Sonata Arctica – Pariah’s Child
Sonata Arctica — Pariah’s Child (2014)
Reviewed by Andrew Senkus
A new album from the Finns at this stage in the game is going to generate some buzz no matter how you cut it. Sure, you’re going to have people that love the new song/video and you’re going to have people that hate it but, regardless, one thing is certain: people will listen. Pariah’s Child, when the cover artwork was unveiled, undoubtedly turned a few more heads than usual. The old logo was intact and the album cover portrayed a solitary wolf amidst an icy, wintry environment that resonates an atmosphere certainly akin to Sonata Arctica’s first three albums or so. Before I go any further I will say that Pariah’s Child does not sound like the band’s first three efforts; sure, the cold and at times melancholic atmosphere is present, yes, but that is more or less where the comparisons can and should end. I am almost 29 now and, no matter how hard I tried, I could not return to being an 18-year-old just as Sonata Arctica cannot return to it being 1999, 2001 or 2003. If you’re seeking replicas of the band’s first three efforts you’re going to be continually disappointed but, on the other hand, if you’re a fan of Sonata Arctica and have found distinct pleasures throughout their catalog you’re pretty much guaranteed to be delighted with Pariah’s Child.
The album opens with “The Wolves Die Young”, which is a song that most of you have heard by now. It’s a supremely catchy, upbeat, mid-paced number that has Sonata Arctica written all over it and, as such, is also a rather “safe”, albeit satisfying tune. “Running Lights” follows it up, and this is where things may get a bit confusing for some. Double bass? Yup. Was that a majestic, soaring guitar/keyboard melody? Indeed, it was! You guessed it, “Running Lights” is a through-and-through power metal song and the first the band has done since “Flag In The Ground” from the monumental and underrated The Days Of Grays (more on that one later). At this point the listener could even say that the album sounds a bit tame insofar as experimentation is concerned but, no worries, it’s just around the corner.
“Take One Breath” is a bit of a slower-paced number that explores our technological evolution as a race; indeed, this one is for all of us out there who love The Twilight Zone and Blade Runner. Musically it’s a bit of an abstract piece that alternates between uplifting and morose passages rather seamlessly which is a dynamic that is thoroughly explored throughout Pariah’s Child’s duration. Songs like “Blood” and “Larger Than Life” really take the listener on an emotional roller coaster (especially the latter), and every rise is followed by an exhilarating fall. “Larger Than Life” deserves a special mention as it’s one of the band’s most thrilling, engrossing, and musically accomplished feats yet that fits right alongside the likes of “The Power Of One” and the “Wildfire” suite. I would say it’s my favorite song from the album, actually.
Do you remember that uniquely Finnish and deliciously cold atmosphere I mentioned earlier? Songs like “What Did You Do In The War, Dad?” and “Love” possess it in spades. In fact, “What Did You Do In The War, Dad?” is one of the band’s most barren pieces yet that features haunting clean guitar (which is actually accented by piano and expanded upon later in the song with breathtaking results), chilling backing vocals, and exceptionally written and thought-provoking lyrics. Pariah’s Child as a whole, with the exception of maybe one song, is very representative of the wintry aura that is certainly attached to the band’s namesake (Sonata Arctica), and after they took us to the dry west with Stones Grow Her Name, it seems they were ready to return to the cold north. And, hey, who am I to complain? The results are first-rate all the way!
We are dealing with Sonata Arctica here and even though Pariah’s Child is seen as a stylistic “return to form”, the band still toys with us as listeners. “X Marks The Spot”, anyone? I absolutely love Sonata Arctica and even I was thrown off by this song the first couple of listens. A preacher (voiced by a seemingly unknown Jaakko Koskinen) has more than a few things to say about rock and roll throughout the song, and the music itself is just as boisterous and jumpy. Sure, the chorus of this black sheep is pure power metal, but it’s still going to challenge most listeners anyway. Don’t fret, however, as this song becomes a delight after a couple listens.
The production of the album is reminiscent of the band’s “modern” sound that has been present on every album since (and including) Unia. The guitars are thick, the keyboards layered, the drums heavy and the vocals well-balanced in the mix. Need I even mention Tony’s voice? This man can sing and he exercises his art most beautifully and charismatically. Tony hits some incredible low notes on “Larger Than Life” and “Take One Breath” that give me goosebumps each and every listen and, as always, his vocal melodies are extremely dynamic. Elias (guitars) and Henrik (keyboards) get a few nice opportunities to shred it up accordingly as well.
Pariah’s Child is, at the end of the day, one of the band’s most well-crafted and balanced albums. There are upbeat moments just as there are sad moments; there’s speed and power just as there’s progression and unorthodoxy; there’s summer and there’s winter, sure, but you’d be wise to expect a bit more of the latter anyway. I anticipate a big part of some people’s enjoyment surrounding this album is going to depend upon their expectations. I wasn’t expecting songs like “The Cage” or “Black Sheep” and, as such, I wasn’t disappointed, but I also know that a lot of people were, and that’s probably because they were bummed that Pariah’s Child isn’t Finnish power metal à la 2003. Once some listeners get past this little roadblock, however, they’re in for an absolute treat in the form of Sonata Arctica anno 2014. A new wolf has been born and I get a good feeling that it’s not going to die young so, until next time, may we all bask in the deep blues and stark grays of glacial winters and wolfish majesty.
4.25 // 5