Sonata Arctica – The Days of Grays
Rating: 4.0/5.0 – Very good to great, depending what you want from them..
Label: Nuclear Blast (USA | EU)
Websites: sonataarctica.info | myspace.com/sonataarctica
Release Date(s): USA 9.22.2009 | EU: 18.9.2009
I’ve been a big Sonata Arctica fan for a long, long time. One of the first records I ever reviewed in my entire reviewing career was Silence, which by many is still considered to be the band’s finest record. I loved it, and I was instantly hooked by the band’s sweet hooks, tightness and particularly the vocal stylings of one Tony Kakko. The music was just technical enough to make me feel superior to all the people who were listening to Nu-Metal, but poppy and feel good were the other traits that I loved about the band. I’ve always described it as “driving music.” You know, hit the open road, go as fast as you think you can get away with and blast Sonata Arctica at top volumes while you barrel down the highway into the amazing summer day. Sound familiar to your experience? I hope so, because that’s the angle I’m starting from.
Sonata Arctica is not that band anymore. By admission, according to Henrik (keyboards), they were “bored as fuck” with that sound, which lead them to producing Unia, an album which did not sit well with many of the traditional Sonata Arctica fanbase. Unia was a much more plodding album, more progressive I’d say, but lacking a lot of the catchiness and addictive speed that defined the band for so many years and for so many of their fans. The Days of Grays is definitely not classic Sonata Arctica, but the good news is: it’s a grower.
Unlike old Sonata Arctica this record doesn’t rip out the door, but instead it creeps up on you with a long intro and the track “Deathaura” which begins with female vocals. The sound is still heavy and keyboard-laden, but despite that the slowness and chuggy riffs that still dominate this album, the speed has started sneaking back in, adding balance while satisfying a lot of my urges for catchy, speedy, poppy Sonata Arctica. While the only true throwback to the older sound is “Flag in the Ground,” the tracks don’t disappoint. Tracks like “Juliet” and “Zeroes,” walk on that fine line and with just a little bit more speed could probably have fit onto Winterheart’s Guild or Recknoning Night. And, of course, this is Sonata Arctica, these guys are real pros and every track on here is perfectly performed, produced and constructed. These guys do what they do, no matter what it is, convincingly.
But there is a reality to face for most fans. Sonata Arctica has gone prog. The thing that really stood about this whole album for me is that they’re getting a little weirder, a little more subtle and more musically advanced. The melodies sometimes seem off, just enough for you to know that’s intentional (like the beginning “The Dead Skin”), things are layered like crazy and the music is far more linear than it was. The movement away from the nearly schlager formula tracks to these subtle, well-composed and interesting movements should be fully encouraged by everyone who likes to see bands develop. Sure, these guys aren’t as fun anymore, but they’re so much better musically now. The question is whether or not that’s enough.
For me, I want a balance between these two things, that is, between the subtle, musically interesting stuff and the musical happiness that embodied Sonata Arctica for me. The Days of Grays strikes a pretty good balance on that front, making it both an interesting and fun record to listen to. But as far as I’m concerned, they really nailed that balance with 2004’s Reckoning Night, which is my favorite album of theirs for that very reason. I respect what the band is trying to achieve with The Days of Grays, and it’s well done… But, sorry guys, couldn’t you add a couple more fast songs?