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%

HammerFall—Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (2005)

Hammerfall—Chapter V-Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (2005)

Hammerfall—Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (2005)

Details

Produced, mixed, mastered and engineered by Charlie Bauerfeind. Recorded at Sounds, Denmark, 4 September–25 October 2007. Mixed at Mi Sueño Studios, Tenerife, 4–25 November 2004.

www.hammerfall.net

Band

  • Joacim Cans—Vocals
  • Oscar Dronjak—Guitar, backing vocals
  • Stefan Elmgren—Guitar
  • Magnus Rosen—Bass
  • Anders Johansson—Drums

Tracks

  1. Secrets
  2. Blood bound
  3. Fury of the wild
  4. Hammer of justice
  5. Never, ever
  6. Born to rule
  7. The Templar flame
  8. Imperial
  9. Take the black
  10. Knights of the 21st century

Review

HammerFall is yet another band that I know very little about. Until now, I’ve had only one track of theirs, “In memoriam” from Crimson Thunder (2002), which I gleaned from a magazine cover CD. I’m not sure I listened to it more than once or twice (Last.fm tells me I’ve never listened to it while connected to their service). Wikipedia tells me that they’re a power metal band from Gothenburg, Sweden founded in 1993 but with a couple of breaks in their career. Chapter V: Unbent, unbowed, unbroken, if you know your Roman numerals is HammerFall’s fifth album.

Sound-wise, HammerFall fall into the vicinity of early Helloween fused with Somewhere in Time (1986)/Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988) era Iron Maiden, and perhaps a large dose of Judas Priest too. This is a very European album (HammerFall are Danish), it’s dramatic, it’s romantic, it’s very melodic. The songs are guitar-driven, with galloping bass and drums beneath soaring, operatic tenor vocals.

In fact, the album copy I have contains a promotional booklet that advertises a collaboration between HammerFall and Kai Hansen (guitarist and co-founder of Helloween) on the I Want Out EP. But the last Helloween album I listened to was Master of the Rings (1994) which I heard an advance copy of because a friend of mine worked in the plant that was mastering the album; I got a tape of all the B-sides too. There were some good songs on that release. Anyway, I kind of felt that I had to put myself back in the mindset of 1994 to listen to this album.

The artwork is terribly clichéd metal, and the booklet contains photographs of the band wearing black, and leather, and studs, and looking incredibly uncomfortable and awkward. Such is the price you pay of real metal, I guess. Still, at least the lyrics are readable unlike some albums I’ve reviewed recently.

The album opens (“Secrets”) with keyboards padding out a dark and atmospheric hum over which a lead guitar twiddles. And then straight into… well, Keeper of the Seven Keys-era Helloween! (Welloween?). “Blood bound” reminds me of Blaze Bayley-era Maiden… moving on! “Fury of the wild” has a Judas Priest edge to it: it’s the riff and cutting vocals. “Hammer of justice” has a chorus that sounds like it’s sung by the whole band and a widdly guitar solo.

By the second half of the album you can more or less predict what’s going to come next. Don’t get me wrong, it’s played beautifully, the songs are well written and if you like mildly clichéd metal lyrics then this is perfect. It’s just all rather predictable by this point.

Except for perhaps track 8 “Imperial” which is a short, rather plodding, acoustic instrumental. Remember those days in the 80s when it was almost obligatory to include an quasi-classical guitar track on metal albums? The track that says, “I might be a wild metal guitarist, but look! I can also play a nylon string guitar. Hear my sensitive side”. The trouble with this track is… it’s a bit boring, to be honest. It sounds like something from a grade 3 guitar exam.

The album closes with “Take the black”, a fast-paced, metal-by-numbers chugger, and “Knights of the 21st century” which at 12 minutes 19 seconds is a bit of an epic. It opens with rain and thunder, and the angry growl of an angry, growly man. I suspect that it’s supposed to generate a feeling of fear, it’s kind of spoiled by this gruff voice hacking out the words, “Yeah… fuckin’ yeah!” The early vocals flit between this gruff monsterous voice and Cans’ ordinary voice. The riff kicks in after an explosion.

Oh, yeah! This song has everything.

