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Perfected, purified, a peak - 89%

The_CrY, February 12th, 2010

With their third studio album, Sonata Arctica has shown us they can not only assemble a set of very melodic songs on high speed, but also let the songs together form a unity, an album. What was missing a little on albums like Ecliptica and Silence was the unity as an album. Where Ecliptica sounded mostly unpolished and repetitive and Silence was more polished yet unbalanced musically, Winterheart’s Guild is more perfected and purified. A true peak in the Sonata Arctica career.

Although the overall sound of the band has not been changed a lot since 2001’s Silence, it sounds less half-baked. Not only is there a restored balance on the album, nicely varying the fast songs with the slower ones, but it has been totally purified of fillers. Yes, that’s right; this is the first Sonata Arctica album of which I can say that I actually enjoy each song. Not that the previous albums had any repulsive songs, but some could just pass by without you noticing them. That’s a bad thing. So, now we’ve sorted out the differences compared to the other albums in their discography, let’s get into the music a bit more.

Basically, this is still the very melodic fast power metal as we know. Tracks like “Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited”, “The Cage” and “Victoria’s Secret” are unmistakably trademark SA power metal songs with epic choruses and fast drums. What makes this album more different from its predecessors is also a bunch of subtle hints to Sonata Arctica’s future career: progressive influences! They are not dominant however, we wouldn’t notice if we didn’t already live in the future. I’m not speaking of longer songs like the epic “Gravenimage”, for they have done that on Silence with “The Power of One” already. No, the progressive part is present very clearly in “The Ruins of My Life” and the Japanese bonus track “The Rest of the Sun Belongs to Me”. Cut-off bars, a swift change of themes like we are used on 2009’s The Days of Grays and weird, yet fitting, vocals to interrupt the basic melody that is sung. With solely the last mentioned being present on their last power metal album in 2004, I’d say this is pretty unique for Winterheart’s Guild.

Furthermore, Sonata Arctica introduces a new type of song on this album, that would feature on later albums as well, and it’s actually a new type of power ballad. “The Misery” and “Draw Me” both belong to this new type of songs. Even though Sonata has made power ballads on Silence and Ecliptica, this new type are more simple in structure and sound, yet a lot more effective. Who said a song needs to be complicated to be good? Now Sonata has found out that, we shall be looking forward to their ballads a lot more. Both “The Misery” and “Draw Me” have an extremely catchy chorus and main theme and they gain more power towards the end, as the distortion guitar joins in halfway. It really adds to the epicness.

Apart from the extreme ballad makeover, the power metal songs have also been given some extras. “Champagne Bath” starts of with a guitar solo with classical influences, which reminded me instantly of Yngwie Malmsteen with much more distortion. There’s also some very nice dueling between the guitars and the keyboards in this song. Also songs like “Victoria’s Secret” show signs of changes in the guitar department. The accompaniment consists more of chords than riffs and it’s overall a bit more keyboard-based, another subtle hint of what we can expect on later releases. A good example is the keys-solo on the intro of “The Cage”, and the keyboard-themes on “Victoria’s Secret” and “Abandoned, Pleased...”.

To come to a conclusion, Winterheart’s Guild was Sonata’s first peak. The entire way of songwriting has been revised and now the songs form a strong unity, a real album. This is the definition of Sonata Arctica’s power metal era. I would definitely recommend this album to anyone who is interested in Sonata Arctica or power metal. You will not be disappointed.

Stronger songs: “Victoria’s Secret”, “The Ruins of my Life” and “Draw Me”.
Weak songs: none.