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Indeed an impressive, yet cold album - 93%

PowerDaso, November 3rd, 2010

Whenever a band jumps into fame in their first or second album, they tend to fuck up very early. Most likely, a major label hires them and they just change their whole sound, become hated by their diehards and there goes the downfall. Sonata Arctica did an excellent debut album, and so was their second album, "Silence". They had gathered a few songs that sounded like a massive amount of power metal classics (and indeed they are) only with those two, having some heavy songs, other catchy, fast and melodic tracks and of course, some romantic, beautiful ballads. They faced the departure of their keyboardist, Mikko Harkin, as well. From this point, it was unknown what would happen with Sonata Arctica. Most likely, they would do another pile of pure awesome music similar to what they have done, but no. They faced some changes, and it was time to show the reaction towards this. This reaction is called "Winterheart's Guild".

"Winterheart's Guild" is the way Sonata Arctica shows maturity in their music. The changes are not audible from the very beginning, but they are bound to be found eventually. Tony Kakko's voice doesn't tend to go all that high pitched as it used to in older songs like "Blank File" or "Destruction Preventer", now he focuses more in the usage of his average range of voice and damn, it serves pretty well. It makes the album sound much more natural than it did previously; just check out "Victoria's Secret" for example. With the departure of Mikko Harkin he had to take charge of the keyboards again. On the other hand, they called over no other than the legendary Jens Johansson to help them with a few songs. Nowadays The Cage's intro is considered to be one of his greatest solos, see the success. More on with the keyboards, they are used widely in this album in the intros, along the verses and mostly harmonizing in the choruses. The usage of the harpsichord has been reduced a bit, but not totally. From this point on the guitar began to frequent the lack of solos in certain songs and replacing them for heavy riffs on instrumental sections, just like it can be noticed in "Unia" and "The Days of Grays", their two most recent albums. Other than that, the former guitarist Jani did a splendid job. The riffs don't follow the traditional "one power chord per bar" tradition, instead they keep a steady rhythm along the whole song and at times are left open for more resonance in the vocals. Now, they also get to harmonize with the vocals, but not in unison. The bass is not loudly heard but it is present in certain songs keeping up with the guitar, just like in "The Cage", or being on its own like in "Broken". Where the drumming is concerned I must say they did an original job. In the most standing out songs they did stick to the standard rhythms - you know - for the listener not to feel overwhelmed. In other songs, though, the rhythms are quite uncommon. They may be in something quite common but then there is an oddly placed double bass- that kind of thing.

The album's atmosphere is what makes it stand out so much. By the moment you see the cover art and the pictures in the booklet you'll already have an idea of what you'll find. All the music in here makes the listener feel like if trapped in a world of never-ending, dark winter. The rhythms, the vocals, the harmonies, everything, is just plain cold and gloomy. The way Kakko sings, with such calm and ease helps to make it more relaxing when listening to this album. It creates a perfect atmosphere, this is assured.

Considering how far the band had gone when creating this album, I would say it is an endeavor to be remembered. It is basically the last album where they played in this style, and it was utterly enjoyable because they already had managed to make it perfect. I would fully recommend getting it; it is a great album for the fans and for new listeners of the band.

Highlights: All of them but "The Misery" and "Draw Me".