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For the Romeo in you. - 87%

hells_unicorn, December 19th, 2006

For anyone who knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, one would assume that the comment that an album is for the Romeo in someone is an endearing complement for a courageous lover willing to risk death for his pursuits. For me, the analogy takes on a much different meaning, as Sonata Arctica’s lyrics are about as far removed from inspirational in this way as you can get. Essentially, they portray the most tragic and disturbing aspects of human thought and behavior, in a manner reminiscent of Progressive Metal outfits such as Queensryche and Dream Theater.

Musically, they take their cues from fellow Finish outfit Stratovarius, featuring a barrage of up tempo rockers, a few token mid-tempo tracks which are quite fast at times, and some rather introspective ballads. The keyboards and the guitars hold equal prominence throughout the solo sections, displaying the technical abilities of Tony Kakko and Jami Liimataninen. However, unlike Stratovarius, the bass and drum department functions heavily in a support role and occasionally comes off as mechanical sounding. Tommy Portimo just can’t seem to throw in any fills that grab the ear, nor does Janne Kivilahti’s bass work manage to make it out of the wall of distorted guitar tracks and keyboard ambiences often.

Lyrically, this album is a collection of highly intellectual and often unrelated material, although there is a strong sense of tragedy and reminiscence common to all the ballads. “Blank File” is probably the most run and power metal oriented track in terms of words, describing a lone renegade who is able to keep his actions unknown to an ever present Fascist government. By contrast, “Replica” and “My land” portray a person as being a victim of what is going on around them, the former a tragic story about a person losing his mind over remembering a war he fought in, the latter a fit of escapism befitting a dreamer alienated by society.

Musically the album is mostly fast paced, making way for the occasional ballad or some slightly slower up tempo works. “Blank File” and “8th Commandment” are among the faster ones that rock out well and feature some brilliant lead work on the guitar and synthesizer. “Replica” and “Kingdom for a Heart” are heavily reliant on memorable melodic devices, as is the catchiest song in here “Full Moon”. “Destruction Preventer” is musically the most progressive, and also the longest running of the lot.

But it is not the mentioned songs that lyrically or musically drive this album, nor would their influence be seen on subsequent Sonata Arctica releases. The true spirit of this band is found in “Letter to Dana”, which ranks as one of the more tragic and gloomy releases I’ve heard put out by a band under the Power Metal umbrella. It is essentially a story told from the first person about a man who is in love with a woman who is thrown out of her home by her parents at a young age, and he never sees her again, yet is constantly recording how much he misses her in his diary, even after her death in his old age. This is where the ghost of Romeo truly comes back from the dead to weep over Juliet’s body, once again failing to see that she isn’t dead. When ever I hear this song, I want to shout at this man that if his love were worth anything, he’d go find her and tell her how he feels. And if his love was not worth that much, that he should move on for his own sake and find happiness with another. But this would not be the spirit of Romeo, nor would it be the spirit of many today who sit by and dream of what they desire rather than reaching out for it. In this respect, I detest Sonata Arctica’s lyrics, although I haven’t the heart to punish them with lost points due to the fact that they are a distinctive band and a good musical alternative to Stratovarius, who ceased to put out any worthwhile albums a few years ago.

In conclusion, this is a somewhat inconsistent and green work from a band that would become much more focused on “Silence”. This album is recommended to fans of Finnish Power Metal acts such as Nightwish, Stratovarius, Dreamtale, and a few others. It is a bit less uplifting and triumphant than the works of German outfits such as “Gamma Ray” and “Blind Guardian”, but it is an interesting quasi-progressive alternative to them if you like your lyrics a bit more on the introspective side