by Joe Mis
Staff Writer —
Stones Grow Her Name is the latest evolutionary step from the Finnish power / progressive metal beast called Sonata Arctica. Evolution is the key word, as Sonata Arctica now blends almost equal parts symphonic metal in with the more familiar power / progressive styles that have been the band’s trademark through their six prior releases. This 11 track masterpiece is an amazingly unique sonic journey that for the most part is free of the stereotypical clichés of symphonic metal.
Since releasing Ecliptica back in 1999, Sonata Arctica has built a huge following in Europe, but unfortunately the band has mostly stayed under the radar in the US. Led by vocalist, keyboard player Tony Kakko, Sonata Arctica delivers everything from the expected power metal to soft balladic anthems without any signs of discomfort. Fellow keyboard artist Henrik Klingenberg delivers many amazing riffs, but surprisingly the music on Stones Grow Her Name is very guitar-centric. Guitarist Elias Viljanen pulls out all the stops on a number of tracks, putting out big hooks, catchy riffs and soft passages with equal aplomb and ability. Bassist Marko Paasikoski and drummer Tommy Portimo are the perfect rhythm section, providing the backbone and continuity to hold the diverse stylings of the album together.
Lyrically, Sonata Arctica moves far from the typical power-metal themes of war, conflict and nuclear apocalypse. Their songs focus on more personal issues such as justice, sanity and relationships – thus broadening their appeal to the non-power fans. The band is tight and their performances are flawless whether doing a soft ballad or galloping along at full power.
“Only The Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful)” opens the album with a nice sing-along chorus, power–ful but not overpowering keyboards and strong guitars. This track deals with broken relationships, and finding the strength to cope. The very gritty rocker “Shitload O’Money”is a cautionary tale of personal corruption, and features some amazing guitar work and great gang vocals. Light Neo-classical keys open “Losing My Insanity” before the track become a rousing drum and guitar-driven power metal track. The brutal “Somewhere Close To You” licks the listener in the guts with powerful bass, intense guitars, manic drumming and bitter lyrics. “I Have A Right” is a powerful call for justice across the world with an effective spoken passage based on the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This track presents the finest vocals on the album, heartfelt and passionate.
Bluesy acoustic guitars and vocals open “Alone In Heaven” as the band ponders the conventional vision of the afterlife, but the track becomes an upbeat, almost commercial rocker. The album’s title is inspired by the band’s description of a graveyard as “the field where the stones grow dead names.” “The Day” is a heartbreaking, bittersweet song that tells the tale of a man who loses his family to a natural disaster – no doubt inspired by the tragic tsunami that struck Japan. This track has to be one of the most emotionally powerful metal tracks ever performed, and is the standout on the album. Touches of bluegrass and southern rock make “Cinderblox” quite different from the rest – it is a kicky and upbeat song but the band does not sound 100% comfortable moving this far from their core. The simple and soft ballad “Don’t Be Mean” highlights the strength of Tony Kakko’s voice, and the vast range of talents that make up Sonata Arctica – fine performances from all make this track a special one. The lyrically deep “Wildfire, Part: II – One With The Mountain” deals with prejudice, exile, fear, and conflict – and brings the band fully back into the progressive power metal zone. “Wildfire, Part: III – Wildfire Town, Population: 0” is part anti-war song, part eco-green anthem and a plea for corporate responsibility, and is 100% awesome. The track wraps with a quote from British naturalist and filmmaker David Attenborough: “Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it is time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment.”
There are no negative elements on Stones Grow Her Name. The musical performances are top notch, the songs are well-written and always melodic, and the engineering power metal precise. The band delivers an eclectic and diverse mix of music with a great sense of depth, emotion and fire, making Sonata Arctica’s latest release one of the finest albums of 2012.
Very highly recommended to fans of power metal, progressive metal and hard rock.
Genre: Power Metal
Tony Kakko (vocals, keyboards)
Elias Viljanen (guitar)
Marko Paasikoski (bass)
Henrik Klingenberg (keyboards)
Tommy Portimo (drums)
1. Only The Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful)
2. Shitload O`Money
3. Losing My Insanity
4. Somewhere Close To You
5. I Have A Right
6. Alone In Heaven
7. The Day
9. Don’t Be Mean
10. Wildfire, Part: II – One With The Mountain
11. Wildfire, Part: III – Wildfire Town, Population: 0
Label: Nuclear Blast
Hardrock Haven rating: 9.5/10