Sonata Arctica - The Ninth HourI am stoked for Sonata Arctica‘s forthcoming Ninth Hour which will be here on the 14th of October from Nuclear Blast. Now I know you’re probably thinking to yourself: “self, why would AMG write an article about a band’s ‘Awkward and Unintentional Successes’ if he likes that band?” Indulge me a second. See, Sonata Arctica started out as a better version of Stratovarius that was founded with a songwriter at the helm—Tony Kakko—who’s like a weird, Finnish version of Jim Steinman. This means that the band’s sound is epic, quirky, but ultimately it can get a little… awkward. Usually the awkward is carried in the lyrics (though once a banjo ran rampant on a recording session and I’ve never quite recovered). Early on the lyrics were quite ESL (that’s English as a Second Language, for all you ESL people out there), but later on they demonstrated a heavy dose of “Maybe that was a funny idea when you were drunk, but…” (see, for example, the song called “Victoria’s Secret”).

But like Jim Steinman—though, inking fewer songs for Air Supply—Kakko and crew always make it work. So this is a list about embracing the awkward and loving it. Sure, there are some things on here that are awkward, but they’re awkwardly successful. And “Unintentional?” Well, that’s because almost any other band would not have pulled it off. What other band could ever be described as “majestically cheesy” and asked to never change?1 Just keep in mind that this list has a lot of overlap with my Top 5(ish) Sonata Arctica Songs of All Time before you flame the comment section.

And to the list!

#(ish): “Shy” – Successor EP [2001]: This falls in at number (ish) because it’s probably the song on here that I’m the least likely to call a success per se. And yet… Sure, Tony sounds like a fucking creeper (“Working late at diner City Light / I make sure you get home at night / Making sure you don’t see me / Hoping you will see me…”), but the chorus is gold and the heartfelt guitar solo? Oh man. The lyrics are awe-inspiring in their terribleness (“I would any day die for you / *whispers* I write on paper.. and erase away…”) and this was very early in their career, so the weird Finnish lack of prepositions didn’t help them any (“Sometimes I’m wondering why you look me and you blink your eye… / You can’t be acting like my Dana / *whispers* Can you?”). But I actually come back to “Shy” more than I do to a lot of the songs from Ecliptica (“Replica” blech). Enjoy the lyric video. Kakko’s a kreeper.

#5: “FullMoon” Ecliptica [2000]: This drops in at number five because it’s probably less awkward than a little charming/bizarre. While the lyrics to “FullMoon” are in line with “Shy” in terms of awkward ESL constructions (“Find a barn which to sleep in…”), the thing that always killed me about this song is the chorus. It’s a great chorus, catchy, fun, and reminiscent of old-fashioned pop music. But it’s the fact that I can envision women in go-go boots and polka dotted dresses singing the chorus (“run away, run away, run away”) while jazz handing and smiling wide for the cameras that has always made this song seem a little out of place. This isn’t really a bad thing. The songs that stand out from SA‘s early material, generally speaking, is very much of the same character. The cut’n’paste europower tracks that the band came to eschew are often the things that I have trouble going back to with their material. It’s a shame that they’ve grown so sick of this song that they refuse to play it live these days, because I’m sure they have adoring fans who would gladly dress up to sing the backing vocals for them.

#4: “Don’t Be Mean” – Stones Grow Her Name [2012]: This lyric video is a gem, by the way. A fine exemplar of YouTube’s best equivalent to the quality and culture of fanfic. Regardless, “Don’t Be Mean” is a song that I genuinely laughed at the first time I heard it. Foregoing subtlety for just sticking his nose in the direct and awkward phrase in English is something that Tony Kakko has made an art of, but “Don’t Be Mean” really was about as un-subtle as such things come. Maybe it was the increased exposure due to the lulz garnered from listening to it, but crazily enough, it’s one of the few songs that I come back to on Kakko and company’s foray into bluegrass infused progressive metal. It’s a satisfying, if very silly, song. It also serves a dual function of being good to sing when you’re having a conversation with your partner and need to break the tension.

#3: “What Did You Do in the War, Dad?” – Pariah’s Child [2014]: This song is where I started getting the idea for this list in the first place. This song totally moves me; the bridge and pre-chorus are truly haunting, the structure is beautifully constructed and the content is emotionally evocative. The chorus (“Why can’t you smile when the children sing? / Did the wages of war cut your soaring wings?”) cheeses me out, though. Oh god, man. Really? The end-rhyme is hokey and the imagery of children singing is just so… Sonata Arctica; missing the subtlety train by about a mile. And yet Kakko’s writing frames the whole thing in such a way that I keep coming back and listening. It may have even ended up on a year-end list…

#2: “The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Real Puppet” – Reckoning Night [2004]: This album may still be my favorite Sonata Arctica record. It balances between the old power sound and the new proggy tendencies they were developing. And the album’s crowning glory? “The Boy Who Wanted to Be A Real Puppet.” At first I thought this was a mixed up Pinocchio reference, but I did not understand the depth. Actually, it’s the opposite [Hey, that’s my line!Žižek]. The story is about a boy who wants to be a puppet—which in this story is totally, on deep listens, an allegory for a fucking rock star who must play “FullMoon” every night for the rest of his life!

Yeah, that’s right: this is Tony Kakko’s “Being a Rock Star Sucks” song. And it may be—if I do say so myself—the very finest of this genre. Take that, Rush! Tony Kakko isn’t just not a “long-awaited friend,” he’s a puppet! Take that, Adrian Smith, Kakko isn’t just going to “cry” and throw his hands “to the sky” because his tour is long, oh no! He’s dangling from strings and can’t cry because he’s made of wood! In fact, given the relative size of Sonata Arctica as compared to the aforementioned bands, the track ends with what would seem rather overblown lyrics: “The show, the glitter and all the fame I’d give away for a life / Some things can end with a word, they say, this only ends with a sharp knife! (KNIFE!)” Don’t do it, Tony!

#1: “Letter to Dana” – Ecliptica, [2000]: Back in the day when web radio was an actual thing that actual people listened to, I heard the cheesiest power ballad I’d heard since “When the Children Cry” and I died inside. Then I downloaded the song on AudioGalaxy and listened to it again and again and again. Then I ran out to my local CD store and ordered the album. Days later I received Silence to review from Al Kikuras and a Sonata Arctica fan was born.

“Letter to Dana” may be the perfect ballad. It is big, cheesy, gaudy, and ESL. And it’s about a man who is waiting around in his little home town for his Dana O’Hara to come home while she’s off ignoring her family, posing nude in a “filthy magazine,” and generally being morally indigent. And as this song slopes along, you kind of start to feel for this symbol of patriarchal repression and provincial conservatism. He’s losing everything and Ms. Dana O’Hara is out living life and ignoring her moralizing past—even though her father so kindly forgave her for her nudity on his death bed! Regardless, the song is amazing; it’s got an epic bridge, a fantastic chorus and excellent guitar work. It’s so overblown that it’s perfect. It may be kind of awkward, but it’s mostly a success. And what a success these guys have been.

So what’s The Ninth Hour have in store for us? Only time will tell…

SA 2014

Show 1 footnote

  1. Okay, also (Luca Turilli’s) Rhapsody (of Fire), but you’ll be surprised to know that I actually grin and bear their lyrics more than embrace them.
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  • Huh. I always thought it was Dana that died, likely from being such a scandalous trollop.

    • At the end yeah. She ended up like Jenny from Forrest Gump.

      “When I was sniffing my socks.. I’d think of Jenny. What she was doin’. Who she was having pre-marital intercourse with. What kind of intravenous drugs she was takin’…”

      • Cautionary tale of power.

      • Diego Molero

        Dude, spoilers!

