Sonata Arctica are a newer band in metal history, formed in 1996 under the name of Tricky Beans (and also Means.) Also notable for their huge Stratovarius influences, they released a debut Ecliptica to mixed view: everyone that was a power metal fan agreed it was a good power metal record, but also that they sounded very much like their kinsmen Stratovarius.
Six years later and it is 2004. Sonata have released another two albums, both up to par power metal albums, but never completely capable of blowing their debut out of the water. They are about to release their fourth album, entitled 'Reckoning Night.' What would happen that year was that they released an album that, for power metal, would shatter anything they or Stratovarius had ever done.
Reckoning Night, my friends, is the best album this band has ever released. At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I really enjoy the keyboard hooks, vocal lines, and guitar riffs and solos on this record, I even enjoy the otherwise so rigid drumming. I find this to be one of the reasons why power metal can really be enjoyable: it's not just catchy, it's versatile, and overall, it's good to listen to without really being provoking towards others: it's a band you can play without hard feelings.
The best example of this is the ballad at the end, Shamandalie. This is a soft, slow track, completely centred around the keyboard solos and Tony Kakko's vocal antics. It's slow, weeping, sad even; in short, it doesn't sound like this is a metal band. But metal is all about the variety: this is also what Sonata can do. And to be honest, the song is just tear-jerking.
Now Sonata have a lot of other trademark elements, some of their own, some that are trademarked in power metal, and they are all on this disc. But they're also well executed, without sounding annoying in my opinion. For example, Tony Kakko, the main songwriter, is a big fan of wolves, and wolves seem to readily feature on every album. On this slab of music that is the awesome Ain't Your Fairytale. Of course, it's cheesy. Of course, this is power metal, and it has insane vocal hooks that need ball-crunching devices. But the fact remains that it's excellent music to listen to.
Another thing that Sonata likes to do is sad(istic) songs. On here that is The Boy Who Wanted To Be A Real Puppet. Possibly the best song on the album, this tale is just... wicked and evil. Black Metal may be all about Satan and its worship and evilness and a hardcore attitude, but Power metal bands show how you really are evil without needing to worship a god; you can worship a puppet and magically fall into decay.
Of course there are always high energy power metal songs, like the aural bombast of Wildfire, possibly one of my favourite tracks ever, or the haunting single Don't Say a Word, with its awesome chorus and Latin quotations. I just can't get "Pacta sunt servanda" out of my head anymore. It's typical power metal, but it's catchy, it's awesome, and it's played like these guys enjoy it; they really love doing what they do and having fun.
This also shows in the hidden track, which is basically five drunken finns jamming acoustically. It has to be the most hilarious thing I've ever heard. Power metal is cheesy, and it really has to be your type of humour, but I find it funny and enthralling and I love them for including this as a hidden present on this disc, I'm glad I bought it hardcopy.
The trademark epic is also present in White Pearl, Black Oceans... you can figure out the lyrics for yourself, but it's an awesome song, some of the vocal lines are just incredible, the keyboards are melodious and haunting and really serve the song... basically, if you love power metal, you will love this song and this disc.
The other tracks on here, My Selene (with an awesome chorus), Misplaced (that fake opening is just like "wtf") and Blinded No More (probably the only song on here that is boring) are all songs in a typical power metal vein too, but somehow this band manages to convince that they're more than that. Of course, they resort to power metal cliches. Of course, the lyrics are fantastic and cheesy. But they play it with vigour, and they play at appropriate speeds, with just enough variety and skill to lift this up a notch above any other power metal disc I've heard. Blind Guardian is good, but also cheesier. Stratovarius is boring. Nightwish, is, well, Nightwish, and have evolved to be less of power metal (despite being awesome.) Helloween is just silly. This is a mandatory purchase if you are into power metal. And hey if you don't like it, your mum might love it, or your girlfriend, or you could use it to persuade an ignorant person how awesome metal can be (I know someone that didn't know anything about metal until I recommended this band... she loves 'em now.)
Of course, if you're not into power metal, this won't really do anything to change your mind; it's typical of its style, and although being qualitatively a notch above other bands in the genre (less overblown, more decent and down to earth, musically awesome), it's not going to convince you that Power Metal is for you. It's not the most revolutionary work. But it's an excellent disc, and I heartily beckon you all to listen to a tale under moon and sun, and run back to your tower to have the black ocean swallow you in a bombast of power metal chilling. I cannot say more than buy this, eargasms galore.