Review Summary: Maturation through repression.
Moving though Sonata Arctica's discography after Silence
is an interesting experience. The band's sophomoric effort worked so effectively, it began to feel like a spoiling affair. In the span of just two albums, the Finnish act found an outfit of comfort and appeal. It was as if the turn of the century brought the fluke of a metal band immediately reaching their peak. Of course, anyone acquainted with Sonata Arctica's history knows this isn't necessarily the case. But at the time, listener's couldn't be blamed if they held some degree of skepticism heading into Winterheart's Guild
. Truth be told, such doubts wouldn't have been completely unfounded, either.
sees Sonata Arctica separate a bit from their grandiose side and gravitate towards a bleaker shade, evidenced most prominently on "Gravenimage." A track like this would normally escalate on either Silence
, but here it turns to wallowing. That's not to say the grand, cheesy qualities characteristic of Sonata Arctica and their respective genre(s) were abandoned, they were just present without drawing as much attention. One of the few outright flamboyant moments is a comical shift in "Champagne Bath," turning it from a track of promise to a moment of disconcertment. If only this bridge had been used on "The Misery" or "Broken," where the damage would've been easier to ignore. Otherwise, Winterheart's Guild
offers few moments of surprise.
Curiously missing from this particular entry is a batch of pulse-pounding tracks, similar in vein to "Blank File," "Weballergy" and "Black Sheep." Remove "Champagne Bath" and the remaining material would be consistent enough to almost sound monotone. Despite Winterheart's Guild
's lack of exuberance, it managed to match (even succeed) its predecessors in one area: stylistic resolve. Sonata Arctica strived for a more deliberate sound, swapping Silence
's whim for method. A few moments aside, this was, at the time, the band's most composed album. Opener "Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited" paints a representative picture of the entire album, showing that the band do have some grasp of restraint. It's a double-edge sword, since more atmosphere means less excitement. There's less of that instant-satisfaction vibe Silence
bathed itself in, which means Winterheart's Guild
can benefit from repeat listenings. At that point it begins to feel like settling into a new home as a child; you're not so certain of the shift in territory, but in time, you become acquainted and learn to accept the change in both structure and color.
Sonata Arctica altered their approach on Winterheart's Guild
just enough to be distinguishable from its predecessors, but not to the point of straying from their roots. Ecliptica
made them look like a standard bouquet, while Silence
allowed them to rise with sharp hues aplenty. Winterheart's Guild
, by comparison, is less florally inclined. It's content with resting in the power metal garden as a slight variation from its siblings, one that will fascinate some and disinterest others.