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Sonata Arctica - "Stones Grow Her Name" (CD)

Sonata Arctica - "Stones Grow Her Name" CD cover image

"Stones Grow Her Name" track listing:

1. Only The Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful) (3:24)
2. Shitload Of Money (4:52)
3. Losing My Insanity (4:03)
4. Somewhere Close To You (4:14)
5. I Have A Right (4:48)
6. Alone In Heaven (4:32)
7. The Day (4:15)
8. Cinderblox (4:04)
9. Don't Be Mean (3:18)
10. Wildfire II: One With The Mountain (7:54)
11. Wildfire III: Wildfire Town Population 0 (7:57)

Reviewed by on May 4, 2012

"Just like a master chef that adds bold ingredients to a basic dish, the added elements draw new life from the stale and I assure that you will never ever hear them the same way again."

Of all the albums I’ve reviewed, Sonata Arctica’s “Stones Grow Her Name” has been by far the most challenging. In part, this may be due to my penchant for gravitating to what my progressive metal friends would call childish “simplistic” metal. With “Stones Grow Her Name,” Sonata Arctica proved its recent history as the most unpredictable band in metal to the point where genre tagging is fruitless. Fear may strike the hearts of fans when a band utters the bold statement “this is going to be really different.” That may prove to be the understatement of the year, for at the end of this astronomically fun thrill ride the band is still undeniably Sonata Arctica.

Any expectations of a return to the Stratovarius related power metal of “Silence” and prior may be dashed, but the spirit and quality of that and all the band’s previous releases is part of a new recipe thrown into a stew to be cooked down slowly. Just like a master chef that adds bold ingredients to a basic dish, the added elements draw new life from the stale and I assure that you will never ever hear them the same way again. The only way to faithfully describe the sound in words is by composing the following recipe: A. Blind Guardian shaken and violently stirred; B. Dream Theater drained of all of its boredom; C. a heaping helping of Queen; D. one banjo; and, E. one fiddle. More on that latter part to follow.

Try to envision the first half of the album as an inebriated stroll on a path that borders “Silence” and “The Days of Greys,” each rival bordered by an electric fence. With total disregard for walking the straight easy path, the band trips and slams into each side back and forth with bursts of controlled but highly energized mayhem. Tracks like “Only the Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful),” “Losing My Insanity,” “I Have A Right,” and “Shitload O’ Money” spill forth Herculean well produced choruses with that trademark tinged commercialism. However, the underlying current of speedy power present in early Sonata Arctica material is here and true to form.

The second half of the album is a rollercoaster through genres that transcend definition, and just like the real life thrill ride, it is the unpredictability of the twists, turns, and loops that appeal to me most. From “Alone in Heaven” through the rest of the album, Sonata Arctica as you once knew it ceases to exist. It was great fun to try to predict the style of songs from the titles, only to have those predictions be so far off the mark that I’d be better off as a weatherman.

There are certain songs and elements that need special mention. “Somewhere Close to You” is one of the finest on the album, which at times is “somewhere closer” to Germany’s Rage. However, it is the riff swallowed by a brazen and brash keyboard line at 2:45 that pushes this from great to spectacular. “Alone in Heaven” is Sonata Arctica’s version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in its quirky changes and ability to draw inspiration from so many musical genres. The story of the mountain town arsonist in “Wildfire” (first conceived on the 2004 release “Reckoning Night”) continues with two seven minute epics. In “Wildfire II: One with the Mountain,” the cinematic intro into the machinegun volleys of drum and guitar conjures old west versus UFOs, which instantly had me thinking “Cowboys & Aliens.” The follow up machine gun volleys of guitar and keys on “Wildfire III: Wildfire Town Population 0” was spot on for “Terminator.” The package of the two is one of the greatest displays of talent from this Finnish quintet.

The standout track of the album is the infectious “Cinderblox.” This is undoubtedly the song the band was likely preparing its diverse fanbase for. My first reaction was “is this Banjo power metal?” As repulsive as the thought of that may seem, trust me, you haven’t heard speedy power metal riffs until the bold strumming of a banjo is interwoven. I laughed at the first thought that crossed my mind: singer Tony Kakko in overalls in a hay filled barn knee slapping as Stratovarius plays “Speed of Light.” The song gives new meaning to the phrase "past performance does not guarantee future results."

Horrified? Don’t be. This is one time where massive change has allowed a band to break boundaries and reach heights you couldn’t have imagined. I promise that if you suspend disbelief and stick with it, you will enjoy the ride as much as I did from the very first listen. Ultra-progressive fans will likely eat this up with a side of “I told you so.” Lowered expectations and expanded minds from hardened power metal warriors will make the reward of these sonic riches unimaginable.

Highs: The most refreshing album I have ever heard.

Lows: This amount of change will not come easy to hardened fans.

Bottom line: Sonata Arctica's latest proves that a rolling "stone" gathers no genre "names."

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)