Sonata Arctica – Stones Grow Her Name
Reviewed by Andrew Senkus
“No value in the oddities, evolution’s gone” is a line from the concluding piece of the “Wildfire” trilogy and it seems to be representative enough of what was happening with Sonata Arctica at the time Stones Grow Her Name was unleashed upon the unsuspecting world. As many of you know, Stones Grow Her Name is the blackest sheep in Sonata Arctica’s herd of black sheep and, as such, has been put under some pretty intense, vigorous scrutiny and criticism. The question then inevitably becomes, of course: is all of this ridicule justified? Did Sonata Arctica really “sell out” with Stones Grow Her Name? I have been listening to these boys since late 1999/early 2000 (I can’t quite remember), and I have never once felt betrayed by the Finns’ creative exploits. People weren’t crying “sell out!” when they heard “FullMoon” or “Victoria’s Secret”, but all of a sudden it becomes an issue when the touching “I Have A Right” is released? Hmm, either I’m losing all of my insanity or the bulk of the metal community has dived face-first into it; either way, it’s time to delve into the depths of Stones Grow Her Name and get to the bottom of this stone-pile.
Let’s get this much out of the way right now: there’s not much power metal to be found here. “Losing My Insanity” is about as close to classic Finnish power metal as Sonata Arctica gets on the album, and if it weren’t for all of the good, the rad, and the lovely banjo shredding on “Cinderblox”, that one would whet the appetites of power metal fans everywhere too. All the same, if you’re looking for power metal and nothing but, I’d recommend not showing up to this sun-fried showdown because it’s a far cry from said genre, and you’re bound to be left behind, caked in dust.
Okay, now we can get a bit more into this misunderstood beauty. Sonata Arctica didn’t so much opt for anything more different musically on Stones Grow Her Name than they did on Unia or, to a lesser extent, The Days Of Grays but, instead, the band went for a very different atmosphere. Stones Grow Her Name, as perhaps implied by the artwork, is a very warm album that has its roots in the summer-time deserts of our hearts instead of their snow-swathed, wolf-clad mountains. In fact, this album is so far out in the desert that the band’s “totem animal” (as Tony once called it and if you’re a Sonata Arctica fan you know what “it” is) is nowhere to be found, which even I must admit is odd for these sun-kissed Finns. The aforementioned absence, however, does not mean that there is an absence of quality … if anything it is intact in abundance, actually.
The songwriting on Stones Grow Her Name is accessible for the most part, yes, but this does not mean that it is without substance or depth either. On the contrary, the songs here are so full of nuance that I still hear something new on occasion (and I’ve heard this album around 50 times or so since it was released). Songs like “Alone In Heaven”, “I Have A Right”, and “The Day” are so well-written that I’d rank them among some of the band’s finest straight-forward compositions ever (with special reverence given to the gorgeous, sad and inspiring “The Day”). “Somewhere Close To You” deserves a mention too for being the band’s heaviest and probably even most headbangable song; indeed, I find myself swaying back and forth just as much as the song’s embittered, broken, and wingless lovebird.
I imagine most of you remember a little tune from Reckoning Night called “Wildfire”, right? Sonata Arctica decided it was time to really let the fields burn by concluding this wonderful song with two even more wonderful pieces, both more progressive and dynamic than the trilogy’s first chapter. Sonata Arctica is no stranger to epic songs, and the concluding “Wildfire” pieces are amongst the band’s most stunning pieces yet: twirling about more than a lone tumbleweed amidst a crackling desert storm. Thematically, they tackle the many environmental issues our planet is faced with today due to humanity’s reckless intervention, and I daresay the “Wildfire” trilogy has become Sonata Arctica’s most pagan entity thusfar. Oh yeah, and be sure to keep an ear out for the wicked piano playing towards the end of the second “Wildfire”, because it’s definitely goosebump-worthy.
Ultimately, this album is grossly misunderstood, misinterpreted, and over-criticized by those listening more for a genre than a band’s distinctive, unique sound. Sure, the album has more single-worthy songs than the rest of Sonata Arctica’s catalog, but that doesn’t mean the band lost any of its class, integrity, or originality either. If anything, I’d make the statement that Stones Grow Her Name shows that these Finns aren’t afraid to turn their faces towards the whipping wind instead of going whichever way others want them to go. I truly am glad the band evaded the “safe” route to give them some irrelevant metal “cred” because, let’s face it, there’s much more to life than forum-dwelling and metal-clad elitism, and Stones Grow Her Name celebrates all that is contrary to the aforementioned. Roll down the windows, bandage those bleeding heart-sick wounds and feel the breath of life flow through you as you tend this garden of stones, because it will bring nothing but gorgeous, fragrant flowers and the most delicious and ripest fruit your imagination is willing to manifest. Ah, how I love the sanity!
4.25 // 5