Sonata Arctica - Clear Cold Beyond

Artist: Sonata Arctica

Album Title: Clear Cold Beyond

Label: Atomic Fire

Date of Release: 8 March 2024

It was 2001 when I first came across Finnish power metal band Sonata Arctica, around the time that I was finishing my university studies and about to head out into the big wide world for the first time. It was an exciting time, and Sonata Arctica’s second full-length studio release, ‘Silence’ represented a significant part of the soundtrack to that part of my life. It coincided with a time when power metal was one of my go-to genres, too, with the likes of Hammerfall, Gamma Ray, and a ton of other bands dominating my speakers.

Strangely, though, aside from ‘Silence’, I never really found myself that engaged with Sonata Arctica after that. Bearing in mind how much I enjoyed that record, you would’ve thought that my love affair with the Finnish quintet would continue apace. But no, it didn’t, and looking back, I really can’t put my finger on why that might have been, other than the fact that I gradually veered away from power metal in general upon discovering other genres on my voyage of discovery, progressive metal in particular.

Whatever the reasons, it seems that this might just be an ideal time to dive back into the world of Sonata Arctica. Having released two acoustic albums under the ‘Acoustic Adventures’ banner in 2022, the band are back to their more familiar metallic guise with album number eleven, ‘Clear Cold Beyond’. As always, the band are led by lead vocalist, principal songwriter and band mastermind Tony Kakko. He is joined by the ever-present Tommy Portimo on the drums, as well as keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg, guitarist Elias Viljanen, and bassist Pasi Kauppinen.

‘Clear Cold Beyond’ is an album that confronts that ever-so-cheery subject matter that we, as humans are destroying our own planet. That being said, within seconds of the opening track beginning, we’re hit with that familiar up-tempo and rapid power metal assault of which fans have been starved since ‘Talviyö’ was unleashed in 2019. It’s certainly not a soundtrack that immediately brings such a grave subject to the fore, but as the album develops, you can definitely detect an undercurrent of solemnity juxtaposed against the shiny, sparkly, and energetic brand of power metal that Sonata Arctica are most well-known and loved.

As openings to albums go, this one is right up there, thanks to a handful of songs that I’ve warmed to very quickly. It all kicks off with ‘First In line’ that explodes into life with thunderous drumming, tinkling keys, and energetic guitar work. It’s a real reminder of their power metal strengths and a very positive start, something of a grower, too, as it turns out, as those melodies within the chorus start to take a hold on your brain.

Sonata Arctica - Clear Cold Beyond

Things get even faster with ‘California’, certainly at the beginning. The song skips along at a hefty pace, but with more strong synth work, relentless drumming, and a chorus that’s catchy as hell. The fact that Kakko is singing ‘as California falls into the sea’ to such a strong and memorable chorus provides a strange juxtaposition, but it works. As does the keyboard solo that echoes the central melody, whilst there’s a strange but striking mid-song break complete with choral vocals and more prominent keys.

‘Shah Mat’ begins with a much more cinematic and opulent intro, before dishing out more pacey power metal. The strength of the guitar tone comes to the fore within the verses, sounding properly heavy and aggressive in the process. The electronic embellishments are interesting, but I particularly like the slower parts within the second half of the song that build on the opulence seen within the intro.

There is yet more cinematic grandiosity with the onset of ‘Dark Empath’, the longest composition on the album at just a smidge over six minutes. This is the first time on ‘Clear Cold Beyond’ where the pace is deliberately slowed, in favour of creating a darker atmosphere, but it is another serious grower that I wasn’t keen on to begin with. And then, when I was least expecting it, the hooks grabbed me and have refused to let go.

It’s a strong start and the quality continues at points over the remaining six tracks. However, I have to admit something at this stage, and it perhaps explains why Sonata Arctica never remained at the top of my power metal affections beyond a couple of their early albums. My admission is that, after a while, I find the vocal delivery of Tony Kakko a little exhausting. Kakko’s style is to deliver long sentences of lyrics, often with barely a pause. At times, I get to the point where I just wish he’d take a breather and let the music take more of the strain. Take ‘Cure For Everything’ as just one example, where the vocals just keep coming…and coming…and coming. It’s a bit like listening to a toddler hyped up on sugar and, at a certain point, I just need a break.

I fully appreciate that I could well be in the minority, but it’s a facet of the Sonata Arctica sound that I struggle with. That and the choice of some of the melodic interplay which doesn’t always hit the mark quite as firmly as I’d like, coming across as a cross between a stage musical and a folk ditty. I’m also not blind to the fact that I might be sounding a little churlish in the process but too often over latter stages of the album, I find that the music doesn’t quite go the way I want it to, and I become a tad frustrated. Case in point: ‘Teardrops’, which is a song that I have never been able to warm to, as it’s a bit ‘something or nothing’.

However, desperate to end the review on a positive note, I will say that ‘Clear Cold Beyond’ is the most engaged I have felt with a Sonata Arctica album for a frighteningly long time. There is a lot to sink your teeth into on this album and it is great to hear the band indulging in some of the fastest material since their inception. Plus, the first four tracks are arguably worth the entrance fee alone. If you’ve ever been a fan of Sonata Arctica, you’re going to enjoy the vast majority of this album, so make sure you give it your time and attention.

The Score of Much Metal: 80%



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