More metal-by-numbers, more slow stuff, ballady (but with growls), and then the rain and thunder bring the song to a close. Ah! But that’s not the end… two and a half minutes later and the shouty-sweary man is back, “Yeah… fuckin’ yeah… The pro-phe-cy!” To be fair to HammerFall, I imagine that this is a much better song performed live rather than listened to blindly on a CD.

Conclusion

Apart from the last song which I really didn’t connect with, this is a decent enough album if you like your melodic metal-by-numbers. It’s not a terrible album, but it’s not a game changer either. Definitely for fans of Helloween, Judas Priest and mid-career Maiden, I guess.

Review score: 65%

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Jag Panzer—The Fourth Judgement (1997)

Jag Panzer—The Fourth Judgement (1997)

Jag Panzer—The Fourth Judgement (1997)

Details

“The Fourth Judgement is the third studio album released (fourth recorded) by American power metal band Jag Panzer, released in 1997. It features the return of the band’s original vocalist, Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin, and the replacement of Chris Kostka on lead guitar by Joey Tafolla. The band returns to a more epic power metal feel on this album, as opposed to the thrash influence on Dissident Alliance.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Released on Century Media, 1997. Recorded at Morrisound Studios, Tampa, Florida. Producer: Jim Morris.

Band

  • Mark Briody—Rhythm guitar, keyboards
  • Harry Conklin—Vocals
  • John Tetley—Bass
  • Rikard Stjernquist—Drums
  • Joey Tafolla—Lead guitar

Tracks

  1. Black
  2. Call of the wild
  3. Despair
  4. Future shock
  5. Recompense
  6. Ready to strike
  7. Tyranny
  8. Shadow thief
  9. Sonnet of sorrow
  10. Judgement day

Review

This is the original 1997 release that I have to review, not the 2007 re-release which included three bonus songs from the band’s 1996 demo sessions—the demo that got the band signed to Century Media.

I’ve already listened through this album three times, each time evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. So, you could say then that this is… wait for it… the fourth judgement. I tell you, it takes years of listening to metal and honing ones writing skills to make killer puns like that.

I really wanted to like this album, but just as you should never judge a book by its cover, you also shouldn’t judge an album by the name of the band. Jag Panzer‘s name is an Anglicisation of the WWII German tank the Jagdpanzer and it sounds cool. I wish I could say the same for the music.

While the guitar tone (which sounds like classic Metal Church or Armored Saint) and general production of the album really can’t be faulted—Jim Morris has done a sterling job—the songs, on the other hand, on the whole just don’t move me. This album didn’t set me on fire, I’m sorry to say.

The album opens with a quasi-classical passage, à la Apocalyptica, solo vocals and a track that sounds like a bonus track from Blaze Bayley-era Maiden. (Hmm…)

After a couple of listens the album begins to feel like a pastiche of Judas Priest meets Iron Maiden meets Candlemas meets Helloween: a sort of operatic metal-by-numbers.

There are a few moments that I quite enjoyed. Track 3 ‘Despair’ has a Helloween-meets-Cabaret feel, which really shouldn’t work but I rather enjoyed it. Track 4 ‘Future shock’ is a straight-out rocking metal track. It’s not ground-breaking but it’s a solid track. Track 5 ‘Recompense’ opens with a riff that’s straight out of Maiden’s Somewhere in Time (1986) but as soon as the lyrics open I quickly lose interest.

Generally speaking the first half of the album is better than the second, in my opinion. ‘Ready to strike’ and ‘Tyranny’ sound like they are trying too hard; ‘Shadow thief’ makes me cringe; and ‘Sonet of sorrow’ is just terrible. Now bear in mind that I sang with the National Youth Choir for nine years, but the vocals are awful. There’s no diaphramatic control. The whole thing sounds like they sang it through a Leslie speaker. It sounds like they are going for a pseudo-minstrel feel.

Conclusion

Even before I reached the final track ‘Judgement day’ I had made my judgement on the first listen. Some albums are growers: you listened to them once and think: awful, but the more you listen the more you begin to appreciate the subtleties and nuances of the album.

I wanted to like this one. There are a few moments but on the whole this is a metal-by-numbers album for me: could do better.

Review score: 45%

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