Review Summary: Unia brings Sonata Arctica further away from their power metal roots and closer to a dark, melodic sound.
Stylistic changes can work for some bands, and can ruin others. Katatonia makes music now that is vastly different from their earlier sound, and much better to boot. On the other side, we have Celtic Frost, a thrash metal band that made a horrible mistake with their album Cold Lake, generally regarded as one of the worst things ever to happen to metal. The double edged sword swings widely, my friends.
Sonata Arctica were one of the frontrunners of the Finnish power metal scene. Possessing a style similar to that of the well respected band Stratovarius (except Sonata Arctica actually knows how to write music), they took the world by storm 8 years ago with their fast, furious, and of course cheesy brand of power metal complete with finger flying solos and high pitched vocals.
2004 saw the band doing something different with their sound. While Reckoning Night still possessed quite a bit of their trademark power metal sound, it was a considerably darker outing than anything the band had previously released. The music was heavier, tempos were slower, and the lyrics were downright disturbing in places. Nevertheless, the album merited great success and was hailed as one of the bands best.
With the release of Unia, Sonata Arctica have done away with the power metal label completely. While there are still trace elements of it to be found, Unia is just too slow and dark to be considered power metal anymore. In fact, Sonata Arctica are ploughing through musical fields that are shared only with Evergrey. The music could be termed like Evergrey’s label of “dark melodic metal”. However, Evergrey chose to orient themselves more with the progressive side of metal, while Sonata Arctica still have more power metal in their sound.
Even though the band has been trying to tone down the cheese level a little bit, it’s still hard for them to break out of it. Whereas Evergrey have truly made themselves completely dark without having anything that could be considered cheesy, Sonata Arctica still write music that, intentional or not, retains a bit of cheese. Though much less so than on their earlier albums, the choir parts that are employed are completely over the top and overdramatic, and some melodies that are used still have cheese, in that 70s synth pop way. Thankfully, those are kept to a minimum.
However, Unia is a bold new outing for the band. The 7 strings are used to their full potential, and the music is DARK. Much darker than anything that was on Reckoning Night. Tracks like It Won’t Fade
don’t even sound like trademark Sonata Arctica anymore. With its heavy Bb chugging power chords and melancholic vocal lines, a new facet of Sonata Arctica’s sound is revealed.
A few things that have to be mentioned: The amount of synth work on this album is freaking RIDICULOUS. Synth layering often appears in groups of four, and there are no fewer than 2 synth lines throughout a vast majority of the album. Henrik’s job in the band was more understated in their earlier albums; here, on the other hand, he is put front and center, often carrying many of the melody lines. Paid In Full showcases just how much he means to the band, with beautiful piano lines that weave in and out of music, taking control and fading when needed. On My Dream’s But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare
, synth strings are pressed into action and add tremendously to the feel of the music.
Also, Marko (the bassist) has many more interesting lines as well. He tended to just play root notes on their earlier albums like a good power metal bassist, and he wasn’t all that easy to hear. Not that it mattered much, with boring basslines. On here, sporting a new beefed up bass tone, Marko plays many more fills and has a greater presence in the music.
And yet, I still didn’t come away with the feeling of satisfaction the other albums provided me. One of the reasons Reckoning Night was such a great album was because the group seemlessly blended traditional power metal with something completely original, and brought out the best of both worlds. In putting the emphasis completely on the dark side of the music, it brings out the shortcomings of the band.
The biggest thing that diminished my love for the album, though, was the feeling that the band wasn’t TOGETHER. I had the privelage of seeing them live, and they possessed a feeling of togetherness that was unparalleled. It shined through on their earlier albums as well; you could tell the band really knew what they were doing. Tracks on Unia sound disjointed at parts, and oftentimes I came away with a sense of many good riffs in a song ruined by bad pacing or some seriously lame synth breaks. It Won’t Fade
is a prime example of this. The song starts off strong (after the boring synth part), creates some of the best riffs on the album, and then goes into something that sounds like it was ripped straight out of F-Zero for SNES. We’re listening to METAL, people, not racing 16 bit spaceships around a track.
The ballads are seriously out of whack too. Reckoning Night contained Shamandalie, probably the band’s best ballad, and one of the best in the power metal scene, and earlier albums contained terrific ballads well (Draw Me, Tallulah, Replica). Here, the ballads range from mediocre to flat out terrible. For The Sake Of Revenge
and Good Enough Is Good Enough
are both decent. Nothing special in the least, but they sound alright. However, the other ballad, Under Your Tree
, just does not work. Even after listening through multiple times and finding appreciation in tracks that I didn’t before (the album does need a lot of grow time. You need to spin it a lot, probably 10 times, as the other review said, to truly appreciate some of the stuff going on), it just didn’t click.
All told, however, Unia still contains some absolutely terrific tracks. Hell, I’d say My Dream’s But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare
is worth the cost of the album alone. Haunting piano lines, dark heavy guitar riffs, and some of the best synth work to ever appear in a metal band all make an appearance in this one to create one of the best songs of Sonata Arctica’s career. The Harvest
is the only track that shows where they started from, and it is appreciated after 8 more midpaced songs. Great neoclassical riffs and double pedal work contribute to this one.
Paid In Full
, the album’s single, appears to be Blinded No More part 2. And seeing as how Blinded No More was one of the better tracks from Reckoning Night, that’s not a bad thing at all. Other highlights include It Won’t Fade
(even with the bad F-Zero break in the middle, the riffs in this one are monsterous), Caleb
, with its awesome piano work and cheesy choirs, and In Black And White
, the album’s opener and the first indication that something changed. From the get-go, we are treated to an entirely different band with multiple vocal lines and ridiculously heavy guitar work.
I have high hopes for Sonata Arctica’s next album. While this one showed promise, there were still a few too many hiccups that usually do occur between albums that transition between styles. True, there are some bad tracks on here, but 99.5% of albums do have bad tracks on them. And the good more than makes up for the bad.
Paid In Full
It Won’t Fade
My Dream’s But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare