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Label: Atomic Fire Records

Date: March 8th, 2024

It was my three year old niece that provided the introduction to this review. Having to keep up with current animated cinema, it was inevitable to pay the dues to the classics as well. Namely, Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”. It just dawned on me that Sonata Arctica would provide a perfect metal soundtrack for the movie. I can almost hear their rendition of the masterful “Once Upon a Dream”. It’s got everything a Sonata Arctica song possesses, up to and including a powerful epic of a theme this band is accustomed to bringing to the heavy metal table.

Thus, pondering on “Clear Cold Beyond” came to fruition in the following rows. Not less helpful was Sonata Arctica’s return to the roots, somewhat announced on the duo of acoustic “greatest hits” records. As mentioned in the promo sheet, they’ve realized how much they miss the early days of clear-cut melodic power metal and it is perfectly audible on the new record. Starting from the front cover which does everything but scream “Silence”, the record’s sonic imprint is immaculately built upon the very foundation of the band.

Still, it’s not like the band has completely ignored the past two decades. They’ve preserved the “edge” that they applied to their music almost as soon as they hit “superstardom”. The crisply sharpened sound of guitars, most of all, offer a glacier instead of the thinnish ice the Finns used as a foundation of their early creativity. Now those songs feel firm, unbreakable, while retaining the see-through veil of emotion that’s been a trademark for Sonata Arctica among the “sword and sorcery” swarm from the turn of the century.

Also, “Clear Cold Beyond” is a versatile collection of songs which doesn’t contain only calls to the apparently not all gone past. As much as pummeling “First in Line” (and in the tracklist) sends shivers down the spines of those aching for another “Wolf & Raven”, there are more than a few moments that go beyond the initial recipe for Sonata Arctica. It’s not that those are shifting the band’s focus from their obvious intention of delving through the past, but there’s much more to this quintet nowadays and there’s no clean-cut evoking of days gone by. Everything they’ve learned is inevitably shining through, even when the band uses the tools that helped them gain the status of power metal frontrunners.

For instance, you’re sure to scratch your head when gazing upon the title “California”. Diametric difference between “clear cold beyond” and “everlasting sunshine” will have you puzzled. Yet, the state in question is just used to make a point in the lyrics, while the song is another lightning-fast ode to the Sonata Arctica tradition. But its direct successor, “Shah Mat”, is a nudge to the operatic arrangements, led by choir, vocal harmonies and “larger than life” production of the musical background. It perfectly leans into “Dark Empath” which the band proudly states as a “part two” for one of the greatest hits of their career, “Don’t Say a Word”. “A Master Only You Can’t See” is a cheerful bow to friendship which also utilizes bombastic elements to emphasize the point. Then take a listen to what keyboards are coming up with in “Angel Defiled”. In a word, majestic! All the way to closing epic, album’s namesake, that is a monumental piece of dark atmospheric power metal. Is it me, or is there a hint of “Replica” in the lyrics?

Those are the “exceptions” that show an upgrade from the original Sonata Arctica soundscape, which is still there, very much within those tracks, but with added charm. There are still “Cure For Everything”, “Teardrops” and “The Best Things” that bear such a recognizable tone that you cannot mistake for any other band. Place them on any of the first two albums, they won’t stick out for a second. And the best part is that they are fairly catchy. Perhaps not as much as “Fullmoon”, “Victoria’s Secret” or “Mary Lou”, but still… For a band that’s a quarter of a century old, this is a commendable outing. One that is spinning for a few weeks now and that’s not something many albums are capable of achieving. Basically, form is temporary but Sonata Arctica is permanent!

 

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