Posted by: Necci – May 22, 2012
Power metal in the year 2012 is a genre so defined by grandiose pomp and circumstance that it can be tough to figure out what actually makes it count as metal. It can't be denied that even the earliest power metal bands, such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, worked on an epic scale, and there were definitely times that they went over the top. However, when you listened to Maiden or Helloween back in the day, you could always tell that they were grounded in the fundamentals of metal. Quick, pounding tempos, solid drumming, and most importantly, chunky guitars delivering heavy, distorted riffing kept everything nailed down and made sure that anyone who heard those songs knew what genre they were listening to. Fuckin' METAL, dude!
Sonata Arctica may not quite be as popular as Iron Maiden was in 1985, but they are clearly one of the modern standard-bearers of power metal. However, I'm not sure someone who heard Stones Grow Her Name would be nearly as quick to consider it metal as they would have with Maiden 25 years ago. The chunky guitars are still here somewhere, but they're low enough in the mix that, instead of asserting themselves, they come closer to providing a mere sonic launching pad for the layer upon layer of soaring, majestic vocals and keyboards that dominate this album. Some tracks, such as "The Day" or opener "Only The Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful)," begin with solid riffs that jump out at you during the intros, only to get overtaken as the verses begin by plentiful vocal and keyboard washes.
Additionally, while Sonata Arctica can pick up the pace on occasion, many of these songs proceed at a plodding medium tempo that doesn't do much to get the blood flowing. Instead, what they devote themselves to are overwhelming musical crescendos, some of which (the banjo/fiddle breakdown on "Cinderblox," the tongue-in-cheek fist-pumping chorus on "Shitload O' Money") are downright silly. The midtempo pacing and vocal theatrics that dominate this album make me think of Meatloaf much more quickly than they inspire thoughts of Iron Maiden.
But maybe the problem isn't so much the music as the expectations I'm bringing with me when I hear it. Metal's become a much more wide-ranging genre in recent years than it was back when it started, and I recognize that, but when I reach for a metal album, I'm still looking for something that will connect with me on the same level that Slayer and Metallica albums connected with me back in the late 80s, when I was still a surly ninth-grader in a jean jacket and tight black jeans. Sonata Arctica is not music for the antisocial headbangers who make up traditional metal fandom. In fact, it seems more likely to appeal to people who buy the soundtracks to Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. Someone who gets a kick out of Jesus Christ Superstar and Bat Out Of Hell might have a blast listening to Stones Grow Her Name. But as someone who just wants to thrash, I'm not getting much out of it.
By Andrew Necci