Review: Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Written by Damien Villarreal
For a band that, on multiple occasions, has decreed that they are done with their power metal path, this album is a bit of a surprise. It still feels more like Unia than Silence, but the band has managed to strike a surprising balance between the old and new styles. I use the word “new” very loosely, because the Unia style is already a decade old, and at least to these ears, is sounding a bit hackneyed in a way that their older material never did. That being said, as a consumer of metal I’m a bit tired of feeling like Peter Pan, Mary Poppins and Friar Tuck helped co-write and produce albums that are labeled and marketed as metal nowadays. Theatrics and ethnic instrumentation are extraordinary tools for metal musicians to work with, but there is a point where it can become banal and…bandwagon-y. Fortunately, these things are presented in a way that perturb me slightly less than many of their peers can.
The Ninth Hour starts off a bit shaky with ‘Closer To An Animal’ and ‘Life,’ but by the third song, ‘Fairytale,’ it has detoured into full-blown, glorious, power metal territory. ‘We Are What We Are’ and ‘Till Death’s Done Us Apart’ are both strong, but the true gem of the album is ‘Among The Shooting Stars,’ which is a highly emotive, somewhat theatrical, track that, with its mention of the moon and a bite, lyrically feels like a cousin to ‘Fullmoon.’
The excellent ‘Rise A Night’ and ‘Fly, Navigate, Communicate’ speed up the album and then give way to the touching ballad ‘Candle Lawns’, which should satisfy anyone who appreciates the ‘Silence’ and ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ era ballads. In fact, it stylistically reminds me of ‘Tallulah’.
Closing the album are ‘White Pearl, Black Oceans Part II’ and ‘On The Faultline (Closure To An Animal)’, which I consider the “good” tracks of the album, the others falling somewhere between excellent and extraordinary. ‘WPBO Part II’ doesn’t sound at all like the masterpiece that was the Part I, so look, or listen, elsewhere if that’s your expectation. Don’t get me wrong, it has an interesting crescendo from tender ballad to mid-tempo, Unia-style rocker to power metal frenzy and then back again, but it’s probably going to be a grower for some people, which is definitely the case for me. ‘On The Faultline’ is a re-imagined, piano version of the title track with alternate lyrics. It’s interesting, but an odd way to close an already oddly-paced, two-headed beast of an album.
Despite lyrical oddities like “It’s a dumb thing to say”, “Hip hip hurray”, “Ding dong, ding dong” and “One ring to rule them all”, which isn’t so much an oddity as it is a plagiarism lawsuit waiting to happen, The Ninth Hour is chock-full of strong, interesting and emotive melodies. The songs are mostly excellent and, I have no doubt, will satisfy old and new fans. It’s probably not the Sonata Arctica that the nostalgic pre-Unia crowd is pining for, but it’s a step in the right direction. 9/10