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Guilty Pleasures - 61%

SentineLEX, March 2nd, 2013

This is my least favorite Sonata Arctica album. I wouldn't say it's completely bad, but it leaves much to be desired. Being the debut album, it's not quite as polished as their subsequent works and they really haven't found their place yet. Most of this album is Stratovarius Lite with a tad of Nightwish thrown in.

When the album is good, however, it shows a lot. The final song, "Destruction Preventer", gives a spectacular performance, highlighting especially Tony Kakko who shows off first his captivating lyrical skills (both writing and singing) and then proceeds to show off his keyboarding. The first, "Blank File", shows nearly the same amount of merit with perhaps the highest notes Kakko has ever sung, and given his age, will ever sing. Jani Liimatainen shows equal promise in "8th Commandment", which grabs attention right from the start with the speed-of-light guitar intro.

Then there's the two songs that are somewhat good, but I would never admit this to any friend listening. The so-bad-it's-good variety. "Fullmoon" and "Unopened". The former's chorus is banal and the "run away, run away, run away" especially makes me want to gag, but at the same time there's something underneath the crappy lyrics, an overblown melody that keeps you coming back just because it's so memorable. The latter has some questionable passages in the middle that aren't exactly banal, but lack the charm of Fullmoon. Catchy, but something you want to get OUT of your head, not keep it IN there. The lyrics aren't too bad.

Most of the rest is either mediocre or completely forgettable. "Picturing the Past" especially stands out as filler on steroids. I got some semblance of what the song sounded like when I was actually listening to it, but it took me maybe 10 runs through the album at large before I could go look at the title of the song and think "oh yeah that's what it sounded like" and be able to remember at least most of the music. The only other Sonata album I've ever had to do that with was Unia, although that was justified as the extremely progressive sounds took multiple listens to fully unravel. This song didn't have anything underneath it.

"Letter to Dana" was another one. Too slow for ease of listening and too fast for the emotion it was trying to convey. There wasn't really a buildup, and while the story was very interesting, the music was anything but. It was almost anticlimactic at some points, exactly the opposite of the point of any good ballad.

Thankfully, this album is short. You get your kicks on "Blank File" and "Fullmoon" (and with the exception of "Kingdom For A Heart", I would say all of the first six songs are somewhat enjoyable at the least), patiently sit through the filler afterward and launch right into "Destruction Preventer". If anything, there's a small taste of the huge potential Sonata began to uncover. And maybe that's the saving grace of this album.