Sonata Arctica
The Ninth Hour


2.5
average

Review

by Xenorazr CONTRIBUTOR (115 Reviews)
March 27th, 2018 | 15 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Merry tale.

Navigating Sonata Arctica’s discography is similar to entering a once-shadowy winter wonderland that became increasingly luminous over time. Their music can be classified as saccharine and glossy, contrasted by an undercurrent of dark imagery with far more bark than bite. This was particularly so on Winterheart’s Guild and Reckoning Night, two albums that uprooted much of the band’s early pageant in favor of a slightly more nightmarish embrace. Afterwards, however, a light began to shimmer through the wilderness; not the kind that allows life to flourish, but one that seems to erode what was once intriguing, even if fleetingly so. The wonderland began to shift, with curious twists and turns being replaced by sparkly spectacles, stinging the senses with an increased emphasis on the aforementioned gloss. Come the re-release of Ecliptica, the cycle had come full circle, exposing the band’s debut like a series of paintings, freshly updated with high brightness, low contrast and oversaturation. Furthermore, Sonata Arctica’s most recent album, The Ninth Hour, validates this circle with festoons aplenty.

It’s easy to insist that Sonata Arctica shouldn’t be taken too seriously, considering their symphonic and power metal roots, two genres known for their overtly fantastical elements. To that end, The Ninth Hour is no less than what we can expect. Keyboards joyously flicker about the entire album, drizzling generous heaps of syrup over everything else in the mix, with Tony Kakko’s vocals being one of the few flavors to hold its own. On the off chance that a song doesn’t push for some sort of sugary dominance, we find ourselves face-to-face with an album that’s markedly light on vigor. Take the aptly named “Fairytale” for example, which attempts to rekindle the band’s older-burning fires. The direction is sound enough--the distracting “hip hip hooray” notwithstanding, with the brief transition leading into the solo being rather pleasing. However, even in highlights such as this, the mixing feels off, as if reluctant to make the guitars cut any deeper than a butter knife. What we’re left with is something closer to The Days of Grays than it is to Reckoning Night. So much effort has been put into making the album sound as silky smooth as possible that it’s easy to forget this is supposed to be a metal album. The fact a song titled “Closer to an Animal” opens the album, only to reveal itself as a tame and docile moment, is tellingly ironic. Even when the tempo finally begins to pick up, one can’t help but discern an acute sense of emptiness. After all, when “Rise a Night,” one of the album’s more lively tracks, closes with the band singing the title in a collective, mumbling whimper, how enthusiastic can we expect the listener to be"

The cherry on top which encapsulates The Ninth Hour is its penultimate track, a sequel to “White Pearl, Black Oceans” from Reckoning Night. Sonata Arctica have toyed with serializing songs between albums before, with the blunderful “Wildfire” sequels on Stones Grow Her Name being the previous example. “White Pearl…Pt. 2” elects for a slow build direction, doing what it can to showcase the keyboards, production-related touches and, to a lesser extent, Tony Kakko. What makes the song such a disappointment isn’t that it sounds bad (it honestly doesn’t), but that the presence of charisma and engagement from the band is constantly in question. Sonata Arctica are usually at their best when they make their music as energetic as possible, something that even Stones Grow Her Name achieved with its moments of guilty pleasure. And while “White Pearl…Pt. 2” does eventually pick up, what catharsis does exist is woefully minimal. Rather than taking a dynamic power play and running with it, both the song and album feel more content to kick back and merely stretch the limbs. The end result is an album avoids unbearable pitfalls as much as it does full-fledged highlights. It’s the definition of a neutral game, a band napping on autopilot.



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user ratings (62)
Chart.
3
good
other reviews of this album
dfevil085 (3.5)
Blending the old with the new with satisfying results....



Comments:Add a Comment 
Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
March 27th 2018


1318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Felt I had to review something, and seeing as I did the band's discography until this one, figured what the heck.

RikRoach7
March 27th 2018


3391 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"It’s easy to insist that Sonata Arctica shouldn’t be taken too seriously, considering their symphonic and power metal roots, two genres known for their overtly fantastical elements."

I don't like how this sentence seems to imply that things that have fantastical elements should not be taken seriously.



But agreed on the rating and the overall sentiment of the review!

Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
March 27th 2018


1318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

It's possible to, just incredibly rare and unlikely.

RikRoach7
March 27th 2018


3391 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Eh, no, it's definitely not rare. A fair amount of what's considered literary classics and has been taken seriously by literary scholars for centuries has fantastical elements. I don't see how the inclusion of them would have any influence on how serious a piece of art is to be taken. Power and symphonic metal are often gimmicky nonsense, but definitely not mainly for that reason.

Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
March 27th 2018


1318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

I was referring specifically to power and symphonic metal. If we're including literature and other fictional works then that changes things. Even the Meeseeks and Destroy episode from a Rick and Morty plays with the notion that fantasies are all dreamy and whimsical.

