Finland’s Sonata Arctica walk a fine line between the power and progressive metal genres. Earlier in their career they executed power metal at it’s finest with their first two releases being far and away the strongest in their catalog. As time has progressed, so has their musical style.
The Ninth Hour is their ninth release and finds them embracing their progressive side as the songs are still driven by vocalist Tony Kakko’s larger than life melodies. His voice is instantly recognizable and his melodies are contagious.
The front cover of The Ninth Hour is beautifully designed as it shows a mechanical society in the shape of a skull. Multiple songs have a running theme throughout. Even though the music is layered with an upbeat feeling, the lyrics are downtrodden and riddled in humanity destroying the earth through global warming and nuclear destruction.
Kakko’s isn’t the greatest lyricist and English is clearly his second language as his lyrics are often clumsy and awkward. He makes up for his deficiencies though with his larger than life melodies that are soaring and glorious.
Sonata Arctica are chameleon-like and sometimes are inconsistent in their styles. It makes for a unique listening experience, as they are one of the more diverse power progressive bands on the scene.
“Till Death’s Done Us Apart” is jumbled from crushing double bass drumming and power metal sequences blended with Jim Steinman style melodies that are over the top. “Rise A Night” is a breath of fresh air as it is a blast from the past and would fit perfectly on their first two releases.
“Fly, Navigate, Communicate” finds them at their progressive best. Staccato drumming and palm mute riffing blend exquisitely with keyboard melodies until it explodes into a fist pumping sing along chorus. Drummer Tommy Portimo shines with his strongest performance on the record.
“Life,” opener “Closer To An Animal” and “We Are What We Are” are great additions to the Sonata Arctica repertoire with the later showcasing a passionate moving performance from Kakko. “White Pearl, Black Oceans (Part II: By The Grace Of The Ocean)” blends orchestration and strongly features keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg. It features musical themes found on the original and is a tad too excessive.
The Ninth Hour isn’t too far removed from their previous two releases. There are moments of brilliance and there are instances where the song direction takes an odd turn or is a tad bloated. Kakko is still one of the strongest singers on the metal scene and brings a breath of fresh air with his unique addictive vocals.
(released October 7th, 2016 on Nuclear Blast Records)