Review Summary: Sonata Arctica's new release may disappoint a few older fans, but in contrast is a very satisfying and enjoyable listen to those who are new to the band and like (very) symphonic and progressive power metal.
This is my first review on this site. Critique is welcome!
I remember learning about Sonata a little while ago, probably about a year or so, through nuclear blast, one of my favorite record labels. I was interested the minute I heard that name. It sounded fresh, creative, and epic. I quickly researched them and gave a few songs off their new record a listen upon finding them on youtube. I was very impressed and decided to purchase the album online. When it finally came, I listened to the whole thing over and over. I really loved it and thought it was some of the best music I've ever heard (believe it or not). I then looked up their other releases and found many other songs by them to be just as amazing, if not more. That's when I became a long time fan of this group.
This album really seems to be drawing a lot of negative controversy, primarily on sites like this, probably seeing as this is a whole new Sonata Arctica, only taking a few influences from their old style and melding it with their new slower and more symphonic song structures. To many people, it may seem like an unwanted change to become more accessible and (dare-I-say) mainstream, and therefore it sounds old and tired to them. That and many other fans of the technicality and speed of their earlier work will be turned off by the bombastic and cheesy choirs and orchestras and the addition of more harmonic vocals here. However, looking at the album from a different stand-point, I genuinely think that this album is a very enjoyable and uplifting experience.
To start off, the symphony and choir are absolutely superb. They add a really magical element to the music and run adjacent to Henrik's signature icy keyboard sound. The female singers and very good too, and Tony Kakko's vocals are as emotionally charged as ever. Tony also seems to use a huge Queen influence in a few songs, particularly Deathaura, my favorite track off the album, using odd singing patterns and huge multi-track harmonies. Deathaura, which uses a female vocalist as well, shows a huge progressive element that is certainly new to Sonata Arctica. When one spoke of Sonata, they would usually never use "progressive" as an accurate description of them. It's about eight minutes long and features constant tempo changes and mood swings, part of what makes the song so damn enjoyable for me.
This isn't to say that the album doesn't have a few songs that I am not a huge fan of. The Dead Skin is a song that actually does seem a bit rushed and pumped out. Breathing is okay, but it sounds stereotypical in it's execution, as a typical and traditional ballad that you find on almost every power metal out there. As for the Days Of Gray with vocals, I thought that it served as a beautiful album opener and as a great instrumental, but it seems like this extra song was just put in at the last minute to add filler.
Overall though, besides it's slight flaws, this album is a near masterpiece, mixing different styles of melodic metal to make a sound that works. It may disappoint a few older fans, but in contrast is a very satisfying and enjoyable listen to those who are new to the band and like their metal very symphonic and grand-scale. It may not be quite as perfect as their earlier releases, but it comes pretty damn close.