Sonata Arctica—Silence (2001)

Sonata Arctica—Silence (2001)

Sonata Arctica—Silence (2001)

Details

Recorded at Tico Tico Studio during autumn 2000 and spring 2001. Mixed and mastered at Finnvox Studios in April 2001. I reviewed the 2008 remastered edition.

Website | Twitter

Band

  • Tony Kakko—Vocals and keyboards (additional)
  • Jani Liimatainen—Guitars
  • Marko Paasikoski—Bass
  • Mikko Härkin—Keyboards
  • Tommy Portimo—Drums
  • Mikko Karmila—Grand piano on tracks 4 and 11
  • Mika Niilonen—Spoken parts.

Tracks

  1. …of silence
  2. Weballergy
  3. False news travel fast
  4. The end of this chapter
  5. Black sheep
  6. Land of the free
  7. Last drop falls
  8. San Sebastian (revisited)
  9. Sing in silence
  10. Revontulet (instrumental)
  11. Tallulah
  12. Wolf & raven
  13. The power of one

Review

More of the same from Finland’s power metal quartet (now a quintet on this album). Melodic, poppy AOR-style, Helloween-flavoured power metal with power ballads aplenty and souring, widdly guitar solos.

The album opens with “…of silence” (track 1): padding keyboards and a mildly cheesy spoken vocal. “… of Stonehenge”.

“Weballergy” (track 2) is the sequel to the opening track from their debut, “Blank file”, which continues the theme of web privacy.

There are some nice mid-paced songs such as “Sing in silence” (track 9) and “Tallulah” (track 11) which really help break up the album and introduce a new dimension and depth to Sonata Arctica’s sound.

“The power of one” (track 14)—which was originally the album’s closing track, and lasts 11′ 36″—it closes with white noise, then silence, and then a few seconds before the track ends, a deep voice speaks something like “I didn’t fucking touch the mic, hold on!”

 

Conclusion

For a tricky second album, Sonata Arctica seemed to have pulled this off pretty well. In many ways it’s a solid continuation of the good work put into their debut Ecliptica (1999).

I’d be interested to hear what they are doing now.

Review score: 85%

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Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (1999)

Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (2008)

Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (2008)

Details

Recorded at Tico Tico Studio, by Ahti Kortelainen. Mixed by Mikko Karmila at Finnvox Studios and mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios. This is the 2008 remastered edition.

Website | Twitter

Band

  • Tony Kakko—Vocals and keyboards
  • Jani Liimatainen—Guitars
  • Janne Kivilahti—Bass
  • Tommy Portimo—Drums
  • Raisa Aine—Flute on “Letter to Dana”

Tracks

  1. Blank file
  2. My land
  3. 8th commandment
  4. Replica
  5. Kingdom for a heart
  6. Fullmoon
  7. Letter to Dana
  8. Unopened
  9. Picturing the past
  10. Destruction preventer
  11. Mary-Lou
  12. Letter to Dana (returned to sender)

Review

Sonata Arctica are a Finnish power metal band, from Kemi near the southern border with Sweden. This was their debut album; they have since released a further eight full-length albums including the 15th anniversary edition of Ecliptica in 2014.

This is very much a power metal album in the family of Helloween. It is boppy, it is poppy, it’s melodic with shredding guitar solos, and plentiful and fast chord changes, and soaring, high tenor vocals.

There is a youthful innocence and excitement about this album which gives it a certain charm.

For some reason the song “Letter to Dana” (which was apparently named after the X-Files character Dana Scully) feels like the centre-piece of the album, not least because the final track has a reworked version of the song which curiously omits the first two verses. “Dana, my darling, I’m writing to you / Cause your father passed away, it was a beautiful day / And I don’t want to bother You anymore / I used to hope you’d come back / But not anymore Dana.” It is a bittersweet tale of a lost love.

The album closes with “Mary-Lou” a strong rocker of a song, and the “returned to sender” version of “Letter to Dana”.

Conclusion

Did I mention that it reminds me of Helloween? It does. A lot. But without the silliness.

It will be interesting to see if I choose to listen to this album again. I rather like it but I don’t really listen to much Helloween these days, wheeling it out every now and then to relive wasted days in the prefect’s common room at high school!

Review score: 85%

Solgrav vs F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Solgrav / F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Solgrav / F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Details

Solgrav: All the music written by Solgrav. Material was recorded at Varjot Audio Studios from July to September 2005, except for vocals recorded in February 2006. “Kristallitaivas” was originally released in Solgrav’s first demo, Pohjoisen hämärän sarastus in 2002, and has now been re-arranged for this recording.

