Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour

 

Rating: 2.5/5
Distributor/label: Nuclear Blast Records
Distributor/label URL: http://www.nuclearblast.de/en/
Released: 2016
Buy Album [URL]: http://www.nuclearblast.de/en/products/tontraeger/cd/cd/sonata-arctica-the-ninth-hour.html
Band Website: http://www.sonataarctica.info/

Band line-up: Sonata Arctica - The Ninth Hour

Tony Kakko – Lead Vocals
Elias Viljanen – Guitars
Tommy Portimo – Drums
Henrik Klingenberg – Keyboards, keytar
Pasi Kauppinen – Bass

Tracklistings:

1. Closer To An Animal
2. Life
3. Fairytale
4. We Are What We Are
5. Till Death’s Done Us Apart
6. Among The Shooting Stars
7. Rise A Night
8. Fly, Navigate, Communicate
9. Candle Lawns
10. White Pearl, Black Oceans Part II – “By The Grace Of The Ocean”
11. On the Faultline (Closure To An Animal)

Review:

The release of 2007s Unia definitely split the Sonata Arctica audience: those genuinely enjoying the band’s new progressive approach to songwriting, and those praying for a return to their roots. It was then a breath of fresh air for many when the band announced prior to the release of Pariah’s Child (2014) that they would be returning to their old sound. They even changed their logo back to the old one featured on all the releases up until Unia, a symbolic gesture of a promise given to the fans one could say.

Pariah’s Child was a strong album, arguably the best album to have been released in this post-Unia era of the band. That leaves us with the band’s ninth album (if you look away from the Revisited version of Ecliptica), fittingly entitled The Ninth Hour. The band kept their old logo also on this album, but the question most fans were asking themselves prior to the release – would it build on the pre- or post-Unia sound?

The truth is that The Ninth Hour stays fully true to neither. There are elements of both the progressive and the power metal styles of Sonata Arctica, usually on separate songs, but occasionally mixed together in certain harmony. If you thought Pariah’s Child was the band taking a step in the right direction, this album is probably going to feel like two steps backwards. Multiple problems drag the album down, the most obviously fatal ones being the pacing, lyrics, and production.

The two singles from the album, “Closer To An Animal” and “Life” serves as a good opening statement to the whole album. There is less than good mixing, especially on “Life”, leaving the clean guitars buried behind the drums and keyboards. The pacing is somewhat inconsistent, often times starting off in a fast speed before just breaking down into a slow paced melody, failing to grab the listener.

Lyric-wise, this album is at moments nothing but cringe-worthy. The overhanging theme of environmental awareness, and us humans destroying our own planet is in itself not a bad thing, but when lyrics reflect this through lines such as “It’s cold and we’re all snowed in, vote yes for the global warming”, it becomes a little over the top. Even for a genre largely built on cheesy lyrics and themes.

Interesting vocal melodies throughout the album are also wasted on filler lyrics, such as “lalalalalala” (“Life”), “Hip hip hooray” (“Fairytale”), and “Ding dong, ding dong” (“Till Death’s Done Us Apart”). With that said though, the vocal performance of Frontman Tony Kakko is splendid, and the man sounds better than he has in years (confirmed when seeing them perform in London on the 15th). Henrik Klingenberg also deserves praise, for the keyboards are probably the most consistently good piece of instrumentation in the whole album.

“White Pearl, Black Oceans – Pt. II, “By The Grace of the Ocean”” is a worthy sequel to the original fan favorite off Reckoning Night, and it is arguably amongst the stronger tracks on the album. It starts off in an almost Disney soundtrack like way, accompanied by delicate piano play. It is a mid-tempo song, although it picks up the pace in a similar way to the original half way through. It features what is probably Elias Viljanen strongest guitar solo with the band. The song doesn’t fail to provide the listener with goosebumps either when Kakko sings/whispers “all onboard the… White Pearl”, before introducing the melody of the original.

In the end, this album grew on me. It definitely has its good moments, but compared to the rest of the bands discography, it becomes hard to place it anywhere but close to the bottom. The Ninth Hour lacks a good flow throughout, and fails at times to sound anything but boring. Songs like “We Are What We Are”, “Fly, Navigate, Communicate”, and “On The Faultline (Closure To An Animal)” fail to serve as anything but fillers. The Ninth Hour is missing either the intensity of the early days, or the interesting progressive elements of Unia, and with sub-par lyrics and OK mixing, this is probably not going to remain a memorable favorite amongst fans in the future.

Review by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad

 

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