Sonata Arctica - Talviyö

Sonata Arctica Talviyö cover
Sonata Arctica
Nuclear Blast
I always considered Sonata Arctica to be a poor man’s Stratovarius and no matter how much Stratovarius has pissed on their “legend” their worse, is still inherently miles ahead of the best SA, ever were. The first few SA albums were kind of fine attempts at aping at Stratovarius, with nowhere near as great instrumental prowess. Now twenty years and ten albums the line they return with “Talviyö”, a rather boring and tame effort, which just feels to continue the ongoing decline of the band in the 10s if not even accelerating it...
Tony Kakko, probably one of the most “tuned” vocalists in the history of modern metal, has more or less lost most of what little vocal edge he ever hide and he signs in a reserved quaky vocal style that’s verbed heavily and mixed quite low. He could remain a backing vocalist and hire someone to front the band even, like Kai Hansen did in Gamma Ray, but he seems unwilling to do so, tarnishing whatever shreds of dignity the band has. The album follows a formulaic, unimpressive, mostly mid-tempo rock vein that occasionally tends to fringe on metal, but feels really weak.
Opener, “Message from the Sun” feels like a weakly sung mix between Sonata’s early style with vocals that sound like someone’s trying to choke Rage’s Peavy Wagner, who to his credit still sounds cool both on albums, as well as on stage. Tony… just doesn’t. The song is good, but the delivery is so weak, it almost feels like someone’s trolling…
“Whirlwind” isn’t that bad, but immediately the ball is dropped to a mid-tempo Nightwish vibe sort of song with some good melodic ideas but not much else; the idea to envelope everything in keyboards, simply makes guitars feel more lost in the mix and it’s only the chorus kinda works.
“Cold”, that the band released as a single, is a toothless rock song, commercial enough, but lacking any real bite. Even the chorus is hit and miss and the vocal delivery is so flat and by the numbers it feels, phoned in.
“Storm the Armada” feels a little arty prog-rock, but instead of some great epic sound, we get more of a storm in a teacup full of keyboard parts. It’s so bad in the middle, I felt like the vocals were sort of “guide vocals” from a demo.
“The Last of the Lambs” is a poorly instrumented keyboard heavy piece, akin to a ballad that while achieving some “atmosphere”, doesn’t properly resolve but fades, probably due to the lack of range to sing the final verses as they should for it to have any impact.
“Who Failed the Most” feels like an ironic title to choose, being another toothless rocking keybaord laden and poorly mixed number, where keyboards obscure the heavy but fuzzy guitars and lazy nerdy lyrical references to albums by huge bands are thrown around in abundance. Who yawns the most… Me at this point!
In “You Won’t Fall” Kakko uses his diminished range to sing a somewhat better song, a noisy mid-tempo that falls between mid-era Rage and Helloween, with a few interesting verse melodies, which ultimately is let down, by a less than amazing chorus. The keyboard solo is hardly necessary but the most offending thing about it, is the sound chosen for it. The latter lead part that follows it is much better.
“Ismo’s Got Good Reactors” is a spirited instrumental with a lot of eastern references and a graceful lack of vocals… having some Finnish friends (Hey you TT and MM fellas); I am under the suspicion it must refer to Ismo Leikola (a Finnish comedian) and the reactors to youtube “people who react”? WTF?!
“Demon’s Gate” has some interesting intro, with somewhat questionable vocal acrobatics in lower registers, but it quickly loses its initial enthusiasm and only recaptures it briefly a couple of times down the line.
“A Little Less Understanding” starts in a way that reminded me Andi Deris solo works, but quickly withdraws to a very low, bellowing... to allow Kakko to get somewhere for the chorus… ehm, it’s not terrible, but it doesn’t terribly impress.
“The Raven Still Flies with You” has a nice vocal quality initially, but it just repeats a phrase for far too long in a lazy Nightwish sans the metal way. It then has a slight drum solo that’s crossed with a flowery prog keyboard one and then a repetitive guitar riff and softly sung vocals. Instead of jumping an octave and turning into an impressive power metal piece, it decides to sort of repeat itself while curbing it’s enthusiasm as well as the listener’s with it.
“The Garden” is a super repetitive six plus minute love declaration, which feels genuine, but the soft vocal never really goes beyond murmuring over sweeping keys. It’s kind of monotonous and lacking a defined, let’s call it “chorus”… with the inability to vocally impress in it, being masked in part by the inclusion of some female harmonies.
Too soft, too repetitive, too lazy, with a boring and poor production for a band this “big”. To quote Zombieland 2" “It’s time to nut up, or shut up”. Get a singer, or just quit, before the whole thing is run to the ground… trying to keep going on the strength of some average albums from over a decade ago is truly sad.