Winterheart’s Guild (Century Media)
by Scott Hefflon
Finnish classic heavy metal favorites Sonata Arctica return with another thundering slab of melodic metal. A little tougher and bolder (less skipping through the forest with tinkerbells, more standing on rock outcropping with the wind in their hair, belting it out in multi-part harmony to uncertain skies), but every bit as breath-taking as their previous efforts. While they still slip in a few too many power ballads and prog keyboard florishes for my taste (when Jens Johansson of Stratovarious, ex-Yngwie, stops by, you might as well let his fleet fingers dance), Sonata Arctica remain one of my favorite jaw-dropping melodic mall-strutting bands. Goofy, a little faggy at times, but like Helloween’s “Savage,” they occassionally throw in a few “group barks” like, uh, Nitro, but it offsets the romantic hoo-ha about dew in the fields and giving your everything to that special someone and all that.
Sonata Arctica have the talent to make guitarists simply give it up, and vocals that’ll make you sound really gay if you try to sing along (he’s a tenor, we have to shift to falsetto, and it’s damn near impossible to sound like you’ve got a pair when singing in falsetto), and while more of the song structures “go there” (very easy to get caught in the rigid formula of classic heavy metal: Great playing, little innovation), there’s still a good amount of cheese here. But a number of melodies will get you lighting candles, your girlfriend slipping out of her panties, and that’s worth the price of a CD, eh? And for the non-lighter-waving crowd, there’s plenty to blast on late-night trips, the wind blowing through your hair, the drums thundering, the vocals screaming like comets overhead. Formulaic or not, a couple dozen riffs, fills, and vocal cascades/counter-time quick-jabs will get you leaning in, slapping the dashboard, wagging your head, or belting out a chorus to dark skies.