F: All music and lyrics written by Ilpo Heikkinen. Arrangements by Ilpo Heikkinen and Jonas Lindberg. Recorded and mixed during December 2005 by Ilpo Heikkinen.

Bands

Solgrav

  • Halla—Vocals
  • Suopeikko—Guitars, bass, Jew’s harp
  • Noitavasara—Drums, piano, accordion, additional vocals

F

  • Ilpo Heikkinen—Vocals, guitars, bass
  • Jonas Lindberg—Drums

Tracks

  1. Solgrav—Vuoksi
  2. Solgrav—Kaksi sutta
  3. Solgrav—Kristallitaivas
  4. F—Perkele
  5. F—Sokea
  6. F—Irti
  7. F—Kauhusta hautaansa kaivaa

Review

A split EP from two vastly different Finnish metal acts. Solgrav are a blackened folk / pagan metal band from Imatra; F are a brutal death metal band from Kempele.

I rather like F’s logo, although in true black metal style you can’t really read it. It’s simply a deer’s horn that looks like an inverted F. Okay, you can read it but only if you’re looking at it upside down.

Solgrav is Swedish for “sun grave”. The name seemingly comes from an old Finnish myth about a place called Auringon Hauta where the sun falls asleep. There is actually a place in Estonia called Auringon Hauta, which is a small lake that was formed by a meteor strike. And it appears that Solgrav have changed their name from Sol grave (meaning ‘sun grave’) to Auringon Hauta (meaning ‘sun grave’).

Solgrav serve up three tracks on this EP, nearly 20 minutes of music. Theirs is a fairly stereotypical Scandinavian black metal fare with a pagan lyrical twist. There is none of the traditional folk metal, Skyclad-style folk elements of fiddles and hurdy-gurdies, flutes or bagpipes in the mix; it’s straight-up black metal: a wall of distorted guitars that plods along, overlaid with growling, barking vocals.

F on the other hand is a darker and more sinister beast. “Pekele” begins with something that sounds like it is being forged in the depths. But about 90 seconds in it unleashes a relentless barage of snare before settling down to a grinding, snarling, gargling pot of boiling metal.

Theirs is a brutal form of death metal. It takes me back to some of the stuff that I listened to in the early 90s. It is relentless and industrial and primitive and downright brutal. It’s like something from a audio horror film—not a genre that I particularly enjoy, but this is rather good.

Conclusion

I discovered that this was not an EP that I could listen to quickly. I tried to race through this one in order to catch up with my review schedule but I couldn’t just listen to this as background music.

This EP demanded my attention and to be present while listening to it. I’m glad I listened to that, because my first couple of semi-absent listenings left me with the impression that this wasn’t a particularly good disc. I was wrong.

While it is not exactly groundbreaking, it is very listenable and rather enjoyable.

Review score: 75%

Apocalyptica—Reflections Revised (2003)

Apocalyptica—Reflections Revised (2003)

Apocalyptica—Reflections Revised (2003)

Details

Produced by Apocalyptica. Recorded and mixed by T-T Oksala. Recorded at Finnvox and Crystal Sound Studios. Mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox. All songs by Eicca Toppinen or Perttu Kivilaakso.

www.apocalyptica.com

Band

  • Eicca Toppinen—Cello
  • Perttu Kivilaakso—Cello
  • Paavo Lötjönen—Cello
  • Guest musicians including:
    • Dave Lombardo (Slayer)—Drums on tracks 1, 2, 4, 8, 10
    • Nina Hagen—Vocals on “Seemann”
    • Linda Sundblad—Vocals on “Faraway”

CD Tracks

  1. Prologue (apprehension)
  2. No education
  3. Faraway
  4. Somewhere around nothing
  5. Drive
  6. Cohkka
  7. Conclusion
  8. Resurrection
  9. Heat
  10. Cortége
  11. Pandemonium
  12. Toreador II
  13. Epilogue (relief)
  14. Seeman (album version, feat. Nina Hagen)
  15. Faraway vol. 2 (extended version) feat. Linda
  16. Delusion
  17. Perdition
  18. Leave me alone

