Sonata Arctica: The Ninth Hour (2016)

Finnish power metallers Sonata Arctica have long been a favorite band of mine, alongside Opeth and My Dying Bride, despite having a much more upbeat (generally) sound than those other death metal bands. I’ve been listening to their music for a long time, and it’s been a wonderful journey to hear them develop from what started as essentially a Stratovarius clone into a truly unique, mature band with a sound all their own.

This is the best album Sonata Arctica have released since 2009.

My favorite album to this day is their 2009 opus The Days of Grays, which opens with a hauntingly beautiful piano intro before swelling into the dark and powerful Deathaura, a seven-minute song about being in love with a witch. The darkness of this album remains steady throughout, rarely breaking from its stride, and it was on repeat ceaselessly while I wrote the first draft of Consolation. To this day it remains the soundtrack to my first book, and I’ve been wondering when Sonata Arctica would release an album of its caliber again.

The Ninth Hour might just be that album. The Days of Grays were followed by two more albums, Stones Grow Her Name and Pariah’s Child, which, while nonetheless strong albums, failed to capture the sense of cohesiveness and flow that their 2009 album had. The Ninth Hour has no such faults: opening with the insanely catchy Closer to an Animal, the vocal melodies are at times surprising, not quite going where you might expect them to—yet always land right where they should. The second song, Life, picks up this torch and carries it even further, with its la-la-la chorus sticking in the mind from the first time it’s heard.

The album continues on from there, with an exceptionally strong middle section in the form of ‘Til Death’s Done Us Apart and Among the Shooting Stars. There are still the occasional ‘classic’ Sonata Arctica songs: Fairytale and Rise a Night thunder through at breakneck pace, although this latter song could arguably have been left off the album—it would have shortened it just slightly, and it feels a touch out of place between Among the Shooting Stars and Fly, Navigate, Communicate. The epic White Pearl Black Oceans, Pt II is a perfect penultimate song, and the closer On the Faultline (Closure to an Animal) brings back the melodies of the very first song, now slowed down to a lament.

This is the best album Sonata Arctica have released since 2009, and it is rapidly becoming a frequent player on stereo. With a bit of time, it might even become the soundtrack to the book I’m writing now, just as The Days of Grays did five years ago!

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