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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.