I have admittedly never been much of a power metal fan. Although the big, galloped rhythms, massive keyboard patches and fantastical lyrics never really grabbed me, I still appreciate the musicality and technicality inherent in what these bands do. With that said, Sonata Arctica is something of an interesting case, as they’ve kept some of the trappings of the genre while otherwise adhering to the more accessible elements of the genre, and it doesn’t always work. “The Ninth Hour” is a record that is diverse and has some great melodic content , however it ultimately doesn’t really rise above being simply another solid album in the band’s catalog.
The focus here is on Tony Kakko’s vocals, and the man is (and always has been) a hell of a vocalist. Unfortunately, the mix relegates his vocals and the drums to the forefront, and the guitar and keyboards suffer because of this. At every solo break I found myself wishing the instruments in question were higher in the mix, and in the guitar’s case some extra punch is needed. One of the draws of this particular genre is the prowess of the soloists, and there is some tasty playing here. It’s a shame that its so difficult to make out.
Having not listened to much Sonata Arctica since the “Silence” days, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from a songwriting perspective. “The Ninth Hour” does a decent job in attempting to balance the band’s older metal driven sound with the balladeering of the more recent age. If nothing else, this attempt at balance keeps the album moving right along, and never goes on for extended periods in one style or another. Conversely, the quality of these individual tracks can vary sharply. Openers “Closer to an Animal” and “Life” don’t do much to grab the listener out of the gate, with “Closer to an Animal” being a bit of a slog.
Things start to pick up and the record finds its footing towards the middle. “Fairytale” sounds more like classic Sonata Arctica in fine form, and “Titanic”-inflected ballad “We Are What We Are” actually turned out to be one of my favorite tracks on the record. The piano and vocal melodies are powerful and frankly gorgeous. The next three tracks, “Till Death’s Done Us Apart”, “Among the Shooting Stars”, and “Rise a Night” all tend to follow the standard formula, oozing lyrical cheese and big choruses galore, which isnt necessarily a bad thing, depending on what the listener is looking for out of a Sonata Arctica record. All things considered, the middle of the record as a whole is its strongest part, and is generally enjoyable melodic power metal.
The back half of the record becomes a bit too ballad heavy, and the record loses the steam it generates in the middle section. Except for “White Pearl, Black Oceans Part 2”, the remaining three songs don’t really do anything to differentiate themselves, and I found myself feeling the same as I had when i turned the record on and struggled through the first two tracks. The aforementioned epic track, which clocks in at over 10 minutes, is a really interesting, lush, and orchestral flavored song that reminded me at times of Shadow Gallery, replete with lots of beautiful melodies and great vocals. I yearn to hear a record where the band can marry the fire of their previous outings with this more progressive mindset.
Ultimately “The Ninth Hour” is uneven, and that makes the successes here all the more frustrating. For some of the more bland material on display, the band once again shows that they are masters of melody, and have no difficulty imbuing their songs with emotion when it is called for or necessary. The peaks they reach on the record, although subdued, are nevertheless impressive when they find their mark. Hopefully the band can continue to refine this sound, and hit those strides more consistently in the future. A balanced record stylistically, and from a songwriting perspective, “The Ninth Hour” is sure to please fans of the band, but those looking for something other than a solid power metal offering may not find enough here to keep them around for the long term.
- Closer to an Animal
- We Are What We Are
- Till Death’s Done Us Apart
- Among the Shooting Stars
- Rise A Night
- Fly, Navigate, Communicate
- Candle Lawns
- White Pearl, Black Oceans Part 2: By the Grace of the Ocean
- On the Faultline (Closure to an Animal)
Label: Nuclear Blast