Sonata Arctica: The Ninth Hour (Nuclear Blast)
Finnish headbangers Sonata Arctica have never been a traditional metal band—that much is obvious simply by their name. But while other groups that achieved prominence during Europe’s power-metal renaissance in the early 2000s have either stagnated or crumbled, Sonata Arctica keeps evolving.
For their ninth album, the keyboard-heavy quintet moves further into progressive-metal territory and takes a somber lyrical tone. Referencing the Biblical “ninth hour” during which Jesus Christ died on the cross, the band connects that moment with the suggestion that continued environmental pollution is hastening the demise of Planet Earth—a theme reflected in songs such as “Till Death’s Done Us Apart.” The ballad “We Are What We Are” sounds like latter-day Scorpions, but another ballad, the best-friends-coming-of-age song “Candle Lawns,” seems out of place here.
Vocalist Tony Kakko’s distinct delivery keeps Sonata Arctica from comparisons to any other power/prog-metal band, but The Ninth Hour’s hit-or-miss production sometimes results in muffled vocals that detract from the album’s overall message.