Sonata Arctica – Unia
Spending too much time in the mainstream becomes boring. Some bands, like Blind Guardian, manage to remain there by creating the perfect combination of sounds to satisfy themselves, the media, the fan base, and those beyond. Rhapsody Of Fire managed to do this after some experimentation with albums such as Symphony Of Enchanted Lands: Part II and Triumph Or Agony. This is Sonata Arctica’s first real experimental album. In my opinion, this is probably the best departure from a band in this genre’s norm. While Blind Guardian went for standard power/speed metal and Rhapsody the orchestral (NOT symphonic) metal, Sonata Arctica went for a stranger, more emotionally complex side of metal. This new style is absolutely fine by me, and is certainly a deviation from the myriad symphonic power metal bands out there. While I appreciate them, they’re too commonplace, and some of the songs can’t help but sound very similar. This was refreshing for me: the album is complex and at the same time manages to be fun to listen to, though it definitely takes time to sink in.
The style of music on this album is, as I’ve said, more complex than before, but not so overwhelmingly complex to the point where it’s incoherent. It leaves me wanting more. It has much less speed and more focus on vocals, keyboards, and little orchestral things. I love the sound on this and the fact that it’s not just more straight up power metal, because I know that I would have been very disappointed if they had just made Winterheart’s Guild Part 2 (and I know that a lot of fans who claim to hate this album who would have been unhappy as well). Change is necessary in this genre of music, and when done right it can be amazing and very unique, which is exactly what this is.
The best songs here are “Black And White”, “Paid In Full”, “It Won’t Fade”, “Caleb”, “The Harvest”…screw it, every song is awesome on this with two exceptions. “Under Your Tree” is almost too relaxed and can be a little boring, but is good to fall asleep to, and “The Words Forgotten”. This song is kind of lame, but it’s not even three minutes so it doesn’t detract much. I wish I could talk about every song on this album, but that would take a very long time. What I will say is that every song fits the style perfectly with little variations that make them all worth listening to in their own right. “My Dream Is A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare” is the best song on this album, being complex with multiple style changes that make it really fun to listen. “Paid In Full” is another really good one, being the single off the album and probably the most catchy song. I personally really like the lyrics of this song and I can really connect with it; having gone through exactly what the song is about it makes it a lot more enjoyable for me.
Tony Kakko has always been a very emotive singer, which makes his music come alive in a way that some other singers can’t manage. That emotion is particularly present on this album, enhancing it even more. “Caleb” bears discussion because it has become a very popular Sonata Arctica song. It is a prequel to the story described in “The End Of This Chapter” and “Don’t Say A Word”, which apparently altogether form a three part story about a troubled young man, twisted by his own mother to hate his father and mistrust everyone around him. “Caleb” really has all the atmospheric buildup of an epic without the length. I like “The Harvest” because it’s probably the fastest song here, and manages to be heavy and complex, but it’s also kind of catchy with a pretty good chorus and some fun riffing. Also, “My Dream Is But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare” is one of Sonata Arctica’s better songs, it’s complex with multiple changes in speed and style, and it has some of Kakko’s best vocals.
This album has been judged by most people after first glance as overly complex, dark, unnecessary, and lacking direction. But under the surface, upon second or third glance, it is revealed to be pretty good. Personally, I liked it from the start, and the new direction that Sonata Arctica took with this really intrigues me. Change is almost always welcome for me, although I can think of some albums where it wasn’t (Nightwish – Imaginaerum and Stratovarius’ self-titled). Though this was a good change, it wasn’t necessarily a step forwards or backwards, but rather a step in a completely different direction, indicating a maturity and a definite style for the new Sonata Arctica. Above all, I enjoy the uniqueness of this album. In a world and genre of very similar sounding things, bands like this definitely have to find their own style and make it work or else they risk fading into obscurity and dying off. Sonata Arctica have firmly established their new style and won’t be fading away any time soon.
Ian’s rating 4.5 out of 5