Sonata Arctica - The days of grays 3/5

Reviewed: 10-9-09





Tracklist:

1. Everything fades to gray
2. Deathaura
3. The last amazing grays
4. Flag in the ground
5. Breathing
6. Zeroes
7. The dead skin
8. Juliet
9. No dream can heal a broken heart
10. As if the world wasn't ending
11. The truth is out there
12. Everything fades to gray (full version)


There has been a tense, uneasy anticipation surrounding Finnish power metal band Sonata Arctica ever since the release of ‘Unia’ back in 2007. With a noticeable change of sound from their previous releases, the CD was questioned by many and overall was slapped with a “disappointing” tag. With complex slower songs and a hint of progginess thrown about, many wondered where this band was heading to. Now fast forward 2 years and Sonata Arctica have returned for release number 6, entitled ‘The days of grays’, which also features the first CD with new guitarist Elias Viljanen.

I for one, appreciated what ‘Unia’ had to offer, and enjoyed parts of it; but overall I too gave the CD an "above average" rating. I guess many of us were not prepared to hear a different sound and style from one of our favourite power metal bands. So when the tracklist of the CD was announced before anyone hearing the CD, there would have been (I expect) a lot of anxious fans, because it looked like a continuation of the previous release. But as the old saying goes “don’t judge a book by its cover”, or in this case, a CD.

There is no doubt that vocalist and songwriter Tony Kakko is the heart and soul of this band and no one has questioned Kakko’s writing abilities. Sonata Arctica has always be known as one of the most emotional power metal bands around; and Kakko is certainly an emotion person so it is no wonder why he puts so much feeling into his songs, especially the lyrics. On ‘The days of grays’ this is indeed the case, with the CD being the most emotional release by the band to date. The CD can easily be described as a rollercoaster ride of human emotion, quite sporadic and intense; and all entwined together with majestic symphonic passages and epic characteristics. I knew immediately after the first spin of this new CD, that writing the review for it would be difficult.

No, ‘The days of grays’ is not a return to the days of ‘Silence’ or ‘Ecliptica’. That sound and style of Sonata Arctica will never return, and nor should it. All bands progress in the way they want to and they are not expected to go backwards and return to something that may have been successful 10 years ago; no matter how much some die hard fans want them too. The signs of Sonata Arctica’s progression began with ‘Winterheart’s guild’ and has continued to progress with every release since then. I consider ‘The days of grays’ to be similar to ‘Unia’, particularly with the structure; while also similarities can be found from ‘Winterheart’s guild’ and ‘Reckoning night’. Putting all that together, with the addition of epic symphonies; ‘The days of grays’ is very deep and meaningful and has multiple layers of emotion which cannot be summed up after just one listen.

Take the first track after the musical intro for example. “Deathaura”, the 8-minute epic depicts everything that is within this CD. With constant tempo and structure changes, the song itself feels like a rollercoaster ride. With the addition of female vocals (Johanna Kurkela) and bombastic orchestras, the song is very passionate and strong. Things settle down somewhat with the next track, entitled “The last amazing grays”. Despite being relatively straightforward, this is one of the best tracks on the CD with great singing from Kakko, top-notch use of keys and lastly similar in sound to what you’ve heard from the past few releases.

“Flag in the ground” is an uplifting fast tempo track, oozing emotion from the pen and paper of one Tony Kakko. Lyrics depicting a young family in which the man must travel to another country where he works hard to create their new life, leaving his love and child behind stirs up much feeling. Again straightforward, the track is classic Sonata Arctica from their ‘Winterheart’s guild’ era. “Zeroes” is indeed an interesting track, quite different to what you have heard previously. With lyrics stamping a bold statement, the songs swells of aggression and anger. Through the song’s diverse nature, it has great melody and is a definite CD highlight. Other tracks which I find to be quite strong include the very emotional “The dead skin”, featuring aggressive yet charismatic vocals from Tony Kakko, and “The truth is out there”, which is another straightforward track, but once again the vocal performance by Kakko excels and makes the track another highlight.

Despite the songs mentioned above being standouts, there are however some tracks which do miss the mark in my opinion. I feel that the ballad “Breathing” is nice, but never really gets off the ground. Despite the dark and heartfelt lyrics, the song is hit and miss unfortunately. The other track which I think misses the spot is the CD closer “Everything fades to gray”, as it is quite slow and somewhat weak and a poor way to finish the CD.

Overall, ‘The days of grays’ is another solid release from Sonata Arctica. Being the most erratic, matured and emotional CD too; there is a lot to appreciate and admire. Tony Kakko proves further that he is a master when it comes to the lyrics of a song and for someone who can pour his heart out onto paper and into music; I take my hat off to his supreme efforts on this release. Better than ‘Unia’, this CD marks an important time in Sonata Arctica’s progression and direction as a power metal band. Fans of their recent works from ‘Winterheart’s guild’ onwards will most definitely enjoy this and appreciate the aggressive and sporadic nature of the music.



SEAN




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