Before we dive into this review, there is a confession I have to make. I really, really enjoyed Sonata Arctica’s Stones Grow Her Name (2012), a record that is much maligned for being too weird, faux artistic and soft. And whilst I do love the earlier power metal efforts (up to and including Reckoning Night), I think Unia is by far the strongest album the Finnish band has put out. Then again, I also think A Matter of Life and Death is the best album Iron Maiden has released since Powerslave. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for classic metal bands who dare to tread outside of their safety zone and into a more daringly progressive area, which is exactly what Sonata Arctica has been doing for years now. So, with that out of the way, let’s check out what’s on offer this time.
If it hadn’t been for lead singer and composer Tony Kakko proclaiming a true return to their roots on every occasion, there would hardly have been an uproar about Pariah’s Child not living up to created expectations. Things got even worse when the old logo was dug up and the wolf, featured on many of the band’s album covers in the past, once again returned to a prominent place in Pariah’s Child’s artwork. Things like that manage to get people’s hopes up, and disappointment ensues if you fail to deliver on those promises. Because whilst Pariah’s Child is faster, more playful and a little heavier than Stones Grow Her Name, it is by no means an Ecliptica 2 (which frankly strikes me as rather naïve thing to expect). Yes, there’s more double bass drumming this time around, but that’s about it.
The album starts off, however, with the snarling of wolves and the first track The Wolves Die Young, which is catchy as hell and manages to lodge itself firmly between the ears after one go, with its striking melodies and memorable chorus. It also differentiates rather nicely between some heavy staccato riffing during the verses and a more mellow and melodic chorus. The same goes for the follow-up song Running Lights, which is at times as speedy as the illegal car races the lyrics may or may not be about (who can tell with Kakko’s lyrics, really?), before things get a little weirder with Take One Breath, which alternates between straight-up melodic metal and moody melancholy featuring a solitary piano melody and Tony Kakko moving between quiet contemplating and operatic madness. If that sounds strange, that’s because it is, but somehow it does work.
Pariah’s Child is structured like that; for each straight-forward song, there is a weird composition bound to piss off and/or just disappoint fans of the first few albums. For each catchy power metal track like the sublimely melodic Take One Breath there is a Blood, with a robotic voice quoting the Wikipedia page on blood and almost Doors-y organ interludes. For every quick rocker like Half A Marathon Man, there is an X Marks The Spot, with a dude preaching between verses in a distinct southern American drawl and an ending that sounds like it has been taped in a gospel church. But again, however negative that may sound, it works rather well. Or at least, it does for me. Sonata Arctica is a band that does weird stuff like that and experiments at times just for the sake of experimenting, but you can always count on quality (multi-layered) vocal parts and impressive melodies between all the madness.
The highlights of Pariah’s Child are, arguably, the very proggy What Did You Do In The War, Dad, a song that in places sounds like it’s three songs at the same time, and the long closing track Larger Than Life, where Sonata for once becomes truly operatic. It’s a grand closer, bordering on self-indulgence and Disney-esque musical capabilities. It sounds like it could have been written by Nightwish’s Tuomas Holopainen, with all the Danny Elfman grandeur crammed into its ten minutes running time, and it’s a more than fitting end to a pretty solid record. The only song not able to win me over in the end is Love, which isn’t a bad ballad per se, but lacks a certain spark. A Letter To Dana, this is not.
In the end, Pariah’s Child is no more a throwback to the old days than Stones Grow Her Name, and the sooner people stop asking for exactly that, the sooner they can get to enjoying what is still basically a really fine, but different band. As far as I’m concerned, Sonata Arctica has never not delivered, and Pariah’s Child is their strongest effort since Unia. There, said it. Now go out and buy this album.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release: Out now
- The Wolves Die Young (4:11)
- Running Lights (4:23)
- Take One Breath (4:18)
- Cloud Factory (4:16)
- Blood (5:54)
- What Did You Do in the War, Dad? (5:12)
- Half a Marathon Man (5:43)
- X Marks the Spot (5:21)
- Love (3:46)
- Larger Than Life (10:00)
- Tony Kakko – vocals, additional keyboards, programming, arrangements, additional acoustic guitar, choirs and backing vocals
- Elias Viljanen – guitar
- Pasi Kauppinen – bass guitar
- Henrik Klingenberg – keyboards, Hammond
- Tommy Portimo – drums
Review by Ralph Plug