Yet another symphonic metal act from the Nordic region. One Facebook observer once posted a world map to demonstrate where the majority of power and progressive metal acts were to be found, and all seem to be concentrated on the Nordic lands. I'll certainly give him the benefit of the doubt, so let's move on shall we? Sonata Arctica was brought to my attention only a couple of months ago through vocalist, scribe, programmer and out and out dogsbody Tony Kakko. Earlier in 2014, he contributed his leads on Tuomas Holopainen's solo album Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge (read the link here) which has brought me to this offering launched in the same year. The question is, will it feature in our Album Of The Year 2014 shortlist? Onwards and forwards.
Formed in the mid 1990s, they alternated between the moniker of Tricky Beans and Tricky Means (not a wise choice of name in my opinion) as a hard rock entity until they set upon cutting power and symphonic metal having been inspired to do so by fellow Finn metallers Stratovarius. Originally, their inspirations were a mix of Megadeth and Spin Doctors which aren't exactly a healthy blend, but by the Millenium, Sonata Arctica as they were now known felt more settled on the power chunks choice. And Pariah's Child is now their eighth studio album release with a fine looking wolf on the album cover staring out at you from the snowy wilds. In fact, that's the theme for the opening track The Wolves Die Young, it feels very retro and sounds like Kakko's drawing inspiration from popularists like Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Halford. His vocals are about as clean as you'll ever get from a power metal act although he's not averse to the odd falsetto and growl.
Running Lights I'm not too enamoured with admittedly, and the motorcycle sound effects don't add enough pep to the concoction, it's just too 1980s for me, however Take One Breath is a quantum leap on quality and originality. Also some alternation of a grand piano hook shared with some harpwork leaves a lasting impression on me. So a couple of pluses outweighing the minuses so far, although my musical tastes aren't completely reaching out to power metal just yet one third into Pariah's Child. However, Blood adds another interesting spin on things. It has a very strong Prog Rock trait, some Marillion inspired ivories, and spoken accompaniment that sounds it came straight out of Script For A Jester's Tear. Again it's very Eighties, but this time, thanks largely to some spinet effects, it works for me and I will concede these guys are enjoying putting a little variety into this. And certainly it doesn't feel outdated, thankfully so too.
Halfway into Pariah's Child, and now listening to What Did You Do In The War Dad? This time, it stays true to the Symphonic Metal criteria, some exotic keyboard, and evocative lyrical composition. For sure an improvement in the songwriting, but then a curious beginning to Half A Marathon Man as we're subjected to some nylon stringed loop, and what feels like early Yes, and Tony Kakko in full flight vocal-wise. Lyrically, it's very pop-esque and somewhat ridiculously sublime, something that Sonata Arctica admit wasn't written in all seriousness. But now things are getting just a little too silly with some gospel type choir and some US accented "preacherman" in Jaakko Koskinen. All too mismatched for me, and I think an exorcist would've been more apt for this, but maybe a couple more listens and it could threaten to grow on me!
We're now into the final two tracks, first of them is Love, and looks like for once they've got their serious heads on. It draws quite a few comparisons with a Guns N' Roses ballad, a few strings accompanying pianowork comparable to Tori Amos. Easy going and for once the guitars don't enter in until about midpoint. But don't the leads reminisce of Slash's contribution to November Rain? Then it's onto the final track, a nine minute epic called Larger Than Life, which starts where the preceding track left off, and ably backed up by a large choral group and there's still plenty of drama and variety of tones in Kakko throughout. If this was meant to be a Gospel effort with the backups in mind, then it's a good thing as this is a much more concerted effort without the leftfield approach.
With all these symphonic metal acts, these days it's a rarity to see a lead male vox at the forefront. Musically as far as it goes, it's well polished, typical Nordic metal in the first half of Pariah's Child yet further into it, sometimes cooky, outlandish and altogether downright nuts. It's really got me bordering on the sixes and sevens as to what mark I should give this, there's good and bad material to be found here in equal measures. Plenty of scope and variety and themes to draw from this, though thankfully at least they're not trying to replicate the likes of Epica or Within Temptation. But God knows bearing in mind 15 years ago what they must've been like with the Spin Doctors and Megadeth fused together in their jams. I can only begin to imagine how worse they were before the metal calling.
6.5 out of ten. Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.
Best Track : Take One Breath
Buy the album (in MP3 or CD format) here on Amazon
Listen to Pariah's Child here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can click on this link here
Official Sonata Arctica here
Official Facebook page here