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Somber Fairytales. - 86%

hells_unicorn, January 4th, 2007
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Nuclear Blast

Sonata Arctica has been a fairly consistent emulator of the Stratovarius approach to Power Metal. The lyrics are a bit varied and progressive, the guitar and keyboards are at the forefront, and the vocals reach towering heights with a somewhat nostalgic tinge to them. However, some of the weaknesses that Sonata Arctica carries in the rhythm section are a key part of their separation from the band that they are influenced by. Tommy Portimo is no Jorg Michael, he lacks the latter’s sense of spontaneity in the drum fills, and tends to sound like a drum machine at times. This was less noticeable on the last two albums as the keys and the vocals were keeping it interesting, but on this release a few tracks expose this flaw.

The album starts off strong with “Misplaced”, which is musically a hybrid of the speed driven neo-classical cookers that dominated “Silence” and the more vintage Deep Purple instrumentation of older 80s acts. We have an intro with a prominent organ part that abruptly stops for a few seconds of silence before kicking into a more Malmsteen inspired set of riffs. However, after the rather bombastic opening number we loose the sense of triumph with “Blinded no more”, which is slow both in terms of tempo and development. The riffs tend to be bland and the vocal lines are anti-climactic. “Ain’t your Fairytale” sees the tempo pick up again, but sadly we lack strongly defined chorus to keep this one from being a mere power metal cliché. Not a bad song, but you definitely get a better version of it in “Weballergy” or “The Cage”. The instrumental “Reckoning Day, Reckoning Night” is a quality demonstration of the piano’s capability of telling a story without words, and the only true drawback is that it is an instrumental that follows 2 fairly weak songs.

“Don’t say a word” kicks the drama back up a notch in the vocal department and provides us with a truly powerful set of melodies. This was probably the best pick for a single ever made by this band thus far. “The Boy who wanted to be a real puppet” is an interesting lyrical twist on the Pinocchio tale, and the music follows suit with a set of more varied sections than previous songs. “My Selene” is Jani’s love song to his significant other. Lyrically it is almost gothic in nature, although musically it is a typically triumphant power metal anthem with all the drum line and riff trappings to boot. “Wildfire” sees the return of our neurotic sounding narrator from “Silence”, and with it a rather twisted tale of a man losing his mind and seeking vengeance for some nameless crime upon an entire town by engulfing it in flames.

From here on it seems that we are left with an otherwise typical Sonata Arctica release with some flaws making it comparable to their green debut, but then some sort of musical miracle just came out of Tony Kakko’s well of ideas. “White Pearl, Black Oceans” is probably the most brilliant composition that this band has put out yet, and crushes the notion that this band can’t write an epic track that can shack up to their shorter anthems. The chorus is unforgettable, love it or hate it, you will not be able to get it out of your head once you hear it. The lyrics tell a rather disturbing tale of a man who keeps a lighthouse and falls asleep, causing the deaths of an entire ship of people by failing to light it for one night. The end result is a man who looses all he has and ends his sleep in the same manner as the people who were his responsibility.

The album closes with a decent ballad in “Shamadalie”, which again showcases the strength that they carry in the keyboard department. Tony’s vocals are melancholy yet strong, accompanied by a well balanced set of acoustic and electric guitars. I can’t really say that its musically better than “The Misery”, but it carries a strong sense of contrast from section to section that puts it into a class by itself. The last track is an unlisted collection of musical ideas that are pretty much improvised, it reminds me a bit of the stuff at the end of Dreamtale’s “Ocean’s Heart” after the close of Wasteland.

Though not quite Sonata Arctica’s best release, it is still more than worthy of the band that put it forth and has some exceptional musical gems contained within. We have a couple of weak tracks, but this was also the case with the debut and that proved to be a strong album. This release comes recommended to fans of Stratovarius, Nightwish, and other bands in the Finnish scene that tend to blur the lines between Power Metal in terms of music, and Gothic/Progressive lyrical themes. Fans of Power Metal in general will find much to like, although those who like the more upbeat and lighthearted approach of bands like Gamma Ray and Helloween might not identify with the lyrical content.