It’s taken Finnish metal band Sonata Arctica 24 years to reach album number ten. Is it any good? Let’s investigate.
After I had spinned Talviyö for a second time in its entirety, I was disappointed and confused. Not that I was expecting a collection of lightning-fast power metal songs, because we all know that ship has sailed a long time ago. Ever since 2007’s Unia these guys have forged their own ever more progressive path, sometimes resulting in baffling songs like X Marks the Spot, in which a rock band, a gospel choir and some Texan yokel-type narrator converge in a polarising song. Other examples are Blood, where a computer voice reads a paragraph from the Wikipedia page on blood, or Cinderblox, where the band goes full Americana with some banjo-infused madness. I like these songs because they are different yet very much in the spirit of Tony Kakko just writing whatever crazy shit wants whilst still adhering to a core musical template. My disappointment is that Talviyö features none of those moments and instead might be the blandest hour of music this band has released so far.
To be fair, every Sonata Arctica album since Unia has initially disappointed me, and every single one turned out to be better than I expected in the beginning, and I still have a feeling Talviyö could redeem itself as well in the end, but I’ll be damned if Sonata doesn’t make it a difficult album to love. Whilst it starts off in a promising semi-old school fashion with Message from the Sun, its power metal glean quickly wears off in favour of a more subdued and proggy approach you probably will have trouble making heads or tails of during your first try. Whirlwind is more mid-tempo and heavy on keyboards but still easily recognisable as a mid-era type Sonata Arctica song, but the first shocker comes with Cold, the second single off the album. There isn’t an ounce of metal on here and it might be the most pop-oriented thing these guys have done so far. Storm the Armada continues the album’s trajectory into strangeville with weird breaks, keyboard solos and bass-driven rhythms, and whilst it still has something going for it, it still misses a certain punch.
Things get considerably more gloomy with the quite creepy The Last of the Lambs, which, heavy on keys as it is, plings and plonks along at a leisurely pace. Who Fails the Most continues the alright-but-not-quite-awesome mid-tempo run before we arrive at the ludicrously titled instrumental Ismo’s Got Good Reactors, which, with its soaring guitars and pounding drums might might be the most metal thing on Talviyö. Actually, it is the only metal thing on Talviyö. The rest of the album is more prog-lite than we’re used to from Sonata, and the two pieces that are most deserving of this moniker are Demon’s Cage and The Raven Still Flies, where especially the latter impresses with its intertwining melodies. The biggest problem is that although none of the songs are particularly awful, Talviyö never quite packs a punch. This is in part due to the songs themselves, which show the more subdued part the band always had in them, but also the production, which is horrendously flat and never able to fully deliver on the promises made in the songwriting department.
Another problem here that the number of less-than-stellar tracks is simply too high. Cold should have forever remained a B-side, and Talviyö sadly continues the annoying trend of ending Sonata Arctica albums on a slow and unimpressive whimper. Normally, that problem would be balanced out by a few standout tracks, but this is the first album by the amiable Fins that counts exactly zero of them. Most songs definitely have their moments but none of them exceed a sense of inoffensive pleasantness, and that’s a definitive and sad first for these guys. Sonata Arctica’s tenth album is a toothless beast that offers a few nice moments but ultimately fails to capture and hold the listener’s attention throughout, and marks the first big clunker in the band’s discography. I really, desperately want to be proven wrong and keep spinning Talviyö until it clicks, but the chances of that happening are getting smaller with every subsequent playthrough, and it saddens me because I know this band is capable of being much, much better than this.
Label: Nuclear Blast, 2019
- Message from the Sun (4:06)
- Whirlwind (6:31)
- Cold (4:28)
- Storm the Armada (5:08)
- The Last of the Lambs (4:22)
- Who Failed the Most (4:44)
- Ismo’s Got Good Reactors (3:43)
- Demon’s Cage (4:57)
- A Little Less Understanding (4:34)
- The Raven Still Flies (7:39)
- The Garden (6:16)
- Tony Kakko – vocals, additional keyboards
- Elias Viljanen – guitars
- Pasi Kauppinen – bass, mixing
- Henrik Klingenberg – keyboards
- Tommy Portimo – drums
Review by Ralph Plug