Sonata Arctica - "The Ninth Hour" (CD)
"The Ninth Hour" track listing:
1. Closer to An Animal
4. We Are What We Are
5. 'Till Death's Done Us Apart
6. Among the Shooting Stars
7. Rise a Night
8. Fly, Navigate, Communicate
9. Candle Lawns
10. White Pearl, Black Oceans, Pt. II - "By the Grace of the Ocean"
11. On the Faultline (Closure to an Animal)
12. Run to You
Reviewed by xFiruath on September 28, 2016
Although I generally prefer my metal of the very dark and discordant variety, a new Sonata Arctica release is always a highlight for me in any given year. When it comes to upbeat melodic power metal, Sonata rarely disappoints, always offering something really entertaining with those instantly recognizable vocals from Tony Kakko. I tore into “The Ninth Hour” the second the review copy hit my email, and while I did enjoy the hour long listening session, I'm a bit disappointed to report that this is as by-the-numbers as Sonata Arctica has ever been.
Both opening tracks “Closer To An Animal” and “Life” have a serious lack of feeling to them, as though the band is just going through the motions and filling out a standard song template instead of legitimately creating something epic. The dull voiceover at the end of “Closer To An Animal” isn't particularly inspiring, and that's sort of a recurring feeling across the disc. There's nothing actively bad per se, but it feels like every track is being restrained somehow and just not matching the grandeur of previous releases.
“We Are What We Are” is another one that's far more reserved than Sonata usually offers up while presenting the “save the planet” lyric themes that typify this album's thematic direction. When not in environmental mode, as usual the lyrics are more on the positive side with lines like “Life is better alive, smile at someone today.” Of course if death metal is your only mode of operation then that's probably a deal breaker, but I dig how these Finns really break ranks with the standard heavy metal song topics and go their own route.
Finally giving something of more substance, “Till Death's Done Us Apart” has an interesting storytelling aspect that makes it stand out above the surrounding tracks. Think of an upbeat, power metal version of Carach Angren and you're exactly there. The band really utilizes all the various melodic elements a lot better on that track and it comes together to a more satisfying degree. "Fly, Navigate, Communicate” meanwhile plods along for half the track, only punctuated by overly happy and cheesy keys, but then kicks into high gear on the second half with loads more energy – making me wonder where it came from and why it's not more present elsewhere.
Unfortunately the album lacks either the darkly epic feel of “Days of Grays” or the oddity of “Stones Grow Her Name” (what happened to the band that pulled out banjos and sang about broken down cars?). As a whole, “The Ninth Hour” is good old upbeat power metal with iconic vocals, but its just not Sonata's best, with a lot of forgettable filler.
Highs: "Till Death's Done Us Apart" is a crazy journey
Lows: Much of the album feels like Sonata is just going through the motions and offers nothing unique or new
Bottom line: This one's not Sonata's masterpiece, but it is still solid upbeat power metal
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