DVD tracks

  1. Faraway (WDR / Rock Am Ring 2003)
  2. Enter sandman (WDR / Rock Am Ring 2003)
  3. Inquisition symphony (WDR / Rock Am Ring 2003)
  4. Nothing else matters (Lahti concert hall 2003)
  5. Somewhere around nothing (Lahti concert hall 2003)
  6. Somewhere around nothing (video clip)
  7. Faraway (with Linda) (video clip)
  8. Seeman (with Nina Hagen) (video clip)
  9. Making of “Faraway” with Linda (special)
  10. Making of “Reflections” (special)
  11. Making of “Seeman” with Nina Hagen (special)

Review

Two years on from Cult and album number four shows an incredible maturity in Apocalyptica’s song writing. Whereas passages from the previous album felt confused and as though they hadn’t quite found their voice, they hadn’t quite found that balance between metal and… well, wood.

This album, however, is tremendous. I have played it almost non-stop all week: in the car, at work, at home, in bed. As soon as it ended I would start it again. There is an integrity to this album that does justice to both cello and heavy music. I’m glad because it seems clear that the band members have drawn on their classical training, and have acknowledged that it’s okay to draw out some of this rich heritage and weave it into these heavier songs. It’s a much richer album for it. There’s a simplicity too to many of these tracks. This is like Apocalyptica’s black album, shorter, more melodic, simpler songs.

Stand out tracks for me include “Faraway” (especially the version with vocals, which I’ve played over and over again), “Somewhere around nothing” (which has a tremendous drive and a catchy melody), “Heat” (which has my head nodding along to the groove every time), and the album closer proper “Epilogue (Relief)” which is lamentful and quite beautiful.

There follows a number of album extras that along with the DVD adds “Revised” to the album title, including the two songs with added vocals: “Seemann (feat. Nina Hagen)” and “Faraway Volume 2 (feat. Linda)”.

Conclusion

I’ve been rather blown away by this album, particularly after the mild disappointment that Cult was last week. The song writing is tremendous, the album is varied enough and the vocalised versions add something extra, that obviously Apocalyptica develop further on their next album… but for that we’ll have to wait until next week!

This has been one of my favourite albums of this project. And I’m not going to quibble over a couple of percentage points here or there. I’m going to be generous and give it a mighty 10/10.

Review score: 100%

Video

Apocalyptica—Cult (2000)

Apocalyptica—Cult (2000)

Apocalyptica—Cult (2000)

Details

All music by Eicca Toppinen. Produced by Hiili Hiilesmaa. Recorded by Jyrki Tuovinen at Petrax Studios, Hollola, Finland. Mixed by Mikko Karmila at Finnvox. Mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox.

www.apocalyptica.com

Band

  • Paavo Lötjönen—Cello
  • Perttu Kivilaakso—Cello
  • Eicca Toppinen—Cello, double bass, percussion
  • Max Lilja—Cello

Tracks

  1. Path
  2. Struggle
  3. Romance
  4. Pray!
  5. In memoriam
  6. Hyperventilation
  7. Beyond time
  8. Hope
  9. Kaamos
  10. Coma
  11. Hall of the mountain king (Edward Grieg)
  12. Until it sleeps (Heltfield/Ulrich)
  13. Fight fire with fire (Hetfield/Ulrich, Burton)

Review

Back in 2001 I planned a trip to London to visit a friend of mine from my National Youth Choir of Great Britain days, Jonny. Out of curiosity I searched for gigs during my time there. I couldn’t believe it, my first night there (Monday 16 July 2001): Megadeth at the Astoria on Charing Cross Road, with Apocalyptica in support! I ordered a ticket straight-away.

Apocalyptica didn’t show! If I remember correctly one of the cellists had broken his arm skateboarding. I was gutted; I don’t remember who filled in for them. And I’ve still never seen them live, despite owning all but their latest album. (I even still own some of their albums on cassette!)

I, of course, first became aware of Apocalyptica with their debut album Plays Metallica by Four Cellos (1996) which, as the name suggests, saw them tackle eight Metallica tracks on nothing but four cellos.

Cult (2000) was Apocalytpica’s third album, the first to use distortion effects heavily, and the last to feature cellist Max Lilja who left the band the following year to join Hevein.

While I’m very fond of this album it’s not one I can play on repeat, and in general I do actually prefer the non-distorted tracks more than their over-driven offerings.

The album opens quietly, with something that initially wouldn’t be too far out of place accompanying an episode of Morse. It doesn’t last though, the rest of the track comprises a repeating melody woven on top of a chugging, wall of cello. (There’s a sentence that I’ve never written before.)

