Review Summary: Sonata Arctica hits near-perfection in their debut Ecliptica, and this is a sure must-have for fans of the power metal genre.
Power metal is a genre that I have grown quite fond of. The incorporation of hard rock, metal, classical, and synth appeals my ears more than almost any other genre of music out there, perhaps second to the closely related progressive metal. But after hearing one specific release, my appreciation for power metal turned into an obsession. There was one album that, after multiple listens from beginning to end, I still felt I had to listen to. Every song on this album is now in my 25 most listened to iTunes list, 8 being in the top 10. And this is only in 2 months. Obsession? Yes, and I’m not afraid to admit it. That album is this, Sonata Arctica’s debut “Ecliptica.”
A classic? 5 out of 5? I try not to take this rating lightly, and at first I rated this album a 4 the day I got it. That was after 1 listen. After 5 or 6 listens I had each individual song rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars (you guys know how the iTunes song rating system works). When considering reviewing this, I couldn’t see how I could rate this anything lower than a 5, because I unknowingly rated every song a 5/5 besides one. I thought to myself that I was praising this album too much, and tried to single out a few songs I’d switch down to a 4. I couldn’t – this was the first time I had encountered such a problem where the album was just too good. I had come to accept the fact that I had indeed hit the perfect album.
Here’s why the album is a true classic:
Let’s start with Tony Kakko – the most influential and eclectic member of the band. I’m convinced Tony Kakko has the perfect power metal voice. For those who do not know Sonata Arctica, they sing and do not scream. His range is incredible, and is a highlight of this album. It’s impossible to pinpoint his perfect vocal song, because they’re amazing on each song. And by amazing, I mean significantly better than almost every other vocalist out there (yes, he even beats out ZP Theart). Tony does not only sing, but plays keyboards, which are so widely used in this album. Everything from piano intros to square leads, spine-tingling arpeggios to single-note voice accompaniment – it’s all there. Intros to songs like Kingdom for a Heart
, as well as his darker performance on 8th Commandment
let you know that this man is no musical amateur.
This is such a main component in the part of Ecliptica
being classic. It’s tough for a band to show their true talent and songwriting ability without running into some lack of diversity. Sonata Arctica has no problem with this - they have such a wide range of musical influence and execute their undeniable talents to their fullest extent. This is one album where you won’t hear recycled riffs in different songs or any of that “wankery” (as many call it). Here’s what you will hear on Ecliptica:
- Medieval – UnOpened
- Emotional (not emo!) – Replica, Letter to Dana
- Classical – Fullmoon, UnOpened
- Epic – Destruction Preventer, Blank File
- Ballad – My Land, Letter to Dana
- Shred/Thrash – Picturing the Past, 8th Commandment
- Role Playing Game? – Kingdom for a Heart, UnOpened
Those are just the obvious types of music you hear on Ecliptica.
I’m really not sure what it is – these Scandinavian bands seem to have the best influence on their music. Is it the booze? The depression? The 20 hours of darkness in the winter? The weed?
Who cares, whatever the hell it is that drives this enrapturing presence into this music sure does work.
They can write!
Sonata Arctica has mastered the art of writing in the two ways that are only needed in music: Songs
We are not dealing with drunken Finns wanking on the guitar and smacking the drums. Neither are we dealing with a band that tells the same story over and over about the epic feel of battle (don’t get me wrong, I love Dragonforce!). Sonata Arctica is composed of mature adults who know how to write music. The flutes in Letter to Dana,
though they have a short time in the spotlight, are a key element to the feeling of the song. There is never a second wasted in a solo, as each individual note has a meaning and is valued as part of the formula to a great song. Their musical prowess is exercised in songs like Blank File
and 8th Commandment,
where the fast riffing of the guitar, rapid drums, spine-tingling keyboards, and epic vocals are used to the fullest extent possible. Many people have a difficult time saying anything while listening to Sonata Arctica because their jaw is usually dropped.
As for the lyrics,
I was literally shocked at how some guys from the northern edge of the world can write about such amazing topics with such intellect and emotion. If you ever listen to anything from this album, I beg you to read the lyrics at least once for a few songs along with listening to them. Letter to Dana
are very emotional, each capturing an equal sense of beauty and mourning. Destruction Preventer
deals with the controversial topic of world annihilation. Blank File wins the prize, however. It’s hard to write an entire song about the lack of personal security and the concept of your life being a “file” that is ever-monitored by a higher power (the government, duh). Sonata Arctica is not an anarchist band, rather they maturely uncover truths everyone finds in life, and this is reflected strongly in their songwriting.
So this really is a perfect album?
Not quite – as mentioned in the second paragraph, one song is not worth a 5/5. That song, weighing in at a grand total of 4 stars out of 5, is… Picturing the Past
. In my opinion, it’s an above-average power metal song, and power metal’s above-average is below-average on this album. However, I cannot say that the dynamics found in the rest of the songs are anything less than phenomenal and exercised with, well… perfection (to say the least).
Also, don’t let Stratovarius fanboys fool you with their claim that Sonata Arctica is a Stratovarius rip-off. There is an influence, yes, but there are no stolen riffs or copied concepts for songs or anything of that nature. Everything written is purely original. (I try not to let my personal bias get in the way, but I like Sonata Arctica much more anyway).
Too hard to say. What is
my favorite track? Perhaps UnOpened,
with its medieval sense to it. Or maybe My Land,
the quintessence of the perfect power metal ballad (and undeniably Sonata Arctica’s most famous song). I’ve always had a knack for Blank File
as well… but to label one song over another is such injustice, as they are all too great. Each song deserves a spot here, but that would defeat the purpose of this section, as none “standout” amongst the rest.
Not everyone’s going to think this is a classic album. But if you listen to a song off of this, I guarantee you that you will enjoy it. If you don’t find this appealing – if you don’t enjoy the epic riffing and melodic keyboards – if your hairs don’t stand on a few tracks and if your adrenaline doesn’t start rushing… then see a doctor, because that’s what music is supposed to do for you, and this is it. This is as close to perfect music as you can get, my friend.
This is power metal