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As Beautiful As an Eclipse - 98%

Grey Sabbath, October 8th, 2016

Sonata Arctica is a polarizing figure among the power metal kingpins. Some people find them to be beautiful, poetic, masters of their craft like nothing the metal industry has ever seen. Others think that they are sappy, pop rock pansies who are basically sped up glam metal with extra keyboards, and this isn't even including their ever-so-dividing releases such as Unia or Stones Grow Her Name. Sonata Arctica's infectious melodies, awe inspiring sound, and emotional grip had me instantly hooked when I first listened to their album Reckoning Night, and ever since they quickly became one of my favorite bands. Their first four albums are considered magnificent classics by many power metal fans, and if not Reckoning Night, is most definitely the best of them.

This record is beaming with this colorful energy from the shiny, melodious keyboard and Tony's epic singing range that makes it such a satisfying listen. The opener for this album, "Blank File", is easily one of SA's best opening tracks and a highlight of the album, and it should serve as a good starting point to show what I mean. After a hype building drum line, the song hits you with Tony singing about the internet's assimilation of society. I don't care much for the lyrics of this song as they're a bit too preachy for my taste (not that they aren't still good), but the vocal melodies are very spot on, with this song's chorus being one of my favorites on the album. It's just so energetic and full of attitude, just like the song in general. The highlight of the song is easily in the second chorus, where Tony stretches his range to orgasmic heights in the line "Still they try to take over, control my life...". Whenever I have a go at singing the song myself I sadly find myself hard-pressed to sing that high without using a horrible sounding falsetto. Afterwards, they bridge of the song swings in, with excellent sounding solos from the keyboard and guitar, showing off the instrumental skill of the band after spending two minutes showing off their vocal skill. I also love how near the end before the last chorus the bridge of "How can it be that you cannot see..." the song quickly changes to this fast, bouncy tempo, then quickly changes back to its regular tempo. It just gives the song such a cheerful, powerful tone.

If there's one thing that this album excels at more than nearly every other Arctica album, it's consistency. Generally every track on here is very much worth a listen for one reason or another. Even the weakest tracks on here have something that push them into greatness. Not one song on here is filler. I'd say my least favorite by default is either "Replica" or "Kingdom For a Heart", but even those songs are still excellent. Literally the only issue with this album that I could find is that the lyrics to "Picturing the Past" is a confusing, bloated mess, and that song is musically one of the strongest on the album.

Even in their first effort, Sonata Arctica's trademark grip on people's heartstrings is very strong. This album is very strong in the story and lyricism department, and the music is superb at capturing and enhancing each song's emotions. Allow me to list a few. "My Land" is about the struggle of a man who's land is being stolen from him. The desperateness of the man's plight is greatly reflected in the intensity of the song. The bridge of the song, with lyrics of the man proclaiming his mission to reclaim his beloved land, the frantic keys, and the pitch change of the final chorus, all perfectly capture the theme of the song. "Unopened" is about a man who finds a letter from a woman, but he is too afraid to open it because of the suspense of what it holds. The frantic speed of the song with its dramatic chorus and catchy keyboard lead is very fitting for the slightly confusing but nevertheless compelling story. "Letter to Dana", a ballad about a man who is deserted by a woman who becomes a porn model (or whatever one does on a "filthy magazine") and presumably ends up with another man. The song (especially the hokey chorus) starts off to be pretty cheesy albeit still catchy as Hell, but as the man starts to realize the reality of the situation, the lyrics start to become more satisfyingly bitter until Tony drops one of my favorite lines from the album, "I promise you I won't write again until the sun sets behind your grave". It's such a bone-chilling line. Of course, there's the iconic werewolf anthem "FullMoon". This song is an emotional punch to the gut to me. This story of a man transforming into a wolf monster in the light of a full moon and being shunned by his own town and wife is just so heart-wrenching to me. It's one of the saddest and most melancholy songs I've ever heard from the power metal genre. For the longest time, it was my favorite song from the album (albeit heavily contested with "Blank File"). The true highlight, however, took a bit of time for it to grow on me.

"Destruction Preventer", the climactic conclusion to this album, was actually one of my least favorites for a time. The odd structure, length, and atmosphere of the song turned me off from it upon my first few listens of the albums. I just wasn't as quickly captured by it as I was by more straightforward songs such as "Blank File" and "8th Commandment". Eventually, after I sunk more time into listening to it, the beauty and brilliance of this song finally hit me. The song starts off straightforward enough, with its hot-blooded speed and chorus, but during the second verse, the song suddenly shifts into a somber, symphonic interlude, which is what turned me off the most at first because I felt it killed the pace. However, as the song shifts into a frenzy of solos, the lyrics depicting a man watching as missiles begin to fall down from the sky simply struck me with awe once I finally payed attention to them, and from then on I was sold on the song. It's such a beautiful, epic ending to this album, and easily one of SA's best.

This album mixes the use of guitar and keyboards really well. Although the keyboards are obviously superior, the guitar is vital in giving the album its backbone (A.K.A. what makes Sonata Arctica a metal band), creating a gorgeous blend of heavy guitar and luscious keyboard. The guitar work is rather talented for a band that doesn't focus on it much, but Tony's work on the keyboards is borderline mind melting. The carnival-like keyboard lead in "Kingdom For a Heart" is fun, the keys from "UnOpened" are extremely catchy (I find myself mindlessly playing it over and over on my keyboard a lot), and the lightning quick line from "Picturing the Past" is just legendary. That song in general is one of the strongest because of how blazing fast and bouncy it is, and the keyboard line tops it off perfectly. The keyboard solos are where the instrument shines the most, with its mystical sound being combined with swiftly played notes to create musical ecstasy. This is definitely one of the best examples I've heard of keyboard solos in metal. They use the keyboard to produce sounds that the guitar can't quite replicate without it feeling redundant or easily replaceable with another guitar. As for the guitarist, Jani is an amazing guitarist for this band, with his neoclassical edge being a perfect counterbalance to the shiny, smooth keyboards. "8th Commandment" seems to have been made solely to show off Jani's skills on the guitar, and it's a really damn good display. His true shining moment, however, is in the previously mentioned "Destruction Preventer". The solo section of that song is absolutely amazing, and fits the emotion of the song perfectly.

I'm usually against the idea of a metal band's best record being their first. The idea of a band's first album being their best makes the idea of scoping the rest of their stuff out feel pointless, because there won't be anything that'll match that first album in quality. Sometimes, it's simply the truth. While there are a few albums by this band that make the claim of this album being their greatest not exactly clear cut, it is unquestionable to at least call this album a masterpiece.