In evaluating a record, there are various questions to be considered; how important is singularity to an album’s quality, how important is fulfilling expectations, or, on the opposite, going against expectations? Is self-development necessary, irrelevant, disappointing or welcome? Sonata Arctica have been exhausting the possible answers to these questions at least since their 2007 record Unia by coming out with complex, demanding and undoubtedly diverse albums, each of which split their fanbase in two distinct factions: those who love for the Fins to experiment, and those who miss the old days of straight-forward Stratovarius style melodic power metal. This year’s record Talviyö is not going to unite the two camps in celebration as it may be the most experimental – as in far from the power metal roots – album Sonata Arctica have released in their career.
The first track of Sonata Arctica‘s groundbreaking record Reckoning Night from 2004 is called “Misplaced”, and a more suitable title couldn’t have been found for Talviyö‘s opening track “Message From The Sun”, hadn’t the name been taken yet. With a friendly offering of peace, Sonata Arctica offer a conciliatory, unapologetically melodic and upbeat melodic power metal track to melody-thirsty fans who will be happy to be listening to a track which could have as well been placed on 2003’s Winterheart’s Guild, a spiritual sibling to “The Cage”. In Talviyö‘s context, however, “Message From The Sun” is a runaway, much in the vein of the driving double bass drumming and energetic chorus. The track’s outlier characteristic is revealed upon further inspection of Talviyö: it is the lone classic power metal track on this record. Sonata Arctica continue the path paved by their previous records with an untamed mixture of influences taken from melodic metal, progressive rock and quaint, ethnic atmospheres.
The progressive aspects of Talviyö become most apparent in the instrumental parts of tracks like “Whirlwind” and “Storm The Armada”; where Finnish power metal bands would usually employ some of the most harmonic harmonies you’d heard in guitar solos, Sonata Arctica offer up extraordinary and as such almost imperatively interesting drum and guitar patterns as well as times and cadences typically known from progressive metal bands like Dream Theater or Threshold. Thanks to Sonata Arctica‘s softer roots in melodic metal these parts don’t come across as aggressive as in the mentioned band’s songs, but are instead reminiscent of prog rock artists such as Genesis‘ early works, Nursery Cryme or Selling England By The Pound. Such remarkable diversity is evocative of one of the craziest minds, in the most positive of all ways, in metal music: Devin Townsend. More than once Talviyö‘s unbridled blend of musical styles awakens memories of Townsend’s this year’s masterpiece Empath. Stylistically the records couldn’t be connected more loosely than they are, but Sonata Arctica‘s spirit of exploration of music is hardly rivaled by bands within the classic melodic metal genre.
In the end, musical taste is subjective and so are expectations; Sonata Arctica can’t change that whichever way they go, be it classic power metal or more demanding realms of advanced progressive influences and diverse songwriting. Someone looking for melodic power metal might feel disappointed, but if they are open to new horizons they will find there is more to Talviyö than meets the eye. The author of this review is known for loving classic power metal, but I found great joy in Talviyö after spinning it for a while. This record is incredibly deep and multifaceted and opens itself more with every listening session. Out of the recent Sonata Arctica releases, Talviyö is my favorite due to Sonata Arctica not trying to please any possible musical taste and instead going their own way without looking back.