RikRoach7
March 27th 2018


3391 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I never watched Rick and Morty but I know enough of it to know that it would deconstruct itself if it were to approve of that notion. But I know that it's a common mindset, I just think it's also a dumb one. Of course, at the end of the day, most art is not to be taken seriously, but that doesn't depend on superficial things like that. People are missing out on so much because of prejudices like that.



On another note, this album has so much goofy stuff, it's hard to keep track of. Like the chorus lyrics of "Life", the chorus of "Faaaaairytale" or the whole of "Fly Navigate Communicate" (that whole track is just "huh??"). Just looking at the tracklist and remembering some of the songs makes me scratch my head.

dfevil085
March 27th 2018


1142 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I guess I enjoyed this record a lot more than you did, but I do agree this is playing a lot safer than some of their other stuff.

Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
March 27th 2018


1318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

@Roach: It doesn't, it rips the notion down until a grim picture that's very similar to our world is left. I do think part of it comes down to people needing to have a certain suspension of disbelief in order to fully appreciate stuff like sci-fi and fantasy, and even then, some will only see the material as fun and pretty, rather than looking further into the lore, themes and philosophies. Of course, realizing material that deep within one album is no easy feat, but it's certainly possible; I consider The Black Halo to be one of power metal's ultimate, crowning achievements.



On top of that, goofy music isn't exactly foreign to SA. But here it's so bland and forgettable, I picked up on barely any memorable moments, even from a simplistically fun standpoint. It's such a contrast to albums like Silence and Reckoning Night, where the band felt committed to the material, and it showed.



@dfevil: It's too bland for me to fully enjoy, especially given how diverse Pariah's Child was.

It makes this album all the more frustrating and disappointing. That said, I can see why people would enjoy this album. If I were to compare SA's discography to a collection of drinks, this is like a Smirnoff Ice in that it's sweet, but I much prefer stuff like Reckoning Night (Cuba Libre) and Silence (Mojito), stuff that offers more kick.

dfevil085
March 28th 2018


1142 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I can see that, especially considering Pariah's Child is my favorite by these guys by far.



Also apple music took down most of their discog D:

Sabrutin
March 29th 2018


5496 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

This album is Sonata Arctica trying to exit from a ~10 years long identity crisis by blending everything together. I think it's actually not that bad of an attempt. Problem is, throughout 65 minutes the results aren't always exciting enough. Closer to an Animal for example is not devoid of hooks ("I think we are closer..." works with me) but lacks spark, especially as an opener. However there are a few great songs that I will consider "minor SA classics" from now on. For example, Till Death's Done Us Apart, Fairytale and Rise a Night.



Pariah's Child has a slight edge thanks to stronger album consistency but I think of them as about on the same level, I would definitely return more to a trimmed version of Ninth Hour (though I'd miss Larger than Life a lot). They are for sure a stylistic resurgence and both albums would shine much brighter if all their layers were given air to breathe clearly. Both are also their best offerings since Reckoning Night for me. I'm honestly optimistic and eager to see if they can finally cook another great album.



And tweak the setlists maybe because in 2016 that show didn't bite nearly as much as I wanted to. They did play Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited though which was killer

Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2018


1318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

I knew I could count on Sab showing up. :D



My problem with the album basically boils down to an absence of that spark, which again, I blame pretty heavily on the mixing. Like the opening to Rise a Night, that should be a moment that gets the blood pumping in a way like Weballergy and Ain't Your Fairytale. Instead, I find myself thinking "man, this sounds boring" because it sounds so dulled and drowned out. This leaves the album sounding so much more flat from song-to-song than it should. At the very least Pariah's Child was able to showcase a high amount of variety and creativity without feeling like it was choked by overproduction.



Better versions of the songs on this album have to exist somewhere, and I for one would be in favor of this getting a reverse-Ecliptica treatment some time in the future. I know it'll never happen, but I'd still like to put it out there.



Was that the tour with Xandria (and Delain IIRC)? I forgot if they played that song when I saw them. I wonder how tracks from this would sound live, can't be any less enchanting than they already are.

Sabrutin
March 30th 2018


5496 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Got to keep the SA boards alive, man.



Better versions of the songs exist for sure but the label published the worst ones.



By the way look up the Japanese bonus track The Elephant, worth a shot.



The opening act was Twilight Force if I'm not mistaken

Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
March 30th 2018


1318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Okay, The Elephant is definitely what the rest of the album should have sounded like. It feels beefier, like the band are carrying some substance.

dfevil085
March 31st 2018


1142 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ahh I would kill to see TF and SA together.

Sabrutin
March 31st 2018


5496 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

I got to see TF twice. Admittedly not by my choice, but now that they have parted ways with the singer I guess those shows hold more value. Oh I don't hate that band or anything, they were fun live, but their studio stuff bores me to death and yes modern power metal production is a reason.



On other news, it's about time for me to spin Pariah's Child again



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