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They are their fans' keepers. - 84%

hells_unicorn, May 21st, 2012

I can’t really speak for anyone else who has followed Sonata Arctica for more than a decade, but when I heard that co-founder and long time guitarist Jani Limatainen had been let go from the band because of his conscription, my bullshit meter went off the charts. Bringing in a session guitarist to handle touring for a year isn’t that hard to do when you’re one of the biggest names in metal in your country, especially when considering that much of the live material would include the drivel that was on display throughout “Unia”. Furthermore, any indication of a difference in musical direction can be easily surmised when sampling the first offering of the ejected member’s new band’s work, particularly if it bears an uncanny resemblance to the former sound of the original band, as both Savage Circus’ “Dreamland Manor” and this rather enticing gem that is “Gather The Faithful” demonstrate.

For the most part, this band comes across as a perfect 50/50 split between the “Silence” to “Winterheart’s Guild” era of Sonata Arctica and the slightly progressive tinged work of Stratovarius’ “Polaris”. It has a similarly keyboard heavy presence, but doesn’t shy away from the speed riffing and harmonic symmetry that defines the genre. Most of the time it walks that familiar cold blend of sorrow and pomp that defines the melodic sound of both represented projects, as well as an extremely tight rhythm section that is helped along by the work of Wintersun bassist Jukka Koskinen, who proves to be the picture perfect representation of constancy amid a high tight yet dynamic assault from the rest of the instrumentation, resulting in a deep, heavy character in sound that is generally most noticeable during those occasion fits of stomping grooves that occur between the flash and flair.

Despite being bound to a heavily stylized and strict approach to power metal, Jani actually manages to compose a few surprisingly intricate songs that are every bit as progressive as what “Unia” was attempting to be without throwing out the essential character of the style. The longer and rhythmically mixed up rocker “Oceans Of Regret” gets the closest to being varied to the point of convolution, yet keeps the melodic contour and hooks in line and instead becomes a more involved take on what Dreamtale has been doing of late. But the rank and file who has followed the bands that this project is built out of will definitely be drawn more strongly to the high speed glory of “My Queen Of Winter” and “Dawn Of Solace”, which literally inject a double dose of adrenaline into the speedier moments of what was “Winterheart’s Guild”. Likewise, even though not quite as fast as the formers, “Stolen Waters” is infectious in its catchiness and reminds heavily of the more keyboard oriented variations on the “I Want Out” approach that Stratovarius would routinely put out as singles in the late 90s and 2000s.

This is a pure effort at a fully tried and true formula, one that is also a much welcome return to form that unfortunately could not occur under the Sonata Arctica name. Whether the reason for this lay in said band being tied to a major level or just Tony Kakko getting bored with playing metal music, it lends credence to the idea that those seeking the real thing should probably stick to the smaller labels. Maybe I just tend to overanalyze things, but there’s a strong correlation to a drop in quality with a number of Nuclear Blast bands and Mat Sinner leaving the company, at least as much as there is a correlation with Sonata Arctica not being able to produce albums and it no longer being the first half of the 2000s decade. But who gives a damn about that, this album is great and needs some love before the band goes the way of Timo Tolkki’s 2 recent projects, assuming it hasn’t done so already.