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Sonata Arctica: Live in Finland

In this day and age, it’s kind of rare for a label to issue DVDs of bands anymore. Why bother when fans are posting live videos on Youtube for free? But, as a fan of professionally filmed live performances, I love acquiring these discs to check out bands I know I will probably never get the chance to see live. However, in a day where digital promos are sent via iPool and Haulix invites, the fans are left wondering what DVDs are good, and it’s hard for writers such as I to inform you since, for the most part, we’re only getting the audio ahead of time unless they can swing a copy to those requesting one. Instead of throwing a review together based solely on the music and no visuals, especially when there’s no accompanying bonus CD of the live material included, or even a seperate release, the Audio Only section is here to give you a breakdown of what you can at least expect from the audio end of things.

Nuclear Blast Records has set Novemvber 15th of 2011 as the release date for the second live DVD performance of Sonata Arctica. However, unlike with For the Sake of Revenge, the label is issuing this simply as a two DVD set without a bonus audio disc. On the first disc you get the band’s live performance in Finland that clocks in at approximately one hour and fifty four minutes, and on the second is your bonus material of their Open Air II performance (four songs only), a few making ofs and tour documentaries, three music videos, and an acoustic live set among some other supplemental bonus material. Obviously this release is going to be quite lengthy, but I only received the audio for the main performance at this point.

The audio files sent come to a total of twenty two songs spanning the band’s discography from 1999 up until 2009, as well as an introduction track of the band walking out on stage and the crowd going crazy. The live set starts off with “Flag in the Ground” off The Days of Grays, which clearly sends the crowd into a fit as the band belts it out. Clearly the audio quality here is top notch thanks to the professional approach of taking it directly from the sound board. With that, you can easily tell that Sonata Arctica is doing a good job on stage, but being more professional in a sense then anything else.

Based on the audio, the band doesn’t really seem to try to get the crowd too involved with the music. During “Replica,” you do hear the vocalist shout a “Come on!” that seems like he’s trying to get the audience involved somehow, and if they do, the microphone doesn’t pick it up, which is a little hard to believe since it picks up the cheering perfectly. And that’s actually something surprising. The crowd doesn’t even seem to join in with the vocalist like you’ll see at a concert when they play their big single. Not having that input during “Flag in the Ground” was a tip off that the group was playing this show straight without really working their fans into it, which is one of the joys of going to a live concert. Of course perhaps the audience itself went for a show and didn’t really want to get involved to begin with, but whatever the reason, it does hurt the audio a bit. “Paid in Full” sounds a little hollow on here with a strong emphasis on the vocals and keyboards as the guitars sound much further in the background, and you really expect the crowd to jump in or even the vocalist to get the crowd to sing along. Sadly, none of that happens and it ends up sounding a little weak musically, but the audience doesn’t seem to mind as they cheer loudly after the performance of such an emotionally driven and solid song, as well as one of my personal favorites from this band. Surprisingly, next is an “Instrumental Exhibition” and you can pick up on the crowd clapping a little bit at the start, as well as a few other moments during the quite impressive solos, so perhaps it just took that song to get the people there riled up a little more.

It’s actually around the time of “In Black & White” that the crowd really does get more into it, and it’s pretty obvious given the more emotional material and solid performances going on that make you head start banging along, or at the very least bobbing to the beat. While this song really does set the crowd nuts, it’s not until “Letter to Dana” that the atmosphere of the show changes and the crowd really just starts getting into the swing of things. The emotional vibe to that song is intense and the opening female narration to “Caleb” send the crowd into a frenzy as Sonata Arctica pulls out a genuinely moving performance.

But at this point, it all becomes confusing. I have no information as to whether this is all one show or not. But, given that the band has a few of the same songs later that appear at the start, I can’t help but think the main disc is broken up into two different shows. I mean, how many times can a band play the same songs in one performance and get away with it? “Paid in Full,” “Replica,” and “Caleb” do appear again, and with this set, especially these tracks, the crowd really gets involved, is louder, and you hear them singing along with the band. It does end up a far more energetic performance from the band, as well as even the crowd, allowing this set to really shine over the first one, and even finds the vocalist getting those in attendance to participate more, unlike in the initial tracks where he seems to not even bother. Perhaps it really is due to a bad crowd, as this set is far more enjoyable then the initial set, clearly being more energetic and fun then strict and professional.

Judging by the audio alone, I’m not as excited for this one. It’s clear the band’s doing a good job, but like I said about the first set, it doesn’t feel like it was enjoyed as much by one side or the other, and it’s unclear who. Usually the live DVDs do manage to capture a fantastic performance and the crowd really joins in, but with this one it seems like the audience didn’t really want to be involved. Perhaps the microphone couldn’t pick them up too well, but the rest of the reactions like applause at the start or end do come in clear and loud. The second set really seems to have a more energetic and fun performance that truly establishes what it’s like at a Sonata Arctica concert, at least for a live CD, and that’s the one I’m really interested in sitting down to watch at some point, which is probably a lot shorter then the main one. But, for now, I’ll just stick with the For the Sake of Revenge CD/DVD combo.

Article based on digital review material provided by Nuclear Blast Records.