Sonata Arctica - Pariah's ChildA strange thing happened somewhere between Sonata Arctica‘s 2012 release Stones Grow Her Name and 2014’s Pariah’s Child: Tony Kakko found his wolf shirt and his copy of Ecliptica. Neither of these things were to be expected. Since 2007’s much-maligned Unia, these Finnish masters o’ cheesemetal have been popping out records that are hard to tie back to the band’s original incarnation. In fact, the band seemed to have tired completely of the double-bass-laced melodic power metal tracks that they built their career on. Gone are the days of “The Cage,” “FullMoon,” “Wolf & Raven,” and “UnOpened,” replaced instead by progressive rock tracks that plod along and swap out the sickly sweet melodies for wandering stanzas and ill-conceived banjo tracks.

Recently, however, Kakko said that he had forgotten about the band’s “totem animal” (the wolf, people, the wolf), and that they broke out the old logo for this album because it bore a striking resemblance to the older material. There may be something to this. Pariah’s Child certainly does sport a wolf and the traditional logo, which implies a step in a more traditional direction. Hell, it’s even light blue! The implications are startling: rarely does a band return to its starting place, and rarely is it good. But if Sonata Arctica can balance between their old sound and their new sound (which, honestly, was basically what Winterhearts Guild and Reckoning Night were), they could produce some pretty great records still.

Pariah’s Child, however, is a little misleading in its coloration. While it certainly does feature plenty of double bass drums—perfectly timed and high in the mix—and songs about wolves, it’s not quite a step back towards the old, so much as it’s a slight left turn from The Days of Grays (which is not an insult, I love that record more and more). This is a nice way of saying “‘Wolf and Raven’ this ain’t.” But that’s not necessarily bad: “The Wolves Die Young” has a cool groove, a great bass intro and Kakko’s quirky harmonies and melodic structures in a way that gets the power metal nerd in me happy. “Running Lights” breaks out the “My Selene” feel (read: Stratovarius) for a run and it feels oh-so-good with its machine gun double bass, harmonized leads and unpredictable bridges.

SA 2014

But a modern Sonata Arctica record would actually be a bit of a loss without the band’s growing progressive identity, and there’s a few great moments like the intro of “Take One Breath”—which features a rotating 5/4-6/4 time signature—or the anthemic introduction to “Blood.” Sure, the computer voice reading of the Wikipedia entry of the definition of blood is cheesy, but the song has gumption and the track’s mid-paced Days of Grays feel really works. The record reaches its peak at “What Did You Do in the War, Dad?” actually, which continues SA‘s tradition of cheesy-as-shit titles-for-emotional-songs that totally rock my world. This track is haunting, well-constructed, and shows off what Kakko is best at: melody and drama. When this band gets melodramatic (melodidramatic? Oh shit!), they do it better than most other bands.

Unfortunately, after the mighty, interesting, and actually pretty old-school “What Did You Do in the War, Dad?” the record takes a turn for the worse. “Half a Marathon Man” is an ode to shitty ’80s rock, while “X Marks the Spot” has its moments with writing with a cool chorus, some good feel, the random preachy yank voice overs and the “C’MON DUUUDE! X MARKS THE SPOT” makes me skip it every time. “Love” is literally the worst thing the band has ever written the second worst thing the band has ever written next to “Don’t Be Mean,” and it makes little Dana O’Hara roll in her early, heroin and porno-induced grave. But if you’ve got the patience to sit through all of that, you’re rewarded with “Larger than Life” which is an extraordinary epic, which finishes off the record on a very unique and cool footing even if the lyrics are a bit questionable and Kakko tries to do opera vocals and it just sounds silly.

So that got a bit rambly, but let’s try to tie this up nicely: Pariah’s Child is definitely better than its terrible predecessor and a step back towards what made Sonata Arctica an entertaining band; and 7 of the 10 songs are worth listening to—skip tracks 7-9—and even really enjoyable (see: “What Did You Do in the War, Dad?”). And while the mastering is bad (a clear DR5 with some songs in DR4 territory), the songwriting is really convincing and I can’t seem to get over Kakko’s quirky heavy metal vision. So if you’re  fan, buy this—but remember that it’s not going to be the best thing they’ve ever done. If you’re new to the band, be aware that Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™ is in full effect with these guys—but they’re trying and Pariah’s Child shows that there’s plenty of talent and hope left for Sonata Arctica.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU][US]
DR: 5 | Format: V0 – promo mp3s
Release Dates: EU: 2014.03.28 | UK: 2014.03.31 | NA: 04.01.2014

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    I respect your tastes and all, but I really, really can’t get into this band. I have no aversion to metal that is commercial and catchy (and I love Rhapsody), but Sonata Arctica is SO goddamn sweet and poppy that their music is akin to cheap, diluted maple syrup on hot pancakes. It doesn’t even stick and I find myself enjoying latter-era In Flames more than this band’s music.
    I’m sorry if I offended you or the fans, but I can’t stand music this sickeningly sweet. It gives me diabeetus.

