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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

1018. Sonata Arctica / Reckoning Night. 2004. 4.5/5

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My goodness I have tried hard to love Sonata Arctica unconditionally. From the first time I discovered them, I really wanted this to be a love affairs. Their obvious talents were too great for them to be considered an average band with average albums. With their three previous albums, I had always found great songs and wonderful pieces to take away from each, without ever being completely sold on the album as a whole. Much of that comes with the territory of the power ballad that tend to find their way on such bands’ albums. So I was always searching for more, for that perfect mix of power metal with just a bit of a heavier edge, while being able to combine each members instrument to the highest quality. And then along came Reckoning Night.

From the outset, the band is on fire, and the writing is strong and purposeful. New keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg comes up trumps, and absolutely gives a different flavour on the keys than had been prevalent on the earlier albums. Drummer Tommy Portimo has another cracking album, perfectly synchronised and smack bang on in every way, speed and proficiency. So too Marko Paasikoski on bass guitar, dialling right in to Portimo’s drums and locking in perfectly. Guitarist Jani Liimatainen again showcases the best he has to offer, and his duels throughout with Klingernberg’s keyboard is fantastic. Out the front Tony Kakko again inspires with his vocals, and given he again wrote almost the entire album (Jani wrote “My Selene”) shows he has some major ticker in regards to his music.

“Misplaced” is without a doubt my favourite Sonata Arctica song ever. It has the perfect balance between energy, fast tempo, guitar and keyboard riffs, double kick drum and superb vocals. It is the song that should be this band’s template, simply because it contains everything that is magnificent about this band at the top of their form. This is the killer song of their genre, and it rarely fails to send shivers down my spine whenever I listen to it. “Blinded No More” has those great Tony Kakko vocals and a chugging guitar riff throughout, and while the tempo may have dropped from the opening song once it settles into its groove you can’t help but like what has been produced, and singing along in some semblance of tune (not easy in the slightest). “Ain’t Your Fairytale” kicks straight back in to that up tempo theme with flailing guitar and keys and double kick. What comes through best in this song is that while the power metal theme holds its course, the guitar comes in with a heavier sound, dragging this into a more formidable music ground. The hard core rhythm still keeps the song in motion while all of the parts meld together brilliantly. THIS is what I’ve been waiting for from this band. Power by name but also strength and bottom end in the music.
The gentleness of the instrumental “Reckoning Day, Reckoning Night…” only serves as an interlude to “Don’t Say a Word” which begins in a similar way to “Blinded No More” where the tempo doesn’t start quite so fast but is offset by the strength and power of Tony’ vocals which drive the song to the heights it deserves. Before long the pace of the music itself builds back into that pleasing middle ground. The heavier edge to the guitar and drums through the second half of the song again echoes “Ain’t Your Fairytale”, and it ends on a superior note . Top shelf stuff.
“The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Real Puppet” settles back into the mid-tempo range and is much of a power metal song, slower and softer than what has come before it, with the keyboards dominating more thoroughly than had been the case earlier in the album. There are touches of Symphony X along the way, before finishing with a hard guitar riff. Pleasing. “My Selene” returns to the upmarket uptempo highs of the best on the album, mixing the keys and guitars superbly into the jaws of Tony’s vocals and his supports on backups, combining into the best aspects of the power metal genre, with the fast paced drums being drawn along by the dominant keyboards in a merry music melody.
“Wildfire” cracks out of the starting gates like its name, and rages along in fine style. There is some real extreme vocals that come through on this track as well, giving it a real intensity that, frankly, is so out of character for this band that it is tremendously exhilarating. “White Pearl, Black Oceans...” could best be summed up here as the epic power metal song of the album, combining chorus and choirs along with the quieter periods of keyboards and acoustically driven guitar, building to a that epic that bands look for. At almost nine minutes it is the longest song on the album. Finally, to close out the album we have “Shamandalie”, which, somewhat regrettably, is probably the least enjoyable song on the album. After everything that has come before it, the album deserved a real killer of a finishing track, and to be honest this isn’t it. It’s okay, it’s fine, but it isn’t up to the standard of everything else on this album, and that is a shame.

This is the album I had been waiting for from Sonata Arctica. It is a power metal album with that added grunt that gives it that heavier sound that not only helps to bring out the best in all of the band members’ chosen instrument, but drives each song to those heights that their talent deserved. The one small problem that followed it was that the band then had to write and record a follow up album that could get somewhere near as good as this is. So far, many years on, they haven’t been able to do that.

Rating:   “Taken for granted again, too weak a man to say it is over”.  4.5/5

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