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[ALBUM REVIEW] Sonata Arctica: The Ninth Hour

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Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Release Date: 7 October 2106
By Bailey Graham

Power and symphonic metal have entered its renaissance era in today’s age, with bands like Nightwish, Epica and Within Temptation selling record numbers and packing out arenas and amphitheatres worldwide. There is no doubt that powerheads worldwide have begun to truly appreciate how incredible this genre of music can be when done right.

Currently in their prime are Finnish symphonic masters Sonata Arctica – the brainchild of the enigmatic composer, vocalist and pianist Tony Kakko. Their newest release The Ninth Hour is set to be released in early October 2016. The album is met with high expectations from reviewers and fans alike as the band have consistently released quality records throughout their discography. It goes without saying that my hopes for this album are very high.

Opening in a conservative symphonic metal style, ‘Closer to an Animal’ unleashes epic choral and piano elements over well-toned distorted guitar lines. The first thing noticeable element is the level of subtlety vocalist Tony Kakko is using to showcase his – rather magnificent – vocal ability. Long time Sonata Arctica fans may feel as though his voice could have been showcased throughout the album, with more powerful vocal lines throughout the subsequent track of the album. Contrasting this, subsequent track ‘Life’ opens with a mighty lead guitar melody and a sense of wonder envelopes the track. It is here where Kakko’s vocal power starts to show, with a well-written and majestic chorus and excellent instrumentation throughout. It is at this point where both guitarists Elias Viljanen and keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg are given the opportunity to show off their incredible talent.

Fairytale’ follows with a beautiful use of chimes to re-invoke that sense of wonder, before unleashing a full assault of well-crafted riffs and well-composed choruses. At this point, any hint of doubt in Kakko’s vocal performance on this album is quickly destroyed. Falling to a much softer note following the epic onslaught that I just endured, ‘We Are What We Are’s use of flutes and acoustic guitars only adds to the serenity of the track as a whole, while maintaining that epic scale with distorted guitar choruses. This is a track that resembles the model of ‘ideal power metal ballad’. From the beautiful first few seconds of the piano-filled introduction, to the borderline aggressive, distorted guitar lines that followed, ‘Till Death’s Done Us Apart’ is truly a roller coaster of the senses; the incredibly powerful chorus, the blistering guitar and keyboard lead works, nursed into a calm by abrupt soft-spoken vocals and faint piano phrases.

As we approach the half-way point of the album, it becomes clear what Sonata Arctica are trying to accomplish in this release; a well-composed collection of epic highs and calming lows, an album that seeks to explore every element that makes symphonic metal great, and – as of this point in the album – it accomplishes that with, for the most part, utter perfection. ‘Among the Shooting Stars‘ holds true to the already established habit of epic choruses, an art form in which Sonata Arctica have seemed to have mastered. ‘Rise a Night’ wastes no time in grabbing my attention; with its upbeat melody and high tempo rhythm, this track is highly reminiscent of early Stratovarius, while maintaining a level of uniqueness; courtesy of Kakko’s unique composition styles. Whether or not the similarities in sound between the two artists were intentional is irrelevant as the track was written superbly. Unfortunately, it got to the point of the album where I finally found the first song I was indifferent to. ‘Fly, Navigate, Communicate‘ felt very flat and uninspired throughout the former half of the track. It was towards the middle of the track where the tonality and overall execution shifted dramatically, regaining my attention. This track felt as though it were composed of two entirely different songs, and whether or not that was intentional by the band, it just didn’t feel right to me.

The second power ballad of the album, ‘Candle Lawns’ applies more traditional conventions to its musical structure. While somewhat generic, it can’t be ignored that it is one beautifully written ballad. ‘White Pearl, Black Oceans Part II’, the sequel to the track of the same name from 2004’s Reckoning Night is a slow-building amalgamation of serene orchestral and powerful heavy metal elements. In what is a highlight of the album, it is on this track that Viljanen lets out a blisteringly incredible guitar solo, which only adds to the statement that this track is a worthy sequel to its predecessor. The album comes to a close with the ten-minute-long ‘On The Faultline (Closure To An Animal)’. It is here where I look back at the record and see the progression that has led to this track; an extensive display of orchestral and vocal brilliance, coupled with world-class instrumentation from all band members. ‘On The Faultline’ summarises the album in its entirety and presents the listener with what could very well be some of the most serene verses and beautiful choruses this band has ever written.

It’s no surprise to see that Sonata Arctica has written another world-class album. However, this album exceeded my expectations is several aspects. Disregarding a few hiccups towards the start and mid-end of the album – which came down to personal preference rather than songwriting incompetence – this album is without a doubt one of the strongest symphonic metal releases in recent years, and I say that being fully aware of how strong the sub-genre is these days. All that is left to say is that for individuals who crave the symphonic elements that coincide with heavy metal so well, Sonata Arctica may have just written a potential candidate for album of the year.

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