Review Summary: Ecliptica is a breathe of fresh air in the congested world of Power Metal.
Power Metal. You have to admire the idea of a bunch of grown men playing really fast metal music, often while singing about fictional worlds and battles. To some Power Metal is and always has been somewhat of a cliche genre, filled with overachieving mediocrity. Even though it is one of my favorite genres of music, I do have to admit there are a fair amount of ridiculous bands that do nothing to further the music; Yes, I'm looking at you Dragonforce.
Anyways, other than Iron Maiden and Dragonforce many people haven't really delved into Power Metal like some of us music officianados. I assure you, it's more than just rhyming fire with desire, and songs about fantastic battles and unicorns. There are hundreds of very talented Power Metal Bands, just waiting to be enjoyed, there are also a lot that time cannot forget fast enough. Trust me, in the years I've spend listening to Metal I have heard some truly horrible bands, especially in the Power Metal genre. This being said, every so often you discover (or re-discover) a diamond in the rough, for me such an event happened with the band Sonata Arctica.
Sonata Arctica was formed in 1996, in Kemi, Finland. Their original band name was (and I kid you not) Tricky Beans, they started out playing Hard Rock music, and shifted towards Power Metal and changed their name once they began to gain popularity. In 1999 Sonata Arctica released their debut album, Ecliptica. Several years later (2008) the original label, re-released the album, with two additional songs; "Mary-Lou" and "Letter to Dana (Return to Sender)". For the sake of knowing it, I am basing my review off the re-release. Why? Mostly because the song "Mary-Lou" is phenomenal, and probably my second favorite Sonata Arctica song. Anyways, let's get down to the music.
Sonata Arctica - Ecliptica
1. Blank File
Know what you like and know what you yearn
but they don't know a thing about me
I'm not that easy, I'm blank file in their memory
This song immediately kicks in with a drum beat and leads straight into an intense set of guitar riffs and the first glimpse at Tony Kakko's epic-as-all-hell vocals. The song plays like most Power Metal songs, put a lot of emphasis on the chorus, this is what always made Power Metal so fun to listen to for me. The chorus' were always catchy and fun to song along to (although if you can sing as well as Mr. Kakko, you belong in a studio, not on SputnikMusic). I do love this song a lot, but as with most Power Metal songs it follows a basic outline of; Chorus-Chorus-Guitar Solo-Chorus. In terms of the song's message, It's completely up to interpretation. If I had to take a stab at it, I'd say it's a song dedicated to individuality, or a lack there of. 5/5
2. My Land
I am here to claim my land
you can't keep me away, forever
"My Land" starts out quite a bit slower than "Blank File," with some mellow keyboard work and builds up towards a wave of vocal "oh's". I really like this song, mostly because it alternates between singing styles quite interestingly. It's not the typical singing into an epically screamed chorus. The other thing is that it's almost opposite "Blank File" in terms of song layout. The guitar solo is about 1/3 of the way into the song, and after that the song becomes increasingly catchy. About 2/3 of the way through the song it breaks down into what I can only describe as a poetic reading to what sounds like someone playing glasses of water, quickly leading into a full on instrumental onslaught accompanied by some higher-pitched vocals. The song then resumes its original style and finishes up. 5/5
3. 8th Commandment
Starting with an onslaught of guitar, the third track on the album is somewhat of a letdown for me. Not entirely sure what it is that bothers me about this song, but it just doesn't flow as nicely as the other songs. It feel rigidly put together, and monotonous. Needless to say the song is entirely forgettable and is hardly a suggested track. 2.5/5
Nothing's what it seems to be,
I'm a replica, I'm a replica
Empty shell inside of me
I'm not myself, I'm a replica of me...
