Sonata Arctica: Stones Grow Her Name

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Sonata Arctica: Stones Grow Her Name
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Sonata Arctica: Stones Grow Her Name
Power Metal
Nuclear Blast Records
May 18th, 2012
Release length: 53:19
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Sonata Arctica are the perfect example of how a band can really bring beauty and passion into the Metal scene, and still retain a strong edge to it. For six albums now, this has been the norm for the group, and their seventh release, Stones Grow Her Name, is just about no exception. This time around, the atmosphere is a little different than usual at times, but does that show there is still room to grow, or does this hurt the foundation that fans have come to expect over the years with each passing effort?

Stones Grow Her Name is another top-notch digital recording, but still holds a slight roughness to the music that benefits some of the Rock inspired offerings found within. The guitars have a nice heavier edge to them that often comes off sharper, but somewhat dirty. The bass is pretty loud in the mix, but not quite like the other guitars, offering a great deal of support to the chords, and aiding to keep this hard-hitting release pretty deep despite its lighter pitch. The keyboards are crisp and clear, often being more in the background until the song really focuses on a passionate passage that allows them to become a little more vibrant, but never carrying the track itself. The same can be said for the cymbals of the drum kit, which sound great even when they are just a lighter background approach to fill the material. The snares are rich and full, coming off very commanding with the tighter snap that matches the aforementioned sharpness of the guitars, and the kicks have a great click that stands out well to accompany the snares, blending in well with the other instruments due to a mid-level volume setting. The vocals carry a matching clarity that the keyboards have, and the emotion in the performances is displayed perfectly, really enhancing the atmospheres of many tracks.

However, there is one time the singing doesn’t quite work out, and it’s in the oddball track “Shitload O’ Money.” This basically feels like a dirty eighties Glam Rock inspired Power Metal track that doesn’t quite work out. The chords to the chorus are often better suited to that style, but come through a little on the bland side, though still pretty infectious with the attitude that usually appears with that genre of music. The more passionate main verses and bridges pull back a bit and focus on the keyboards a lot more, and around the two minute and twenty-five second mark, you can’t help but feel an environment similar to a burlesque act that Hollywood would popularize in films like Moulin Rouge. Infact, that time period seems to really be the focus of this album, or at least what I derived from the tone and lyrics of many songs in this release. But, with that said, you get the rather upbeat Southern Rock styled “Cinderblox” that will make the listener want to start a mosh pit in a hootanany. The banjos working with the electric guitars really sound great and make the experience a much richer one. The chorus is the traditional Sonata Arctica Power Metal approach with a solid transition in and out that works perfectly with the song, really playing at the emotions when you’re not banging your head along to the dominating backwoods tones. This environment also creeps up in “Wildfire Part III – Wildfire Town Population 0,” which is another enjoyable track, but at the same it seems to take on a global warming “We’re destroying the Earth!” message that really comes out of nowhere, and also features a speak-and-spell robotic voice narrative to end the track on, really hurting the impact the rest of the song made.

With those notable differences in the overall atmosphere of the album, Stones Grow Her Name also doesn’t really have a lot of stand out tracks similar to what Sonata Arctica fans would expect, though none of them really sound too bland, or remotely like filler. “Losing My Insanity” is a beautiful song that really captures a poetic sense in the music and lyics, backed backed by a fantastic, powerful vocal performance that really builds on that tone the more you progress through it, especially towards the end when it builds to a rather epic scale near the drop off at the very last few seconds, utilizing the layered vocals to full effect. The single “I Have a Right” is just a moving piece from start until finish, and fans of the band that crave beauty and passion will have a field day here. Again, the chorus is the most moving thanks to the subtle changes in lyrics and the way the track progresses into it from the verses, but the song sets up a lifelike struggle that is pushed with the growing scale that will leave you bobbing your head along while fighting back a tear to the awe-inspiring and highly memorable performance.

“Alone in Heaven” is destined to be the next lead single if one is to follow “I Have a Right,” as well as a highly potential fan favorite at live performances. The song does a nice job mixing a power ballad with a slightly aggressive Power Metal sound similar to the heavier “Somewhere Close to You.” While the emotional impact isn’t too strong, it’s still a great slower offering with a powerful performance behind it, and a catchy beat you’ll be bobbing your head along to after countless times through it. However, it’s “Don’t Be Mean” that will leave you with some mixed feelings. While the lyrics here are often poetic, the niche context it has just sounds weak, and not in the poor performance sense. To anyone in an abusive relationship and working hard to keep it alive, or similar rocky seas with a loved one, you’ll find this hitting home a little more than others thanks to the concept of trying to work through a rough patch and a proclamation that being mean to the writer (or fictional character if there is one behind it) is not what is needed at that point of the struggle.

Overall, Stones Grow Her Name is another passionate experience from Sonata Arctica, and one fans will definitely embrace. The main problem is that the band does take things into different directions at times, and in the case of “Wildfire Part III – Wildfire Town Population 0” and “Cinderblox,” it feels completely out of focus from the context the writing and music establish, though the latter of the two is a lot more entertaining than the first. But, while some songs don’t quite hit as hard or as memorable a mark, there’s still plenty of well exectued, powerful, and emotionally jerking songs found throughout that really speak to the listener, and will have him or her coming back time and time again. If you’re a fan, there’s really no reason to ignore this offering. Of course, if you’re still on the fence about this group, or find them too light and poetic to truly be called Metal, it probably won’t sway you into becoming a fan, but the heavier material and production value definitely warrants it to at least be something worth sampling on iTunes or any other MP3 store regardless of your views towards them.

01. Only the Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful) – 3:24
02. Shitload O’ Money – 4:52
03. Losing My Insanity – 4:03
04. Somewhere Close to You – 4:14
05. I Have a Right – 4:48
06. Alone in Heaven – 4:32
07. The Day – 4:15
08. Cinderblox – 4:04
09. Don’t Be Mean – 3:18
10. Wildfire Part II – One With the Mountain – 7:54
11. Wildfire Part II – Wildfire Town Population 0 – 7:57
Overall Score: 8.5/10


Digital review copy of this release provided by Nuclear Blast Records.