Released: 2009, Nuclear Blast
Sonata Arctica has finally made the transition from a catchy speed-metal band to a full-blown progressive, symphonic metal band. The band's evolution started as far back as 2004’s RECKONING DAY with some minor grumbling from some fans and some media. Follow up UNIA drifted even farther from the original vision and the constant line-up changes probably haven’t helped. However hindsight is a valuable tool and with the release of their 6th studio album in 10 years, this productive act has morphed into a different beast altogether.
Although somewhat disappointed with the change in direction, I’ve actually started to embrace what this band, specifically Tony Kakko has to offer. Sonata Arctica is starting to look more like Nightwish, namely a central figure, Tony, being the creative vision and driving force, doing all the song-writing, production, and so on.
THE DAYS OF GRAYS starts with an ambitious and brave choice, namely a three-minute instrumental bleeding into an eight minute, epic, mid-tempo symphonic piece with a heavy emphasis on female vocals. Pianos, cellos, female vocals and tons of sweeping keyboards put this into Hollywood soundtrack territory! It is the fourth track before we hear something that is more reminiscent of the traditional Sonata sound, specifically ‘Flag In The Ground’, which isn’t even all that fast either. However it is the most obvious choice for the first single as it is most in line with their ‘classic’ sound. There are still little flourishes of speed, a burst here or there, and some double-kick placed to accentuate rather than speed for the sake of speed.
The band has continued to look into darker topics, lyrically and visually and this overall somber tone offsets nicely with the music within. The ‘happy’ speed metal band of old are gone and a more melancholy feel, for lack of a better term, has become the band's standard. Kakko’s lyrics are far above average but at times his first person, emotional, almost depressing lyrics could use a bit of variety to alleviate the weighty themes of failed relationships. He always delivers his voice with sincerity and passion, without sliding, thankfully into melodrama or whining.
Sonata Arctica have yet to deliver the same album twice and as a fan from the very and more early days, it has been an interesting case-study of the bands evolution into something a bit more substantial and complex. THE DAYS OF GRAYS is a deeper, more sophisticated album that I feel may appeal to a broader base of fans.