Sonata Arctica - Winterheart's Guild

Year of Release: 2003
Label: Century Media
Catalog Number: 8215-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:00:00

Sonata Arctica's Winterheart's Guild, which has now been out just about a year (it was released last June), is a neo-classical progressive speed metal album with clean melodic vocals and epic, memorable choruses. Rapid-fire drumming, including double bass, comes from Tommy Portimo, on orchestral keys Henrik Klingenberg (replacing Mikko H?rkin), speedy classical guitar runs from Jani Liimatainen (though some more subtle work, too), throbbing bass from Marko Paasikoski and those soaring vocals from Tony Kakko. And I think it's great! It sounds great. I thoroughly enjoy listening to each track, though my favorites come with the latter 8 (of 10). In Larry's review of Ecliptica (their 1999 debut), he compares the band to Stratovarius, and yes, that is still true here (Strat keyboardist Jens Johannson guests on four tracks). Winterheart's Guild is the band's third studio album (plus one live album, 2002's Songs Of Silence-Live In Tokyo).

The album launches itself with "Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited," a song that goes down more smoothly than the title flows off the tongue. Most of the material is high energy metal. What comes through is a band enjoying themselves. And, even if the lyrics aren't cheery topically, the vocal delivery (Kakko and backing vocalists) sure sound upbeat and determined. The enthusiasm is infectious, making this release standout. Even if those who are used to this genre are jaded, there is just so much excitement in the arrangements that? well, I'm really digging this, frankly. This is such a complete package of great musicianship and vocals that I really can't find fault with this at all. I know what I like about music and this has it; yes, despite the double-bass work. Believe me, though, there is so much going on and so much going on in the drum/percussion department that I don't feel Portimo is over relying on the effect? that is, it's an effect used for effect only?effectively.

There are two and a third ballads on this release, "The Misery" and "Draw Me" (which have some similarities (and some lyrical kinships, too) are the true ballads, the latter falling into the power ballad category with its expansive, epic ending complete with piano like keys; languid, distorted guitar and crashing drums. With "The Misery," even if the lyrics are a little awkward, the emotion underlying them comes through, and doesn't come across as too very sappy? a little yes, but not so much that once winces. And you know I gotta love Liimatainen's guitar solo here, because there are hints of Rothery and Gilmour in it, though I'm not suggesting influence, just a similar style and effect. "Gravenimage" is part-power ballad, part lullabye, part epic. I'm not sure if I entirely like the glassine keyboard phrases here, a little too chilly to my ears, but they add a bit of a chill that underscore the "winter" aspect of the album and the "arctica" part of their name.

For me, the album really slips into gear with track three, "The Cage," one of my favourites. It's a breathless rollercoaster ride with lots of double bass (imagine that, usually that one of my "complaints") soaring vocals, including a choir of voices, and a very catchy chorus sung with joyful abandon. You might think that "Victoria's Secret" might be somewhat a wink at the bra seller but no, don't even get veiled imagery. Victoria's a woman to be sure, or at least an iconic female figure, as I can't say he's singing about a woman in "The Misery" but personifying an emotion (or a muse). It's another nicely arranged track, and you know, it's one that so reveals the subtleties of the production that you realize just how crystalline the sound is.

"Champagne Bath" may annoy some with Kakko's sorta-screamed a few lines of the chorus, and at first I did, too, this whole track shifting so much it sounded scattershot, but after a while, I found the whole shifts in tempo and texture pretty cool. If nothing else, you can't get bored locking into one rhythm. And "Broken" sounded to me at times like something by Ayreon as sung by Russell Allen or Robert Soeterboek, later a little pop/pop-metalish, and later a little heavy alternative rock ... and yet still very much metal. Again, this is a track that I liked very much, and really dig Kakko's warm (and seductive) vocal delivery.

Well, this is one of those cases where I have to say, I don't care what any one else thinks, I like it. Great sound, production, performance and quite an exciting trip.

Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited (5:37) / Gravenimage (6:58) / The Cage (4:37) / Silver Tongue (3:58) / The Misery (5:08) / Victoria's Secret (4:43) / Champagne Bath (3:57) / Broken (5:18) / The Ruins of My Life (5:14) / Draw Me (9:26)

Tommy Portimo - drums
Henrik Klingenberg - keyboards
Jani Liimatainen - guitars
Marko Paasikoski - bass
Tony Kakko - vocals

Jens Johanssen - keyboards (3, 4, 6, 7)

Ecliptica (1999/2003)
Successor (ep) (2000)
Silence (2001)
Orientation (Japan only ep) (2001)
Songs Of Silence - Live In Tokyo (2002)
Winterheart's Guild (2003)
Takatalvi (ep) (2003/2004)
Reckoning Night (2004)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin SE

Added: May 2nd 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1100
Language: english


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