Other than the obviously cheesy chorus, I do in fact like this song. It has very full sound and the vocals are fantastic. He manages to vary up the singing and hits a wide variety of pitches and sings in multiple styles that help convey the emotion of the song very well. The song gets very strange about three minutes in when it becomes very base-heavy and what if I'm not mistaken is a synth-driven bit (wtf 80's?). Other than this the song comes together nicely. It has to be noted that this is a great example of Tony Kakko's ability as a vocalist. 5/5
5. Kingdom For a Heart
I'd give - a kingdom
For one more day as a king of your world
I'd give a kingdom, for (just) one more day
The fifth track begins as a very stereotypical Power Metal song, and the sound doesn't differ very much from that mindset. The vocals are great, and the general feel of the song is pretty good, but the super-cliche sound is inescapable. The song to be honest sounds like a Dragonforce song, which some may enjoy, but I personally wouldn't suggest them as the shining example of Power Metal, considering there are bands (such as Sonata Arctica!) that are much better. Anyways, the song does something very interesting about two and a half minutes in where they incorporate a breakdown as well as some vocal effects for a quite interesting little change of pace. Thematically I'd say it's somewhat of fast-paced love song, a very cheesy one. Overall the song is still good, just not great. 4/5
6. Full Moon
The introductory part of the song is somewhat, uninspiring, but once the chorus picks up the first time and the song actually starts, it's really good. The song is driven by a very predominant guitar riff, and some very nice vocals. It's also the first song on the album to heavily incorporate backup vocals into the mix. I've raved about Tony Kakko being the end-all vocalist enough to make any reader vomit, but he's just that good, and it sounds as though he did the back-up vocals and mixed them in, but when listening to some live recordings (the album Songs of Silence) it appears the band doesn't bother trying to fill in for him while performing the song outside of the studio. I suppose this is more of a side note for people interested enough to see the band live, but hey, I'm keen on details. Overall the song is presumably about a werewolf, or some similar creature that was initially a man running from danger. 4/5
7. Letter To Dana
My eyes might have betrayed me, but I have seen
Your picture on the cover of a filthy magazine
And I think my heart just cannot handle that
Dana, my darling, would be so bad.
A lot of people I have talked to have told me this is their favorite Sonata Arctica song, and it's an understandable choice. The song is quite simply excellent. Everything from the vocals, to the musical progression, to the theme of the song all comes together perfectly. Everything is performed with what feels like a lot of emotion as well as a ton of energy. I suppose to truly enjoy the song you'd have to hear it ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDGErlXgfZs ); it's exceptional, not only as a Power Metal song, but as a musical experience. 5/5
Another song that opens up with a flurry of keyboard, it leads quickly into heavy guitar riffs. The song feels a lot faster than the previous songs, I think because not only are they playing fast, but the vocals seem rushed more than they had been on any other track. The song is hardly one of my favorites, but I suppose it's still quite nice. It's a great track to just jam to, and that's really all I can say about it, other than that it has a lot of keyboard and quite a lengthy solo-fest thrown in the middle. 3.75/5
9. Picturing The Past
In his mind, oh so jaded, he's gone too far behind
Of all the visions seen, this one makes him scream
This song is actually quite similar to "Unopened" in terms of the feel of the song. It feels very hastily done and I must say the lyrics hinder on atrocious. This song is probably my least favorite on the album and it seems to just have been thrown in there to increase the track count. 2/5
10. Destruction Preventer
Heat in the center, destruction preventer
If you release one, you release 'em all
You can't defend Her, kneel down and surrender
Your end is at hand, if they blow
Just when things seemed to be going downhill too fast to recover, the album begins its finale. The original release of the album had this as its final track, and it is quite an exciting track to finish up with, but thanks to re-releases and the way they work we have 2 more great tracks to cover! Anyways, this song has all the energy and emotion of the first few tracks, and seems a bit more experimental in terms of song structure, almost as if they just meshed a bunch of ideas together, and the result is amazing. The song is also significantly longer than the other tracks on the album clocking in at 7:45. 5/5
Only a child, reckless and wild, needs to come
home again. He promised the moon but won't marry you.
Nothing to do, eating for two, he's goin' out with
someone new. Sunshine or rain, it's all the same, life isn't gray
Probably my favorite song by Sonata Arctica (Peacemaker is a close second). The song is interesting because it isn't musically diverse, it's just fun to listen to, and sounds great. It's basically a song telling the story of a young girl that runs away from home with a teenage lover who impregnates her, then leaves her and starts dating other women. Not many people can explain what makes a song their favorite without sounding silly (trust me, I tried). The chorus of this song is extremely catchy and you'd be crazy to not start singing along to it. 5/5
12. Letter To Dana (Return To Sender)
Looking at the title of this track you may think it's a follow up to the song "Letter To Dana". It's actually more of a re-imagining of the song, or at least a different approach to the song. Depending on your musical taste you may prefer this version, but I think the original is much better. This version is essentially more effect-driven, and sounds as though it uses more classical instruments in place of their electric counterparts. 4/5
Letter To Dana
Additional Suggested Tracks:
Paid In Full
In Black And White
Fade To Black