Review Summary: Blending the old with the new with satisfying results.The Ninth Hour
is the ninth full-length album by the progressive power metal band Sonata Arctica. Clocking in at just over an hour long, this album continues to see the band fuse their speedy metal roots with their more melodic, progressive sound that they developed post Reckoning Night
. It is much more than a commendable effort that is sure to please both kinds of their fan base.
Stylistically The Ninth Hour
attempts to blend prior efforts such as The Days of Grays
and Reckoning Night
with surprising success. Tracks like “Rise A Night” open up with blistering a riff and thrashy drums hearkening back to the bands speedy roots while tracks like “Life” are more melodically driven. No one in Sonata Arctica gives a bad performance even if they fail to break new ground. The drumming keeps a driving pace throughout the album without having to rely on over the top fills, the bass lines alternate between staccato pulsing and chugging riffs, and guitar and keyboards work in tandem with vocalist Tony Kakko to create lush melodies and enhance each other’s fitting solos throughout the album. One of the highlights is the epic “White Pearl, Black Oceans, Pt. II”. Despite its 10 minute run time, the song manages to feel pleasantly short due to the parabolic arrangement of the song. Listeners are introduced to oceanic ambiance before the band delivers a beautiful symphonic arrangement until Kakko arrives with soothing verses. Sonata then proceeds with wave like crescendos before climaxing with energetic guitar and keyboard solos, before a diminuendo finally fades away leaving listeners with ambiance once again. The Ninth Hour
is not Sonata Arctica at their most ambitious, but it certainly plays toward their strengths.
Lyrically, Sonata Arctica step away from the quirky themes of Pariah’s Child
; while quirkiness is still present, make no mistake, the band uses them to speak of more serious concepts. “We Are What We Are” for example makes a plea to take care of the environment, unfortunately the echoing “but we are what we are” in the chorus can get irritating. “Fairytale” takes some jabs at a certain toupee sporting billionaire in an upcoming election somewhere, while “Life” makes the case to simply enjoy life. That may sound dull or generic but rest assured that the quality of the lyrics remains on par with everything else the band has done in recent years, with a healthy dose of complimentary cheese, of course.
“Life is better alive
It is a dumb thing to say
But the fact won’t wane away
Sing with someone today
When your team makes a game-winning goal
Get ready to sing”
The biggest issue with The Ninth Hour
comes from its production. It seems to try to blend everything together in order of creating richer harmonies; however, climatic moments becoming nearly impossible to achieve if no one steps into the spotlight. Vocalist Tony Kakko has almost always been at center of the band’s music; and for good reason, his theatrical voice has never failed to deliver over the top enthusiasm and energy that made predecessors so enjoyable. But this time around his voice is much more concealed in the mixing. The guitar and keyboard solos are often softened in the mixing as well; they sound as if they are trying to blend in with the rest of the song rather than steal the show, which detracts the whole point of a “solo” in the first place. Whether the Sonata intentionally wanted to blanket these moments so they could fit in with the more lush melodies is all up for debate but it is equally frustrating when these should be standout moments fall flat because they weren’t delivered with the punch that they need.
Overall, despite not breaking from any mold musically, The Ninth Hour
is certainly a fitting contribution to the band’s discography spanning 17 years. Sonata Arctica’s tackling of more serious topics comes at a fitting time and manages to convey a strong message without sounding obnoxious at the risk of alienating fans. The stylistic blending of albums like Unia
and Reckoning Night
will certainly please their newer fans and their older ones simultaneously as it offers material both can enjoy.