  • Barry Gilpin

    They actually played Fullmoon when I saw them back in March.

  • Spear

    “So what’s The Ninth Hour have in store for us? Only time will tell…”
    We can only hope it will be as deep and profound as “Shitload of Money.”

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    Poor Tony, his Dana is the centerfold.

    • I liked the guy on YouTube who wrote: “Sad song. At least he’ll always have that filthy magazine. It’ll be alright.”

      • Grymm

        That is an AWESOME reply! LMFAO

  • brutal_sushi

    This was great to read. Its always fun to deconstruct why you love something. I really hope to see more of these. It would help fill the void of the December/January droughts.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    First a non-stop stream of boobs, now a top 5?

    What is this, BuzzFeed? #occupyAMG

    • GardensTale

      I know, it’s scandalous! Ban all lists! Lists are evil! That means you too, end of year top 10s! I know what you’re up to! I’VE SEEN THE HORRORS OF THE LIST BASED FUTURE! THE ENDING WILL SHOCK YOU! DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!

    • You liked it and you know it.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Now it’s time for a “Album Covers with Boobs” Top 5


        #1 better be Lucifuge.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Rule no.1 for “Album Covers with Boobs” Top 5: Chest hair is NOT allowed.

  • sicknick

    “There is a factory clouds are made in / They make ’em big and blue”

    • Grymm

      I hate blue clouds.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Three points:
    1) “I promise you I won’t ride again till the sun sets beyond your grave” is one of the most cringey, worst sung lines in music history.
    2) Why would anyone be excited for a new Sonata Arctica album is beyond me. “Stones” was so far into the realm of self-parody (intentional or not) that it was nigh unlistenable. I enjoy listening to Shitload of Money for the sheer stupidity of it all.
    3) “Why would AMG write an article about…” you can stop right there. My real question is “Why won’t AMG write reviews!?”

    Still, I enjoy Sonata Arctica, particularly Silence and parts of Winterheart’s Guild and Reckoning Night. I also enjoy that Wind Beneath My Wings cover a bit too much (mainly for that slick-ass solo).

    • Stones Grow Her Name is possibly the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

    • Nahuel Benvenuto

      because it used to be a good band (is still kinda is, i liked Pariah Child and Days of Gray) and we are waiting out of curiosity?

  • Victoria’s Secret is the only song on here I can endorse. So good.

  • The Ichthyologist

    Great article!

  • Feytalist

    “Sonata Arctica started out as a better version of Stratovarius…”

    Is… that a troll? Are you trollin’? :O

    Seriously though, the best Sonata Arctica has always been the one where they’re completely serious and self-unaware to the point of painfulness. I feel like them getting a clue hurts their music whenever it happens. Luckily they always seem to revert in the end.

    Still love Victoria’s Secret tho.

  • Ernesto Aimar

    Better version of Stratovarius? Now that’s awkward.

    Anyway, this band stop making good music back in Reckoning. From then on, they just write musical background to long, boring and pretentious lyrics, at least IMO. The new track “Closer to an Animal” it’s the perfect example

    I preffer Cain’s Offering nowadays.

  • CarvedInStone

    “Sonata Arctica started out as a better version of Stratovarius”
    I’mma stop you right there. That is just wrong. Nothing that Sonata Arctica ever recorded is as good as the 6 albums Stratovarius released inbetween 1994 and 2000.

    I’m not saying that they are a bad band. I really like their first 4 records. think they are much better than anything Stratovarius did after “Infinite”. They picked up the ball and ran with it right about the time when Stratovarius started to slip. But they were never as good as Stratovarius in their prime.

    • lolno

      Maybe Stratovarius was better, but since I find them to be totally unlistenable because of Kotipelto, I must disagree.

      • Fazy

        I find disagreement on vocals one of the most common differences between tastes of two individuals.
        I think that kinda shows it’s a very personal thing and should probably be respected as such. For example I find Kotipelto and Kakko equally good/terrible.

