Sonata Arctica – Pariah’s Child
Reviewed by Arno Callens
You kind of have to admire Sonata Arctica. Maybe you’re like me and you haven’t yet had the twenty-five spins of Unia required for it to make sense. Maybe you’re like me and you thought Gnomes Own Her Drapes was watered-down dreck. Or maybe you’re not like me at all, and you consider them geniuses and me just an ignorant tool. It doesn’t matter. Sonata Arctica has taken some bold risks since Reckoning Night, and whether or not you think they’ve paid off (in full), the effort in itself is somewhat worthy of admiration.
That being said, they could use a hit outside of the Unia-cult. Pariah’s Child promises a return to the power metal days of yore (what with the wolf on the cover), and in a way it feels like Sonata Arctica has come home. Sure they’re still crazier than a bag of cats, but at least there’s method to the madness now. The Finns haven’t been this accessible in ages, as if they’re a hospital that finally figured out they should install a ramp instead of just stairs.
“The Wolves Die Young” is one of those songs that’s also a statement. Power metal lead! Dreamy chorus! Wolves! For a moment it’s like Reckoning Day has come: a straightforward song without LSD-induced flights into progressive weirdness. Of course, this could’ve been this album’s counterpart to “Flag In The Ground” from The Days Of Grays, and while I enjoy that album the most out of Sonata Arctica’s recent output, it’s not exactly in my regular rotation.
Hope blooms with the equally nostalgic Running Lights, which borrows a line or two from the Power Metal Book of Melodic Clichés (listen to that refrain and try to NOT be reminded of Dark Moor’s “Wheel Of Fortune” from Tarot). Yet the story is quite moving, and the whole ends up being very emotionally satisfying. The same is true for Cloud Factory, a song that at first appears to be a candy-coated sugar kick, but has a melancholy level that hasn’t let me go since I discovered it. This one’s sticking with me for a long time, I predict. Blood is another winner: a rousing thrill ride sprawling from a quiet opening to a shouting session of the word “blood” that would make Powerwolf’s curdle, and ending on a repeat of the splendid refrain.
Of course, Sonata Arctica can only act normal for so long (that bag of cats is still quite full). The pseudo-ballad “What Did You Do In The War, Dad?” reeks of Unia-isms and is best left to judge upon future listens. Hammond organ-rocker “Half A Marathon Man” also doesn’t grasp too quickly. It momentarily threatens to bring back the radio-friendliness of Drones Row Her Train, but turns out to be surprisingly infectious in a much better fashion. Power metal meets gospel on “X Marks The Spot” and I’m not sure the two agree with each other, even though the chorus is quite heavenly indeed. Testify! “Love”, on the other hand, drains a bit too much of the momentum with the saccharine sweetness of a Shamandalie. The album ends on a high with the sublimely theatrical “Larger Than Life”, which is the kind of epic you can easily keep track of without taking the same amount of drugs Tony Kakko had at the time of writing some of his other lengthy affairs.
The fact that I’ve managed to write over six hundred words already on a Sonata Arctica album I actually had the stomach to listen to more than twice (!) should be reason enough for celebration. Pariah’s Child is not Ecliptica 2 or Winterheart’s Guild 2, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Stones Grow Her Name (seriously, this is my most ridiculous parody of that title yet) and just a great album. Welcome back, Sonata Arctica, join Freedom Call at the party table and may Hammerfall soon follow. 2014 is the year of miracles. Now I have twenty-three more spins of Unia to go before I’m allowed into the cult, and then fifty more to level up!
4.25 // 5