Released By: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Genre: Power Metal
Tony Kakko – Vocals, Keyboards
Elias Viljanen – Guitar
Pasi Kauppinen – Bass
Henrik Klingenberg – Keyboards
Tommy Portimo – Drums
1. The Wolves Die Young
2. Running Lights
3. Take One Breath
4. Cloud Factory
6. What Did You Do In The War, Dad?
7. Half A Marathon Man
8. X Marks The Spot
10. Larger Than Life
For better or worse, every Sonata Arctica album is an adventure of its own, with something new and entirely different for fans to discover. After starting their career with four high quality power metal albums that all mostly followed a similar pattern, band leader Tony Kakko decided he wanted to start experimenting, and so each subsequent album has had an identity of its own, with different genres dominating each album. While I’m not in either camp as far as old versus new is concerned, I will say that while none of their first four albums are my favorite, they were all consistently great, while the newer albums have been rather mixed (personally I liked Unia, loved The Days Of Grays and somewhat disliked Stones Grow Her Name.) I really had no idea what to expect with their eighth full length release Pariah’s Child, though I was certainly hoping it would be better than its predecessor, and thankfully it is. Much better!
Fans of their old sound who were getting bored with each new album probably got at least a little excited when Tony revealed the album artwork, which features a wolf, something the band had abandoned for a while, and if you like to pay close attention to details, you can even see that while every album starting with Unia had a slightly revised version of their logo, Pariah’s Child once again features the classic version. These are things that would suggest a return to their old style, which is somewhat true, as it certainly has more power metal than their last three albums combined, but I will say it right now: If you expect an Ecliptica 2 or even a Reckoning Night 2, you will be very disappointed.
Instead, it feels more in line with Unia and especially The Days Of Grays, except with power metal added back into the mix and emerging as the main genre. So basically, it still sounds like the newer Sonata Arctica, with an overall focus on experimentation and on more complex songwriting, except that it’s much faster and catchier than anything they’ve done since Reckoning Night. Which is to say, yes most of the songs here are fast paced, but a lot of that comes in bursts, and there aren’t any individual tracks that fully recapture their old sound the way “Flag In The Ground” did (probably because that was actually an older song they rearranged and re-recorded so it could be included on The Days Of Grays.) With that being said, I think they struck a nice middle ground here, as fans of their first four albums should find a lot more to enjoy here than they had on the last two albums, and there’s definitely enough surprises and experiments for fans of their newer albums to appreciate. Fans like me who enjoy both eras should be especially pleased with this album, though, as it manages to bring elements of their classic sound while continuing to show progression and evolution, which are both things their previous album really didn’t do.
Vocally Tony is at his absolute best on this album, as he gets to show all sides of his voice in equal measure. Songs like “The Wolves Die Young” and “Cloud Factory” have him using his typically epic and soaring power metal vocals along with the slight edge he’s picked up over the years, while “Love” and parts of “Blood” show off the softer side of his voice, and “Take One Breath hints at a new and more theatrical style, which is fully fleshed out on “Larger Than Life”.
Fans will have already heard the two singles “The Wolves Die Young” and “Cloud Factory”, and those are both excellent songs which give a fairly good idea of what the album sounds like: Fast, catchy, very melodic and certainly more epic than their previous three albums. I also noticed something a bit different about the latter track especially, and that is the more fun yet sarcastic tone, which comes across even more throughout the album. Another thing you can notice from those two tracks is that the keyboards are very dominant again, just like they were on The Days Of Grays, and while the guitar work is much better than on Stones Grow Her Name (I really can’t stress enough how bad the guitars were on that one,) it’s still rather minimal compared to on their earlier albums.
Moving on to individual tracks, one particular standout is “X Marks The Spot”, which has quickly become my favorite on the album. I really don’t want to go into too many details about it, because it has to be heard to be believed, but basically it’s the heaviest on the album (the middle section in particular has some of the best guitar work I’ve heard from them in ages) and its chorus is probably the closest they’ve come to their classic sound with any recently written songs. At the same time it’s also one of the strangest and funniest songs they’ve ever done, in large part because of some surprisingly effective voiceovers. Fans of their early albums should also love the more straight-forward and consistently speedy “Running Lights”. The mandatory ballad of the album is “Love”, which isn’t the best they’re capable of, but it’s a very nice song and it’s certainly miles ahead of the lackluster “Don’t Be Mean”.
The rest of the highlights show the band at their most experimental. “Blood” starts out calmly with a very keyboard dominant sound, before exploding and turning into something surprisingly upbeat yet still complex. It also has a strange voiceover with what sounds like a radio commercial guy giving a scientific definition of blood (seriously.) That part threw me off at first, but the rest of the song is amazing so I eventually got over it. When I first saw the title “What Did You Do In The War, Dad?”, I was expecting one of their more goofy and playful songs, but in reality it’s actually very progressive and very emotional. It mostly sounds like a power ballad, though there’s a really awesome fast part near the middle. The most surprising track is also the very last. At just under 10 minutes, “Larger Than Life” is the second longest song in their discography, and it’s also one of their most unique. It’s another song I’d prefer to let listeners experience for themselves, so all I’ll say is to not expect a typical Sonata Arctica epic, as it’s certainly a whole different kind of beast. It’s definitely one of my favorites on the album, as it sounds very fresh and Tony’s more theatrical vocals are very exciting to hear. Lastly, its name is a very accurate description of the song.
After losing a bit of faith in Sonata Arctica after the shipwreck that was Stones Grow Her Name, I’m very happy and relieved to say that Pariah’s Child is not only a full recovery, but also one of their absolute best. It brings back just enough of their old sound to satisfy all but the most demanding of fans, while also continuing with the growth they showed on Unia and The Days Of Grays,. It’s an excellent album from start to finish, and I also think it would be as good a place as any for new fans to start.
Written by Travis