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Sonata Arctica “Clear Cold Beyond” Album Review by Scott Douglas

Sonata Arctica by KristianReuter 1  scaled

Sonata Arctica have been a band for more than a quarter of a century now! This doesn’t seem possible. They were the “new thing” just yesterday, weren’t they? Well, Clear Cold Beyond is their 11th studio album. They are grizzled vets by now. That means they have had a career in making music. Careers are rarely steady-state or linear. Ups and downs are expected. Our European Power Metal heroes are no exception to this rule. 

Their first four albums are genre classics that range from excellent to masterpieces. They were young and full of energetic creativity and it showed. Then they recorded Unia. Oh, man. I bought that CD without hesitation, and then tried to love it. The only time I saw them live in concert was in support of Unia. I just couldn’t get there with Unia. I then tried to love The Days of Grays, Stones Grow Her Name and Pariah’s Child in succession as well. These albums were brief lovers who could never match my first love. I was pining for the old days, when Sonata Arctica performed some of the most interesting and melodic Power Metal ever known to our metal scene. So I drifted away…

How many times have you heard this one? “This new album is going to be a return to our classic sound!” Metal fans have been burned a hundred times over on this promise. Sonata Arctica were not immune to making this promise. Many times after Unia we were promised a “return” only to be let down. 

After their recent Acoustic Adventures Vol I and II got that impulse out of their system, Sonata Arctica announced a “return to power metal.” Again… Oy… Did they? 

First I feel the need to defend Sonata Arctica from the tru,kool and kvlt kids. These guys are most certainly Euro Power Metal but I hate it when they’re lumped in with or described as “Flower Metal.” Yes, they make heavy use of Major Key and heavy use of the keyboard. They have synth harpsichord in their metal! But they often have serious and dark themes lyrically, with music that matches. During their brilliant first four albums they had an edge running through and between the happy melodies. 

Clear Cold Beyond comes galloping out of the headphones with First In Line. Oh, my, the double-bass, the flying keyboards, the glorious Major Key scales and riffing. It’s all here! Tony Kakko’s smoothly delivered vocals have not aged a day. 

They didn’t deceive us, or themselves. Thank the Lord, they didn’t let us down. This album continues to fly along at power metal hyper-speed with California. I have no idea what the actual lyrical theme is, but this is now my 2nd favorite song that references California falling into the sea. Only the mighty Tool’s Aenema claims top spot. The catchy chorus full of vocal and musical hooks has staying power. 

I was nervous about accepting the assignment to review this album, since I have been disappointed with them for about 15 years. The decision fell a bit under the “never meet your heroes” concept. I’m relieved to say they came through. Each song up through the middle of the album is a worthy addition, showing off the band’s skill and true return to “roots” as promised. Then we come to A Monster Only You Can’t See. This is a classic Sonata Arctica slow-down anthem. Monster is the appropriate word as this song shows off incredible monster hooks, songwriting and performances. It starts off with quiet quasi-operatic vocals that made me briefly think about Falconer’s Mathias Blad. The guitar tone is aching, the vocals are pure and there are bells! I love bells in my metal. 

Angel Defiled is another absolutely throwback SA song, heavy with keyboard solos, guitar solos, crunchy guitar tone and pounding double-bass driving things along. It’s the last banger of the album and the final delivery on the promise to “return to roots” as they have no less than five songs on this album that are true power metal; each one good-to-great in songwriting and performance.

The Best Things and Clear Cold Beyond finish the album off more gently, but with no less beauty and skill. In fact The Best Things is one of Sonata Arctica’s best ballads ever. It has an aching, plaintive feel and I suspect that it was written with an actual lover in mind. Raw emotion always brings the best out of great artists. Clear Cold Beyond is also slow-tempo and showcases SA’s range. It’s an almost sinister “dark circus” sounding song. The riffs are.. darker. The keys are darker. Takko’s vocals are darker. I usually like albums to end with a flourish, but this one has such a killer edge to it that I don’t feel let down at all.

Even the artwork is completely on-theme with Sonata Arctica’s starlit, aurora borealis, frozen snow-scape Nordic aesthetic. Well done boys! You did what very few bands accomplish: you declared a “return to roots” and you delivered.

Scott’s Score: 9/10

Clear Cold Beyond will be available on digipak CD, jewel case CD (US), 2XLP on multiple color variants, and digitally. Preorder the album at: sonataarctica.afr.link/clearcoldbeyondPR.

cover Sonata Arctica Clear Cold Beyond

Tracklist:

  1. First In Line
  2. California
  3. Shah Mat
  4. Dark Empath
  5. Cure For Everything
  6. A Monster Only You Can’t See
  7. Teardrops
  8. Angel Defiled
  9. The Best Things
  10. Clear Cold Beyond

SONATA ARCTICA are:
Tony Kakko | vocals
Elias Viljanen | guitars
Pasi Kauppinen | bass
Henrik “Henkka” Klingenberg | keyboards
Tommy Portimo | drums

SONATA ARCTICA online:
www.sonataarctica.info
www.facebook.com/sonataarctica
www.instagram.com/sonataarcticaofficial
www.twitter.com/sonataarctica
www.youtube.com/sonataarctica
https://label.atomicfire-records.com/project/sonata-arctica/

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