Released 1999 on Spinefarm records.
Tony Kakko - Vocals, keyboards
Jani Liimatainen - Guitars
Tommy Portimo - Drums
Janne Kivilahti - Bass
Raisa Aine - Flute on track 7.
Power metal is pretty much a genre you either really like, or really hate. If you fall into the latter category, Sonata Arctica's debut album will do nothing to change your mind - it more or less follows the Stratovarius power metal blueprint, meaning the album is full of clean, crisp guitars, uplifting melodies and reasonably high-pitched (and often harmonised) vocals singing fluff lyrics.
The vocals are top notch, probably my favourite in the genre. Tony, despite his unfortunate surname, is adept at switching from regular singing to falsetto in the blink of an eye (see My Land
, one of the album's stand-out tracks), and as far as I can tell never falters throughout the album. His voice is probably my favourite aspect of the whole thing, especially on the slower tracks (Replica
and Letter to Dana
, another two of the higher-placed songs) where his Finnish accent sounds really good, and is fun to imitate whilst singing along (or trying to, anyway). The lyrics don't live up to the promise of the vocals, but what do you expect from power metal? They fit the songs on the album really well, so they're good enough.
Of the instruments, the emphasis seems to be very much on the guitars and keyboards. Like I said above, the guitars are clean and crisp, and the high quality of production throughout the album spotlights that. Their level of technicality isn't huge, but they're skilled enough, and the solos are suitably fast and widdly, which can only be good. The keyboards are great. They're not hugely cheesy (though to be honest, I wouldn't mind if they were), and they're used enough to have a presence, but not so much or so prominently that you just hate keyboards by the end - another thing Tony has done well on the album.
The other instruments - bass and drums - are solid and competent, and provide a good foundation for the other, more striking elements. The flute on Letter to Dana
isn't used much, just in the intro and towards the end, but it's a nice touch to one of the most downcast songs.
The album basically has two speeds - fast, and slow(er). That's fair enough, but Sonata never seem to use both within the same song; if a track starts off at a pace, it'll stay fast, and similarly, if it starts off at a slower speed, slower it will remain (with the possible exception of Destruction Preventer
, but that suffers from being overlong anyway).
As for negative points, well, the resemblance the band bears to Stratovarius is so great that they are often accused of being essentially a cookie-cutter Stratovarius clone. The main argument I have against this point is that, based on what I've heard, I don't like Stratovarius, whereas I really enjoy Sonata Arctica. However, I can't really deny that, at least here, they are doing nothing new - they're just doing it well.
And that's what it comes down to for ratings. If you're already well-versed in power metal, then Ecliptica
offers nothing more than just another solid album, though it'd probably make a good starter. Personally, I'd rate it a 4/5, or maybe even slightly more, but in the grand scheme of things I think a 3/5 serves better.
Kingdom For a Heart
Letter to Dana (probably my favourite on the album, despite being a slower one).