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Ain’t your fairy metal – quite - 75%

naverhtrad, July 3rd, 2012

Sonata Arctica’s Reckoning Night is a tough album for me to review. On the one hand, it is still very unmistakably Sonata Arctica and all that comes with it (with a very fluffy, poppy, commercial flower-metal sound of a sort upon which I have heaped my fair share of scorn in the past). And yet… I find myself constitutionally incapable of actively disliking this album. It’s somewhat strange, this beast, yet attempt to track its movements we shall.

And ‘movements’, it seems, is the right word – there are quite a few symphonic and progressive elements to be found in here, as demonstrated with the dark, brooding, almost-completely-keyboards-and-strings title-ish track ‘Reckoning Day, Reckoning Night’ and its lead-in to the powerful and catchy ‘Don’t Say a Word’ (which itself features its fair share of shifts, in a downright jazzy way – strangely enough, I can well imagine this quirky song being in the soundtrack to a video game like Star Ocean 3, as well as several other songs on this album). The deliberately-unbalanced and counterintuitive time signatures on ‘The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Real Puppet’ as well serve to cinch the deal that we’re well out of the range of simple power metal here. ‘Misplaced’ is an awesome song, manically-paced and damn catchy. The churning layers of sound are here well-modulated and controlled. After my review of Hammers of Misfortune’s The Locust Years I’ve taken a great liking to the use of the Hammond organ and its stylings within a prog-power context; you won’t find me complaining about the keyboard work on ‘Misplaced’. ‘Wildfire’ is fucking brilliant, a heavy, ballsy, speedy attack, with Kakko really outdoing himself on those screams – easily the high point of the album. ‘Ain’t Your Fairytale’ comes a close second, with its heavy bass riffing. Actually, most of the tracks on this album have their moments. We do have some genuine conviction on this album, yessir.

And yet…

The perennial problem remains that we have these syrupy keyboard melodies taking up far too much of the slack here, to the point where the guitar leads become almost an ornamental afterthought. An unmitigated plus on ‘Misplaced’ and ‘Wildfire’, at other points (‘My Selene’, ‘Shamandalie’) they become distracting. Kakko’s vocals, even if they are good at earnestly wheedling out sing-along melodies and would be more than welcome in a straight-up folk or folk rock outfit, do tend to lack (as they habitually tend to do) the metal edge. It’s directly analogous to someone training in kung fu for health reasons and pulling off each punch and kick well and correctly, so that it looks ‘nice’ (as though it were a dance move), and someone who trains in kung fu to beat the everloving shit out of you. Kakko certainly can do the latter if he puts his mind to it, but for the most part he is more intent on being correct than on being powerful. (And it isn’t like you can’t do both, either. Mac McDermott – may he rest in peace – once of Threshold is a textbook example of someone whose voice can be well-modulated and still have a definite metal / hard rock edge.)

‘White Pearl, Black Oceans’ is pretty overrated, as these things go, nearly to the point of being annoying. It’s mawkish and sappy where it should be powerful (particularly near the beginning). The middle section, where the song picks up some tempo and some decent bass riffing, actually manages to hold up the song’s reputation, for a while, but the transpose in the instrumental section near the end is nothing more than a cheap and overused way of sounding epic when your song is not – see Exhibit A, ‘My Selene’.

All that doesn’t really decrease my enjoyment of the album – and make no mistake, this is an enjoyable album, even if I class it in my personal ‘guilty pleasures’ category. The sound quality is sterling and well-balanced, as is to be expected from an album of this genre. I can easily see why this album receives such acclaim, and absolutely respect the people who give this album an 80% rating and over (even if I don’t). Sonata Arctica truly exerted themselves to the utmost on this album. But even so, the musical style has several elements which I don’t particularly care for. A qualified recommendation for this one.

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