Finnish metal outfit Sonata Arctica have already done more than enough to establish themselves in the world of power metal. Their ninth album, conveniently named The Ninth Hour, only strengthens the impact they have on the genre. Due to not being familiar with their older material, it’s clear to see this album for what it is: a surprisingly uplifting and symphonic piece of work, considering its theme.
The album’s theme, which revolves around the end of the world, is surprisingly cheery, and not in a nihilistic way. There’re some very subtle religious undertones in the lyrics, which result in a bittersweet reaction to the matter at hand, and the instrumentals do a good job of portraying the messages addressed in each of the album’s eleven tracks. The tracklist itself is paced decently well, with some of its better songs placed at the beginning. They are sure to immediately attract attention. From the third song onwards, however, this album takes on a different tone with songs like “We Are What We Are,” putting less focus on pulsing rhythms and letting the instrumentation take a backseat to the powerfully melodic vocals. Doing this results in a pretty nice dynamic for the record, and showcases the beauty in frontman Tony Kakko’s performance. His lyrics, although sometimes the most distracting part of this album’s production, ultimately enhance the atmospheric and symphonic instrumentals provided by the rest of the band.
Around the middle of the tracklist, “Rise A Night” is another fast-paced song that reintroduces an upbeat, driving rhythm to keep things interesting for anybody needing a variety. The second last song is also worth mentioning. “White Pearl, Black Oceans Part II – ‘By The Grace Of The Ocean’” is beautiful, yet as chaotic in its structure as the title would suggest. The ten-minute piece starts off sounding like something that would fit nicely in a Disney movie’s soundtrack (it actually fits one of The Lion King’s closing scenes pretty well).
Although it sounds a bit all over the place, it would have been the perfect closer to the album in my opinion, which is why I was a little impatient with the actual closing track, “On The Faultline (Closure To An Animal).” It’s a slow, emotional piano ballad with a few atmospheric effects scattered throughout, but ends up feeling like an anti-climactic send-off to such an interesting album.
Ultimately, The Ninth Hour does a good job of capturing a specific mood without sounding too repetitive. Although I believe anybody going into this expecting a metal record may be slightly disappointed, it’s still worth the listen if you have an appreciation for other power metal elements that aren’t always found in the genre’s top artists. Despite the ideas that this album’s themes might convey, the Scandinavian group isn’t “Finnish’d” building up their impressive repertoire just yet… I’ll show myself out.
Written by Mathieu Perrier
*edited by Danielle Kenedy