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This review is from: Pariah's Child (Audio CD)
Sonata Arctica have always been a band that's done things their own way. Despite the howling and gnashing of teeth that accompanied more recent albums, these once darlings of the power metal world seem more than content to keep doing things their own way regardless. So here we are with Pariah's Child, the bands 8th full length, nearly 7 years after Unia heralded the arrival of the bands 'second era'. Despite the fact that I really like Stones Grow Her Name, as a die hard fan of Winterheart's Guild, I must admit I wasn't brimming with expectation when this landed in my headphones, which may have something to do with how much I have been enjoying it.
Pariah's Child is not the return to the bands glory days that some have claimed. It's not fast enough, for one. However, this might be the most consistent and solid album since Reckoning Night, and it incorporates many elements of the bands power metal glory days without necessarily being a pure power metal album. In fact, the more I think about it, this does sound a lot like a slower, more rock orientated Reckoning Night. Tracks like Blood, Running Lights and Take One Breath could quite comfortably sit on said album, possibly even Winterhearts if they were speed up a bit. Overall, the band seems to have kept a tighter lid on Pandora's box this time, as tracks are shorter, simpler and have a greater emphasis on catchy hooks and memorable choruses then anything the band has put out since Unia, and a lot of the melodies and guitar leads are classic Sonata. Even a song like X Marks the Spot is quite simple and down to earth if you take away the psychotic hillbilly narrator. After the exercise in the bizarre that was Stones Grow Her Name, I was surprised at home simple and accessible songs like Cloud Factory and Running Lights are.
That said, thinking that Sonata have given up entirely on the quirky experimentation of Unia, Days of Greys and Stones would be erroneous. Pariah's child has weird in bucket loads, albeit this time round weird is consigned mostly to the lyrical content rather than the song structures. However, there are a few notable oddities that have flowed to the surface. Cloud Factory could almost be some cheesy crossover of a manga theme tune and a Eurovision entry from Bulgaria (its brilliant though), Marathon Man sounds like a stowaway from a Skidrow album, and What Did you Do in The War Dad? has a very pronounced Danny Elfman/ Tim Burton soundtrack feel, definitely a highlight of the album. Finally, just as Reckoning Night had Black Pearl White Oceans, Pariah's Child has Larger Than Life, a gorgeous 10 minute rock opera which beautifully marries its theatrical lyrical content with a metal-meets-musical sound. Its long, complex, highly emotive and the kind of song Andrew Lloyd Weber might have written if he grew up listening to Malmsteen and Stratovarious. Top notch.
As I'm turning into a bit of a curmudgeon in my advancing years, I have to say Tony Kakko and co play it pretty safe and simple, perhaps a bit too safe. Stones Grow Her Name was a much more ambitious and diverse affair; its a shame they didn't retain more of the wild eyed ambition and progressive rock aspirations. On the other hand, its almost refreshing to hear the band knuckle down and write some simple yet solid tracks after the last three albums. The jury's out in my book, but it's worth mentioning.
After a few albums of experimentation and new ideas, Pariah's Child sees Sonata Arctica coming almost full circle, finding a comfortable melodic rock meets power metal sound that retains the wintery melodies and power metal edge of their earlier works, but doesn't turn it's back on the quirkiness of their post-Unia years. We are not getting Winterhearts Guild 2.0 any time soon, but I'll happily continue to follow the band if they keep putting out albums as good as Pariah's Child.
p.s. If you are looking for something like older Sonata then try Catheyron by Winterstorm. It might be up your street. Its a lot more folky than anything Sonata ever did, but it does remind me of their older stuff a lot.