sort of way. The album feels lazy and uninspired. A few people have said that this album requires multiple listens to get, but, honestly, I've barely been able to bring myself to listen to this again. It drones on and on, slowly lurking like a wounded animal waiting to die.
There aren't any songs that stand out or even try to save this album. Maybe the emphasis is supposed to be on the lyrics, but the vocals are so weak and emo that I've decided I don't care to know what the lyrics are. Perhaps I had my hopes far to high, but every other album by Sonata Arctica excites me.
In the end, let's hope this is only a temporary black eye that will one day be forgotten. Otherwise, I'll be forever saying, "I like their old stuff."
Sonata Arctica has always been synonymous with double-bass drums, fast and catchy songs. But if I'm honest, "Unia" do not contain much of anything I just said. There's not much double-bass, there are some fast songs but the album is certainly not catchy. How come I gave the album 96/100 in rating then? Well, you'll see. First of all, I was never a big fan of their plain debut "Ecliptica". The sophomore "Silence" was like a rollercoaster with good and bad songs. With "Winterheart's Guild" Sonata Arctica raised the bar. It's in fact one of the better power metal albums I've heard. Catchy songs with great lyrics and a solid vocal delivery. And 2004 their 4:th album, "Reckoning Night", was released and became, according to me, their strongest release till it's very date. It sounded so much more mature and unque than the earlier abums. Now, three years later, "Unia" hits the market.
After having such high hopes for this album I was a bit scared that I would be really dissapointed. But when I heard the first tunes on the album I could truly hear that this album was going to be great. The guitar sounded much rawer, the drums were more interestingly played and the keyboards got just the right amount of space (I've personally thought that they've been a bit over-used on their earlier works). I noticed that Tony Kakko's vocals also had improved.
Kakko, who is the main songwriter, has a pretty unique style of composing songs. Tons of vocal layers, choirs, string arrangements and most songs take totally unexpected turns. But even though it sounds pretty different, I can't deny that it works. In fact, it works perfectly fine. It's nice to hear a power metal band stepping aside from the roots and making something that other bands in its genre doesn't.
Something songs though are pretty boring. The slow ballad "Under Your Tree" is nothing new and feels like "to little butter on to much bread". It's to long for it's own good. But the biggest bore of the album is "The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden". Being the shortest song (2:57) it's pretty weird that it feels like a lifetime listening to it. "Fly With The Black Swan" is also kind of a bore.
But there is some really great tracks on here too. The absolutely amazing track, the epic "Caleb" ( who tells the beginning of the trilogy about a man who grows up to become an obsessive stalker. The other two songs in the trilogy are "Don't Say A Word" from the "Reckoning Night" album and "The End of This Chapter" from "Silence". Two songs I highly recommend.), the mind-blowing "The Vice" and the dramatic "For The Sake of Revenge".
Finally, I have to say that this album actually turned out better than I expected. Sure, it has some bad songs, but the good songs on this album are really, really good. But if you're a Sonata fan who worships "Ecliptica" and think put your hopes on another catchy, double-bass album you might get a problem with this one. If you on the other hand love "Reckoning Night" the risk of disliking "Unia" is smaller. Anyway, for me, this is probably the best album of the year together with Nocturnal Rites "The 8:th Sin".
01.In Black And White - 3/5
02.Paid In Full - 4/5
03.For The Sake of Revenge - 5/5
04.It Won't Fade - 5/5
05.Under Your Tree - 1/5
06.Caleb - 5/5
07.The Vice - 5/5
08.My Dream's But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare - 5/5
09.The Harvest 5/5
10.The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden - 1/5
11.Fly With The Black Swan - 2/5
12.Good Enough Is Good Enough - 3/5
Finally the new Sonata album is here, and expectations among the fans are very high - it's been almost three years since the last full-length and most of us were growing impatient. And I must say the truth, I am quite disappointed.
This record is surely a departure from the band's "signature" sound that previous albums showed. The songs are darker and less melodic, but the thing that has changed the most is the fact that there aren't any highly memorable songs. The flying choruses are gone, and the music is quite progressive - almost all songs have a good amount of different sections and tempo changes, which forces the listener to give this album a nice amount of spins before actually "getting" it. Song structures tend to be highly complex and experimental as well.
The vocals remain for the most part in low-to-mid range, which helps develop the dark atmosphere. Lots and lots of multi-layering and backup vocals are used, but this is not a surprise since it was pretty evident after the re-makes of My Land and Replica made last year that the band liked the idea of using huge amounts of these "tricks".
The bass is nicely placed in the mix, neither loud nor unhearable. It accompanies the guitar in a good way without being outstanding, and it has a couple of small solos throughout the album.
The keyboards have good moments too. Some nice ah's and oh's are used, for example in 'For the Sake of Revenge' or the opening track, 'In Black and White'. This effect is actually over-used, but more on that later.
Right after you hit play, you inmediately notice one thing: the guitar tone is suffering from the 'Finnish downtuning syndrome' that has affected bands like Nightwish in the 'Once' album and Stratovarius in their latest, self-titled record. In fact, the single 'Paid in Full' intro is highly similar to Nightwish's 'Nemo', with the piano playing a melody and after a few seconds the guitar comes cracking in with some down-tuned power chords, but Sonata didn't make it sound mallcorish like Nightwish did. The problem is not only the down-tuning, but also the way-too-high-for-its-own-good amount of distortion that is incredibly annoying. It just tries to sound heavy but it fails miserably. Painkiller's guitars sound heavier and it isn't downtuned.
Another thing that is very noticeable is that there are no speedy songs. Forget about hearing songs in the lines of 'Wolf and Raven', 'The Cage', or 'Blank File'. The twelve tunes are mid-paced at best, with the two ballads being slow, but it's obvious that ballads are slow so I don't complain about that. The problem here is that there are no killer songs, and this gets me on my nerves since I expect some stuff to headbang to like a madman but there is none of that. All songs are just 'ok' at best, and this really drags towards the end of the album since you pass each song expecting the next to be better, but that won't happen. This is the most disappointing thing of it all.
The major musical disaster is the incredibly stupid synth sounds heard in track no. 3, 'For the Sake of Revenge'. You can hear the bass guitar (which is good) but on top of that, you get a synth that plays chords way too bassy for its own good. It is just so annoying to hear those low, artificial sounds accompanied by Tony's mid-range singing and some high ooooh's that the song becomes unbearable. To add to the disaster, the guitar really sounds like mallcore - for a perfect example check the chorus at 1:03. If that wasn't enough, the songs ends all of a sudden, and this shows that the band is trying so hard to be progressive, that all coherence and structure is lost in the way.
On the other hand, most songs sound similar - the main idea is the following: low guitars playing start-stop shitty, uninspired "riffs" and high, slow keyboard melodies on top of that. When the singing starts, the keyboard melody comes to a halt and is reduced to some ooh's and aah's (sometimes the strings effect is used instead) in the background while the guitar plays another riff, but in the same start-stop shitty way. When the chorus comes in, backup vocals and multi-layers are applied.
The problem with this is that the songs are not distinguishable from one another, the guitar is the same in every single song, and the keyboards always play slow melodies. The drums are just there in the background and even a bit low in the mix, without doing much.
Now onto particular things about some songs: The ballad 'Under Your Tree' just goes on and on and on and on... incredibly boring song. I don't know if 'Caleb' was supposed to be an epic number or what, but it features (yes, you guessed it) the same start-stop riffage as before and even a so-ridiculous-it's-funny spoken intro with a piano behind... a shameful attempt at creating a dark atmosphere. Anyway, the guitar solo is impressive and shows that the band has not forgotten all the good things they used to do.
The last track 'Good Enough Is Good Enough' is not even worth mentioning. This isn't (barely) the worst song, but it sures has one of the most stupid moments at the end when the music just fades away and after fifteen seconds comes back (!!) and goes away again, ending the album.
The honor (?) for 'worst song' goes to 'The Worlds Forgotten, The Worlds Forbidden'. Easily the worst track here, with all the bad things about this album put together: shitty guitars, slow pace, vocals that suffer from too much over-dubbing, a ridiculous sudden end and much, much more crap.
In conclusion... if you love happy and melodic power metal in the vein of Sonata's earlier releases, avoid this like the plague. If you love dark power metal, go get Stratovarius' Dreamspace or Helloween's The Dark Ride. Forget about this. Seriously.