November 1, 2016 Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour (Album Review)
Finland has produced some amazing Power Metal bands in the world. Perhaps it is a product of something in the cold arctic air of the Nordic country that breathes such powerful, rich, dynamic voices that drive this style of Metal. Upon the greats, Sonata Arctica rose from Kemi, Finland over two decades ago. Initially going under the name Tricky Beans, by 1997, the name Sonata Arctica was born, and, since, they hit #1 in Finland with 2007’s Unia, 2012’s Stones Grow Her Name, and 2014’s Pariah’s Child, Sonata Arctica have had each of their other five albums break the top 10 respectfully. A force of nature, their reach is beyond country borders, and, to many, Sonata Arctica are a leader in Heavy Metal. Which leads to the band’s latest album, their ninth overall studio effort, The Ninth Hour. Their sixth with Nuclear Blast Records, The Ninth Hour was released and is their longest play start to finish since 2001’s Silence. Offering over an hour of music, Vocalist Tony Kakko, Guitarist Elias Viljanen, Bassist/Producer Pasi Kauppinen, Keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg, and Drummer Tommy Portimo invite fans to indulge in another conceptual masterpiece.
Recorded at Studio57 in Alaveteli, Finland, the artwork was designed to show a Utopian future world landscape where technology and nature exist in perfect balance. Quite an interesting concept, the record beings in a feisty fashion with “Closer To An Animal,” a song which considers the impact humans have had upon the earth. With the keyboards very much the central instrument, the persistence of the guitar and drums is still striking, echoing the relationship between nature and mankind. Then, “Life” features a hopeful chorus, full of intricate details and harmonies, etched by a moral warning to us all. With “Fairytale,” the pace quickens and the common message is hammered home in epic fashion. Saving no reservations about his feelings, Kakko is certainly very critical of the human race and strongly believes we all need to change our ways or face the consequences.
Moving along, “We Are What We Are” is, in many ways, beautiful and ethereal, haunting, and yet harsh and condemning. The message is emphasized by lyrics that judge us for our deeds while the music contrasts from the negativity by being natural and moving. Keeping their foot on the gas, “Till Death’s Done Us Apart” screams into life before taking the listener on a symphonic journey with creative highs and lows. This is matched by soaring vocals that are at times mournful, delivering a fateful sentence on us all. That said, “Among The Shooting Stars” is a plea to be saved, mercy to be levied, pity and clemency, the closest to a love song on The Ninth Hour.
Later on, frenetic drums impose their power in “Rise A Night,” which is a battle of instruments over the earth, with keys and guitars each seeking to dominate the other. Offering a moment to breath, “Fly, Navigate, Communicate” is a gasp in contrast, poignant and tragic, sorrowful, it also draws comparisons with The Scorpions in style. Taking on a feel of a hymn, “Candle Lawns” is a track that will have arms raised skywards while listeners sway in unison, perfect for a live performance. As the album marches towards the victorious finale, a triumphant doom, “White Pearl, Black Oceans – Part II (By The Grace Of The Ocean)” begins with the sea washing the world clean, stunning orchestration, and again, a feeling of spirituality and tender praise. The longest piece of the album, it meanders to its climax through heartwarming choruses and reaffirming guitar solos, coupled with sentimental keys. This is before “On The Faultline (Closure To An Animal)” brings the album to its completion, looking more inwardly, taking stock of life and despairing at the results.
This is very much a themed record where each song has been written as a part of a moral tale, to take better care of the planet we live upon and to not keep destroying it. It offers a bleak future for us all, but one where eventually nature wins, but we lose. If anything, it should make everyone think about how much we contribute to the problem/solution ourselves, though no doubt it will fall as unheeded as the scientific speeches have to date.
All this said, The Ninth Hour is an accomplished piece of music which has a fine selection of styles and a variety that keeps the listener interested. It also goes a long way to making the Keytar an acceptable Metal instrument, rather than it being a bad joke from the ’80s, it becomes more serious and manly, something that is quite an achievement in itself. A band still on the top of their game, CrypticRock gives Sonata Artica’s The Ninth Hour 4 out of 5 stars.