Sonata Arctica - 2003 Winterhearts Guild


ARTIST: Sonata Arctica
ALBUM: Winterhearts Guild
LABEL: Spinefarm, Century Media
SERIAL: SPI 172 CD, 77515-2
YEAR: 2003


LINEUP: Tony Kakko - vocals, keyboards * Jani Liimatainen - guitar * Marko Paasikoski - bass * Tommy Portimo - drums * Jens Johansson - keyboards solos

TRACK LISTING: Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited * 02 Gravenimage * 03 The Cage * 04 Silver Tongue * 05 The Misery * 06 Victoria's Secret * 07 Champagne Bath * 08 Broken * 09 The Ruins Of My Life * 10 Draw Me

RATING: image


Back in the early 2000's, opinions on Sonata Arctica were split - many lauded them as heirs of Finnish power metal legends Stratovarius, but others ridiculed them as desperate copycats.

'Winterheart's Guild' is regarded as the album where they were more or less comfortable enough to start slipping into a style that's completely their own, and commence their legendary chameleonic album-to-album transformations.

The Songs

The speedy power metal opener 'Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited' seems to continue in the vein of their previous album, but things quickly turn around with 'Gravenimage', a beautiful, dark, multi-sectioned ballad that's almost seven minutes long, that quickly became a fan-favourite.

The third spot is reserved for the now legendary 'The Cage', a longtime staple of Sonata's shows, which starts with a splendid Jens Johansson keyboard solo (who helped out his young friends on the album because their previous keyboardist left them and they couldn't bother with finding a replacement at the time) and features lyrics speaking about a desperate caged wolf, the mascot of the band - invariably, one of the songs on all Sonata albums so far speaks of lives of wolves.

'Silver Tongue' is another one of these fast tunes that hark back to the band's then recent past - rumors have it that Tony Kakko used to sit down and force himself to write all the fast tunes people were demanding of them at the time, and write for his own pleasure only when they're done and the album is full of them - complicated and simplified in equal measures, and singing along to it is not recommended (unless you're Tony himself) for your tongue might end up tied up in a knot.

'The Misery' is a ballad about the complex relationship between the writer and his pen, full of unadulterated emotional spillage that some may find endearing and some yucky - I personally think it's cheesy, but excellent.

Following it, the airy, sugary mid-tempo song 'Victoria's Secret' may come as saccharine overload, but Sonata fans are rather accustomed to those.

'Champagne Bath' is another speedy power metal tune that fans were fond of that's mostly been ignored live after the 'Winterheart's Guild' tour, due to how impossible it is to sing.

'Broken' comes off as quite a refreshment after it - the first track that signified the arrival of the weirdness that Sonata Arctica are now known for, with minimal instrumentation, a constant slow beat that seems almost nauseating and a rather anti-climactic chorus.

It's certainly not power metal, but the album returns to power metal with 'The Ruins Of My Life', a tune that clings firmly to their double-kick, falsetto-vocal-coloured Euro power style, but somewhat unconvincing, and with some rather clumsy lyrics ('I carry my loved one to the hills we loved'), but it is not without its off-beat moments: the almost demonic vocals in the break near the end, several tempo changes and the final scream of unrestrained madness that fades into the background again hint at Sonata Arctica's future path.

The album ends with a heartfelt, painful ballad 'Draw Me' where the spotlight is on Kakko's perfect vocal performance, finally fully his own and not a shadow of Timo Kotipelto's signature falsetto.

In Summary

'Winterheart's Guild' is a mixed bag in terms of style, but definitely not in terms of quality - it is one of Sonata Arctica's finest albums and it ranks high with fans of both their new style and of their old style.

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