    • I deny nothing you just said. Yet, somehow I love it. :P

      • NeverBlack

        Dude, I think I am your jewish version. We, basically, have the same tastes. And btw, ‘Pelagial’ was the best album of 2013. Everyone else is wrong. =P

    • Dominic Markert

      while this is true for some of their songs, i wouldn’t call “Deathaura” or “The Vice” sweet and poppy. Yes, they get really cheesy at times (I’m looking at you “Cloud Factory”), but they balance it out pretty well.

      But yeah, I can get why someone would just not be able to get into Sonata Arctica. They became very…”special”.

      • This is true. Sonata Arctica has dark moments, but it is quite poppy.

    • Nahuel Benvenuto

      Rhapsody commercial and catchy? The fuck?

      • Refined-Iron Cranium

        I should have mentioned that Rhapsody is a power metal band that I do adore, not that they are a commercial band. I don’t think my usage of the brackets was clear enough. My mistake.

      • Rhapsody ain’t “commercial” per se, but they’re definitely catchy as fuck.

    • Psycophsez

      Well actually, power metal in general is “sweet and poppy” not to mention most power metal bands are generic and boring as fuck with the same lyrics, same rhythms, same stories and just a corny genre in general. Sonata Arctica is one of the few exceptions and their lyrics can be really dark or happy at times, what’s wrong with being poppy if you got an amazing song? Anyways I can understand your opinion, but just think about Rhapsody epic lyirics that talk all about the same generic things before criticizing this album for being sweet or poppy ^^

  • Zadion

    I gave this album the same rating as you, yet my opinion of it seems quite different. Your review actually reads more like a 3.5 to me, TBH, as you offer heaps of praise to the majority of the album.

    I honestly just find that SA’s attempt to “return to their roots” ended up mostly banal when compared to what they’re capable of. I love everything up to and especially including The Days of Grays, but, while they certainly try to capture the elements of both eras, they do neither nearly as well as they have in the past. The album is about 9 tunes of pretty decent power metal and 1 Godawful ballad (which is a mighty shame, as SA is one of the few bands whose ballads I love – even “Don’t Be Mean”).

    It might be better than SGHN, but I really would’ve been content with another Unia.

    • Well, reading like a 3.5 and giving something a 3.0 is the opposite of what I’m normally accused of, so that’s good!

      I was on the same page as you for a while, but I actually came around. Still, any record where only 70% of the songs are even listenable can’t be better than 3.0 in my book. I appreciate everything else, but those songs are bad.

      Also Unia is bad. I don’t understand what anyone sees in that album.

      • Darren

        You seem to flip-flop on your opinion of Unia a little – in the SGHN review, you said “But, the record was sneakingly catchy” when describing it.

      • Zadion

        Unia is great, but required the most growth and listens for me to enjoy. It went from about a 1.5 to a 4 for me.

        The first four tracks on that album are better than almost anything SA did during their power metal days.

        Still not as good as TDoG.

        • Realkman666

          Unia has amazing songs and a lot of unresolved ideas that don’t work together. Very mean and heavy at times.

      • Brian

        Unia was definitely not good. You’ve actually given me hope to check this out. My brother managed to convince me that at least some of the songs on their last album were decent, but I still wasn’t planning on giving this a listen before.

      • Dimorphic

        Ironically I don’t understand the massive hatred from some people for that album.

        I admit that I hated it as well the first few times I heard it, but it’s unlike anything out there and it just clicked with me at some point. Loving it to this day.

      • Halsa

        for the life of me, I can’t understand all the hate Unia gets. I’d consider it one of their best albums, easily far more interesting than Silence. I can’t stand to listen to that album..

        I don’t mean any offense, of course everyone’s allowed their opinion. I really just don’t get why everyone seems to love Silence so much, and hate Unia.

