Review Summary: Self-defining and genre-defying, Reckoning Night sees Sonata Arctica progress in a logical direction and nearly recapture Silence's excellence.
Less time doesn't necessarily mean less quality. Some bands reach points where they promptly release new material within two years of each other. In Sonata Arctica's case, they brought a reckoning merely 19 months afterWinterheart's Guild
. Before then, these Finlanders built themselves around a mostly melodic sound. Said aspect is still present on Reckoning Night
, but it's been matched by a newfound aggression, giving this particular chapter in Sonata Arctica's catalogue a definitive edge.
Whether you dive right in with "Misplaced" or stumble upon the clear-cut "White Pearl, Black Oceans," chances are you'll get a song that demonstrates precisely how things have been tweaked. For most metal bands--especially power metal--this applies-to-all concept is a given. But when coming from a band who previously stuck to a relatively routine sound, you'd expect most changes to be reserved for one or two tracks. Not so much the case with Reckoning Night
; the stakes are raised for the better part of the album's runtime. The guitars, for instance, are often more thrash than they are power. Even the trademark keyboards sound different. Rather than strictly aiming for epic, serene or upbeat melodies, Reckoning Night
strikes darkly, complemented by a tone that leans towards being comically morbid. And though that root word (comic) tends to be a detrimental quality of power metal, here the realization laughs dead in the face of such a concept.
This sort of nature is carried out all the more by Reckoning Night
's lyrics. Although Sonata Arctica have always been upper class songwriters compared to their peers, this is where their words began taking center stage. The return of Nik Van-Eckmann is certainly a factor in this, making his eerie presence distinct before "Wildfire" truly begins. What's clear when reading Sonata Arctica's lyrics is that time and effort was wisely spent. Not only is there more content than you'd find in most epic-length tracks, but every line is written with a sense of prowess. Subject matter turns melancholic on "Shamandalie," one of the group's more effective ballads, as well as the catchy, intoxicating "My Selene." However, most of the themes are calculated and of a twisted nature, such as the revenge depicted on "Don't Say a Word" and "Wildfire," two of the album's many highlights.
Singling out Reckoning Night
's less impressive moments is easier than narrowing down standout tracks. The only real slumps are "Blinded No More" and "The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Real Puppet." With "Blinded No More," there's hardly a compelling bit to find, much less past the first minute. It doesn't help that it follows the comparatively bombastic "Misplaced," either. As for "The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Real Puppet," it does a marginally better job at maintaining the listener's attention, if only thanks to a more prominent use of whimsical keyboards. Thankfully, the surrounding tracks are far more engaging, demonstrating that the darker direction initiated on Winterheart's Guild
wasn't a blind move. The music instead avoids sounding overwrought, as it might have if the band had maintained their admittedly extravagant style from Silence
isn't quite the masterpiece some have labeled it as. That said, it gets damn close to clenching such an honor. Sonata Arctica had finally secured their stake as a force to watch out for, taking power metal basics and modifying them with various touches. The final product is a solid, competent emulation of subgenres, offering something for nearly all metal fans. And if you like your power metal with a darker, thrashier edge, then there's no reason to put this album off any longer.