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Winterheart's Guild - 95%

ImaNotOkay, April 21st, 2006

My first review is of my favorite album by Sonata Arctica. I love pretty much everything about it – the lyrics, vocals, instrumentation, and production. Overall the music is energetic and uplifting. The songwriting, courtesy of Tony Kakko is well done; there are lots of great melodies and memorable moments. The vocals and instrumentation are flawless I daresay. Tony has a great voice and with a good range, and the rest of the guys are solid at their instruments. I would like to salute Jani Liimatainen, the guitarist, especially. \m/ He is just as talented as a lot of the other players who get more notice than he does. Jens, who’s not technically in the band, does the lead keys on this one. The drumming is solid, though not exceptional; Tommy Portimo does exactly what the music calls for, as does Marko on bass. The production is bright and clean, everything can be heard. It’s a refreshing sound, like that of a lot of power metal. The lyrical themes/emotions are varied, but even the angrier songs such as ‘Champagne Bath’ still leave me feeling happy. I suppose that’s the nature of power metal, and the reason some people do not like it - it’s not “metal” enough, or it’s too cheesy. That being said, it’s not for everyone I suppose.

The album kicks off with ‘Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited.’ Musically it’s pretty intense. It has a brisk tempo with a lively double-bass beat (a similar beat to what will be played on most of the other songs) and palm-muted guitar chugging. We get solid vocal work from Tony, and keys help in creating a frosty atmosphere. It’s a good introduction to the album.

Next up is the excellent ‘Gravenimage’. It starts out with keys creating some nice atmosphere before the vocals come in over a delicate piano. It’s quite lovely! Soon enough the rest of the band explodes in and the song continues at a moderate pace. After wonderful guitar solo from Jani, the tempo is doubled. There is a lot of emotion in the both the lyrics and the instrumentation in this song. It ends in an epic manner.

A vigorous keyboard solo introduces the next song, ‘The Cage.’ This song is about a wolf that is imprisoned and wants to be free. I quite like this theme! More importantly, this song is written very well. It is upbeat, and has one of the best choruses of the album. The guitar/keyboard solos are also nice as usual. However, I must say the chorus highlight of the song. It is quite memorable and has a great melody. The key change at the end makes all the difference.

Next up is Silver Tongue. This is another upbeat song. Not quite as memorable as the previous track, but enjoyable nonetheless. In my opinion in contains the best solos on the album. I love the guitar solo – it’s perfect! It’s tasteful, technical, and fits the music very well. Once it finishes the keys and guitar play parallel to each other, and it’s equally excellent.

The first ballad of the album, ‘The Misery,’ follows. As with most ballads, it’s a sad song, in addition to being quite beautiful. Tony’s vocals on it are great as usual, and he sings with a lot of emotion. The backing vocals make for a lush feel and create some nice harmonies (as usual). I like this one a lot, the lyrics are nice, and the chorus is memorable.

‘Victoria’s Secret’ is next. Great title, awesome song. As one of my friends put it, the chorus/intro has almost a Native American feel to it. I had never thought of it like that, but I think it’s true. This is one of the best songs on the album. It has an awesome chorus as well as great solos by the keys and guitar. “Life is waiting for the one who loves to live, and it’s not a secret.” – how inspirational. As in ‘The Cage’ there is a nice key change at the end. As the final epic chorus concludes, drums are left playing alone, which lead directly into the next song –

‘Champagne Bathe.’ Some nice guitar work is featured in the intro. This is a good song, though not quite as outstanding as the previous. The highlight of this song for me is the keyboard, though mostly in the background, it adds a lot. Also the “you keep” at about 2:53 is one of my favorite parts of the whole album, for no particular reason. The song ends the same way it began, which is cool.

Next is ‘Broken.’ This song has a moderate pace, but still rocks. It’s a nice change from the hastened feel of the last two songs. Nice vocals/lyrics. I’m sorry if I keep saying that, but Tony is great. The song gets more intense with the great line, “Burning feathers, not an Angel. Heaven’s closed, Hell’s sold out” before concluding with another chorus.

After a about a minute of ambience, the fast paced “The Ruins Of My Life” starts up. This is another solid song, featuring some very hot solos at about three minutes in. These are the second best solos on the album I daresay, followed by a short breakdown with some creepy vocals after which things go back to normal.

The album ends with another ballad, ‘Draw Me.’ Not particularly memorable in my opinion. But as usually it has nice vocals a la Tony. I usually skip this one. It ends at about 4:00 after which there is some amusing chatter by the band and then about 5:00 of silence. Why do bands do that? Oh well, I’ll let it go.

So basically, this is a very solid album – great song after great song. The band gives a quality performance and the production let’s you hear every note of it. The music leaves me feeling energized, refreshed, and inspired. Any Sonata Arctica fan must own this. Any power metal fan will probably enjoy this. And plenty of people who don’t usually listen to power metal (me) may find something to like here.