The rest of the album is a mixture of what you might expect a cello quartet to sound like, “Romance” (track 3) for example, fused with the warm, woody over-driven sound of a violoncello.

There are some fun moments, “Struggle” (track 2), opens with a Psycho-esque ‘stabbing’ spiccato (I think), for example; there are thoughtful and melodic moments too, “Beyond time” (track 7) is a pretty track that occasionally builds thanks in part to a couple of the musicians stomping on their distortion pedals. “In memoriam” (track 5) seems to flit between the two, in places sounding like something from the Dear Esther soundtrack.

The last self-penned track of the album, “Coma” (track 10) is a dark, brooding affair that has something of the feel of an avant-garde Celtic Frost track in places. It is also another candidate for inspiration for music from Dear Esther.

This edition of the album, however, closes with three covers: “Hall of the mountain king”, “Until it sleeps” and “Fight fire with fire”: one classical and two Metallica. The last track is perhaps my favourite track on the whole album, particularly the song’s introduction. Their thrashing interpretation is spot on. A brilliant album-closer.

Conclusion

This is an album that I really want to like more than I do. In many ways it is brilliant, and I do get it out every now and then to listen to for pleasure. But like I said, I can’t listen to it over and again like I can with some other albums. That said, for their first album of largely self-written tracks it is rather special and deserves a hearty seven out of ten.

Seemingly there are alternative versions of both Path and Home, with vocals; each has the “Vol. 2” suffix. I’ve heard neither… something to check out on YouTube later, perhaps.

Update: I noticed this morning that there was a mismatch in scores and I appeared to have given the album both 70% and 90%. Would the real answer please stand up…

Review score: 70%

Video

Unholy — Rapture (1998)

Unholy - Rapture (2011)

Unholy – Rapture (2011)

Details

Recorded and mixed at the Music-Bros Studios during July – August 1997. Originally released in 1998, re-released on Peaceville Records in 2011.

Track listing

  1. Into Cold Light
  2. Petrified Spirits
  3. For the Unknown One
  4. Wunderwerck
  5. After God
  6. Unzeitgeist
  7. Wretched
  8. Deluge
  9. Petrified Spirits (live bonus track)
  10. Covetous Glance (live bonus track)

Review

In 1988 the Finnish band Holy Hell changed their name to Unholy and emerged as one of the first doom metal bands from Finland. Their style was originally a fusion of death, black and doom metal; something that you can still hear in this their third (and penultimate) full-length album.

During their career, they released four albums: From the Shadows (1993), The Second Ring of Power (1994), Rapture (1998) and Gracefallen (1999) before breaking up in 2002. Word is that they are preparing a comeback this year (2012).

Album opener “Into Cold Light” took me completely by surprise. I was expecting something along the lines of Candlemass, Saint Vitus or even Cathedral. Instead I got a thumping, grooving masterpiece.

Over the course of the first minute (of 5’44”) “Into Cold Light” builds to a crescendo of thundering drums, a bouncing, grooving bass line, and keyboards and guitars that weave effortlessly in and out of the rhythm. It sounds almost industrial in spirit and is quite uncharacteristic of the whole album… but it’s brilliant.

The rest of the album showcases Unholy’s roots in black/death/doom metal which reminded me in parts of early Paradise Lost and Celtic Frost. With the keyboards a few of songs even remind me in places of German industrial band Die Krupps (particularly the intro to “Unzeitgeist”). Track four, the fifteen minute “Wunderwerek”, is particularly sorrowful and the clean guitar riff throughout I found quite hypnotic.

This is an unhurried album: it is brooding and funereal but it’s also full of surprises with the music making very unexpected twists and turns almost into other genres in places. And that’s what makes the album so good: you just can’t nail it down. Unholy are themselves. While you can hear their influences they mimic no one.

I’ve listened to the whole album about three times. It demands to be listened to in its entirety from start to finish without interruption. And it’s in that quiet attention to detail that you begin to appreciate Unholy’s quiet attention to detail. There is a discipline required to play so slowly, and a discipline also to listen to it.

Conclusion

I absolutely loved the opening track. I can see it making its way onto a compilation of my favourite tracks of this project, or even my all time various tracks ever. The rest of the album takes a left turn into completely different waters but represents the death/doom metal genre very well. I’d definitely play this album again out of choice. A welcome addition to my record collection.

Review score: 85%

Bonus

I found Into Cold Light on YouTube.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV7zLeWZdxA]