        • I think that’s broadly true. It is often what differentiates a good v. bad band for me.

      • Bas

        One like Stratovarius, the other Sonata Arctica or Manowar… But we all like lists here!!!!!! :-)

      • Alexandre Barata

        Actually I prefer Kotipelto, he’s got a better cheese reach.

      • CarvedInStone

        Ever checked out current Stratovarius? The stuff they released since Tolkki left doesn’t do anything for me but I think Kotipelto sounds much more relaxed and toned down on these albums compared to the ones with Tolkki’s involvement (bar maybe the self-titled album). IIRC he once mentioned in an interview that all his high wailing was something that Tolkki wanted him to do and that he was finally able to dial that down a notch once Tolkki left.

    • Fazy

      Hahaha, the second I read that line I thought “Oh, somebody is going to disagree with that in comments.”

      I am not saying you’re wrong, it’s just funny to see. I tend to agree with you a bit, but honestly it’s not very important (for me, because I already knew about this AMG’s stance on these two bands).

      • CarvedInStone

        I wasn’t even the first one to disagree. There are 2 comments above mine that disagreed as well.

  • Alexandre Barata

    Letter to Dana has ones of the lamest/funiest lyrics in the history of Heavy Metal! Thank you

    • Alexandre Barata

      Also, love the fact that he really enjoyed hers and her father’s passing days!

  • I am still waiting for the day when Sonata Arctica will compete in Eurovision. They would fit right in

    • CarvedInStone

      There are a lot of Euro Power Metal bands that would fit right in. But only a few have tried. You would think that the people making this cheesy music would be beyond caring about their “metal-cred”.

      I think Thunderstone tried to compete in 2007 for Finnland but didn’t make the finals. Tobias Sammet tried last year with Avantasia and failed as well. In 2008 there were these Finnish Manowar-wannabes called Teräsbetoni that made the finals but they finished (no pun intendet) 22 out of 25. Their last album was released in 2010 and they haven’t done anything since.

      • RuySan

        I actually voted for Teräsbetoni, and that was the only time i voted in Eurovision. I felt that i had a mission and all my metal brothers all over the world were aboard.

        Turns out i was wrong.

        • CarvedInStone

          I voted for Avantasia but they didn’t make the contest. It’s a shame.

          I miss the time when ESC was still mostly a freakshow. It seems to me that the competing countries are taking this thing a lot more seriously than they did in the past and as a result it got more boring and the music sound all very same-y.

          • RuySan

            During the Lordi years (early 2000s) the vote was totally viewer based, so most countries tried as much to grab people’s attention. These were Eurovision’s best years. Now vote is split between public and judges, so there is less room for fun sillyness and more for boring sillyness

  • SA is probably the only power metal I listen to regularly. Shame they’ve stopped putting out good albums.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Any time I see someone refer to ANYTHING as a better version of something else, I know it’s not really better. Never heard anyone refer to margarine as a better version of butter or to Iron Maiden as a better version of Judas Priest or Thin Lizzy, right?
    If you can’t escape the shadow of the counterpart, it’s not likely you’re actually better.

    • Thorbjørn Thaarup

      Sonata Arctica WERE better than Stratovarius back in the early filthy magazine naughties, but the roles have been reversed.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Hmmm… There’s something funny about using “role reversal” and “naughty magazines” in the same sentence. ;)

  • The Nerd.

    So. Welcome back AMG. And I love cheesy power metal, but SA has always been too much cheese.

  • OzanCan

    Damn! I need more think/comment pieces like that!! Of course we love the reviews, but every now and then, these come right on time..refreshing so to speak I guess.
    I love it xD

  • Innit Bartender

    Now all the time I thought ESL meant Exit Stage Left…

  • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

    Man, such remembrances… Being 18, embarking on an interrail trip through Europe with my best friends, singing Letter To Dana and Shy at the top of our lungs while walking in Paris, Bruxelles and Amsterdam just for the silliness of it. You missed a few gems that I want to highlight, though. First and foremost, the cringy Pinocchio references on the mighty Kingdom For A Heartbeat, set to an unbelievably catchy tune. There’s also the acoustic version of Mary Lou, another cautionary tale in the vein of Dana set to the sappiest ballad you’ll ever hear. And it works! Such sweet remembrances

  • madhare

    A therapeutic read. Every now and then I feel a slight feeling of inferiority reading AMG. Like “oh my, these guys are like experts, and they know so much more than me, and they have like ‘coooool’ tastes”. And then you do one of these out-of-the-closet-with-shameful-favourites articles and it all balances. :D

  • RuySan

    It’s never fully explained if Dana was just a glamour model or a full-on pornstar. The kind that does double anal. I think kakko is withholding valuable information.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    The lyrics of Turilli may not be well written but are FANTASTIC if you know what he is talking about, like in that last great album, anyway the single from SA is like a rehash with weird vocal melodies in the verse but i am sure the album will be good, the previous one was a step in the good direction after SGHN

  • I can’t express how disappointed I am that none of you liked my Žižek joke. Pearls for swine.

  • TalesFanGirl

    FullMoon is the best example of a song that’s awesome solely because of the music, because those lyrics make no sense. And yet, I still love the song to bits.

  • Thorbjørn Thaarup

    I signed up here just so I could tell you just how much i appreciate this list. By the way – my name is Thorbjørn. I’m suffering from ESL.

  • angrymetalfan

    I’m giving into my anger.
    AMG, you talk about “over-rated” music a lot. But you are the most over-rated rater that currently exists and you have everyone snowed. Its not Michael L. that illustrates Voivod young man (yeah I am older than you, and I know who you are) its Michel pronounced Michelle (as in the English female version.) Or said another way the French version. Hey wait another band of genius – Gojira is French but you have never noticed the similarities between the two? Most likely not because you have no real musical background. Your just a fancy writer who can wow all those interns at the other horse shit metal media outlets with your convoluted dialogues that still confuse until the reader gets down to the rating and voila – he likes it. Did you ever wonder why Duplantier spent so much time at Piggy’s deathbed – because he was his protege’ – and took the minor scales to new levels of dissonance- but you can’t hear them because you are the worst kind of reviewer: you make snap judgments. When anyone real music lover or performer knows the best music is the kind you don’t get at first, because of its depth. What a huckster. Its really too bad there is no critical thinking among your sheep. Rest assured there are a dozen or so of us that constantly laugh at your attempt at Pulitzer prize winning reviews, word gymnastics and how to write the most words with out describing how the music sounds to the place it is heard, in order to snow those poor little 20 somethings writing reviews out of what the music, Through the ears and into the metaphorical heart.

    • I’m afraid I don’t even get what your objections are. You know there are 18 or so writers on staff here, don’t you? I don’t think AMG ever reviewed a Voivod or Gorjira album himself. It seems you dislike the fact we try to write intelligent, readable reviews. And the snap judgment thing? That is exactly what we avoid doing. We listen to albums over and over before reviewing them.

    • Huck N’ Roll

      I don’t even see Voivod mentioned in the article.

    • I’ve never reviewed a Gojira album. Nor have I reviewed a Voivod album. Nor do I particularly care about either band. Nor can I, off the top of my head, recall anything I called “overrated.” And since you know who I am, then you know that I do have a musical background. Also, thanks for your kind comments about our writing! We do, indeed, hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to authorship.

    • GardensTale

      I think you took a tumble during your word gymnastics there, mate. Your last sentence no sense make. ‘In order to snow those poor little 20 somethings writing reviews out of what the’ fuck?

    • Reese Burns

      You just took a dump over every writer’s work at AMG, but can barely make it five words without a typo. You know what they say about people in glass houses.