        • The band has said repeatedly that they have two generations of fans. The Unia fans and the old fans. I’m definitely the latter. I think Silence is actually kind of a bad record. It was a slump album, for sure. The first two records are fun, but half-bad. My favorite era for the band starts with Winterhearts Guild, actually.

          • Zadion

            What, man? Winterheart’s Guild is their worst album by far! I legit have it rated the same as SGHN. There’s about 4 great songs on Winterheart’s Guild, but the rest feel as unconvincing as most the songs on this album. Silence is like a 4.5, though.

            I feel like I’m the only one who loves both eras, though. WG is really the only pre-SGHN album I don’t love. Shame what’s happened to this band…

          • Quick question for you bud… who’s the guy with the eponymous website? Oh right. That’s me. And therefore: i’m right.

          • Zadion
          • Halsa

            to be clear, I don’t dislike all their early stuff. the first stuff I heard from them was from ecliptica. Just a few songs I couldn’t get into because Tony’s “mickey mouse singing” grated on me too much..(so I’m really loving the ecliptica remake :D). But on silence, basically all the songs (besides ballads) have that extremely strained, forced high singing. (that’s my main problem with it, so I’d probably be all over a remake of that too.)

            (REALLY liking the ecliptica remake, seriously)

          • No, I love the downtuned stuff. I think I even comment on that in my review. Tony sounds way better later on when they start downtuning. It’s just that I don’t like the writing as well.

  • Anon Bananon

    If they removed the preacher dude (or reduced his presence by about 90%) in “X Marks the spot”, deleted the “we are in love” parts from “Love” (I find the rest of the ballad works quite well actually, but the chorus makes me cringe so much) I would give it a 4.5. I find the rest of the album to be very strong, including “Half a Marathon Man” (I guess the 80:s feeling is a love/hate thing. I find it pretty funny.). I’d probably give it an even higher score if the mastering was better. I feel ripped off when I (for once) choose to support the artist, even buy the limited edition CD, and all the dynamics have just been “squashed” into nothingness. The music would be so much more enjoyable if it didn’t sound like a plastic knock-off of the real thing. At least it’s not anywhere near Death Magnetic (the low point of the entire music industry). But it makes me sad to know that someone, in a studio somewhere in Finland, has the “true” (un-squashed) version of this record. He’s probably sitting there, right now, with a glass of red whine and some expensive HIFI speakers, laughing diabolically to himself as he pushes the play button.

    • Yeah, the mastering on this record is a travesty. It sounds really quite bad.

    • Realkman666

      Worst sounding album I own, probably, and “Love” is the only SA song I have ever deleted. I love everything else.

  • Ok I just had two listens. X Marks the spot is totally off the map. Other than that I felt like it was good to Ok. I really liked “What did you do in The War, Dad?” and while I didn’t hate “Half a Marathon Man” it had me imagining silly things.

  • krisdaschwab912

    Love is just…so awful. The meaning is positive and yet it’s about as depressing as “Someone Like You” by Adele. I tried finding Running Lights on YouTube but can’t, which makes it very hard for me to give this a chance.

  • DxD

    I’m sorry (and hope i don’t insult anyone’s tastes) but I, personally, can never compare My Selene with Running Lights. My Selene speaks to the soul, and Kakko’s voice rising on the last chorus gives me chills every time I get to that part. the new album’s style seems to me very different; where is that old melancholy and mistery of the songs? I listened to Running Lights and (no offence) I was like “The heck is this happy piece of crap?”. I don’t like at all the new album…maybe they will return (just a little at least) to the old style of FullMoon and My Selene, which are very dear to my heart.

    • Huh. I think they’re both equally as bad, actually.

      • DxD

        What do you mean by “both as equally as bad” ?

        • I’ve never been a big fan of “My Selene.” I think it’s a kind of filler track on an otherwise great record. This one is about the same in terms of its content and feel, but it’s not exactly mind blowing.

          • Darren

            IIRC My Selene was the only song on Reckoning Night written by their former guitarist; I remember thinking at the time ‘this song doesn’t fit this album’ – so his departure from the band was very much not a surprise for me.

          • Yeah, but it was a flat track. Shitty Stratovarius. I never understood why people liked it.

  • Jonathan Rezende

    Well, I bought this in a pre-order expecting that this album would be good as the old ones…
    It was in the trash one month after it arrived.
    I hate the new Sonata Arctica because they killed the awesomingly good and old one.