At one time it really did look like Finland’s Sonata Arctica were ready to take their place at the head of the European Power Metal table and remain seated there for quite some time. Three albums of undisputed quality earned them big reviews and an army of long-haired fans with varied and amusingly peculiar accents. Continue reading
With the EP Fire & Ashes (Napalm), German Symphonic Metal band Xandria releases their second work to feature vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen.
Only the first three songs on the EP are new and original works. Opening number ‘Voyage of the Fallen’ is impressive with its use of orchestra and choir, but it lacks features that set it apart from other symphonic bands. In fact, it sounds like After Forever, Epica, and Nightwish rolled into one. ‘Unembraced’, however, has a much more unique feel with some guitar riffs and synths that feel more like NDH (Neue Deutsche Härte). This is new and interesting, and is something they should pursue if they want to really stand out from the crowd as the prospect of more high operatic vocals over NDH is very exciting. The final original song, ‘In Remembrance’, is very pure and small, and coupled with the theme and classical style this brings to mind ‘When I am Laid in Earth’ from the opera Dido and Aeneas.
The EP also features two re-releases of old songs, namely Ravenheart, previously on Ravenheart and ‘Now & Forever’, previously on India (both Drakkar). They are both good songs, but neither have enough individuality to really set them apart from other Symphonic Metal bands.
Then there are the two covers. One is Meatloaf’s ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, and that actually works really well once they really immerse it in their own style. The other shows a serious lack of judgement, because it is Sonata Arctica’s ‘Don’t Say A Word’. Since this is the same genre of music, everything but the vocals is identical to the original. And the operatic vocals miss the sting that Tony Kakko gives to a line like “Open your blue eyes, tell me that you love me, whore!” Only the bridge is done in a very original manner. This would have been great as a live performance, because Xandria fans are bound to know Sonata Arctica, but it doesn’t have enough that’s recognisably Xandria – or at least, that’s not Sonata – in it to earn its place on an album.
With only three new songs, two old songs, and two covers, it is not clear to me why the band actually made this EP. The new material is good, and has a little more individuality than the older material, but it would be much better suited to an album of its own.
Considering Spinefarm released a re-mastered version of Ecliptica in 2008 resplendent with new packaging and bonus tracks, in order celebrate the 15th anniversary of their debut, Finnish melodic Power Metal masters Sonata Arctica had to do something different, so chose to head to the studio to re-record it. As you do. The intention seems honest enough, with only vocalist / mainman Tony Kakko and drummer Tommy Portimo playing on the original, and with songs from what is a genuine genre classic still featuring heavily in their set, the rest of the band wanted to pay tribute to the original.
So, where do we stand on re-recordings, people? Yep, thought so, that seems pretty unanimous to me… I’ve yet to come across a re-recording where the original has been improved upon too. While some are worthy curiosities worth a listen from time to time, the best example being Anthrax’s The Greater Of Two Evils (Sanctuary) – which was a compilation of older tracks with John Bush on vocals rather than a straight re-record – in the main, they are creatively redundant, futile efforts. And don’t get me started on Kings Of Metal MMXIV (Magic Circle).
The re-record is slicker and “sounds” better, with Kakko’s vocals less fresh-faced and more professional, it does lack the naivety and, well, charm, of an original that had a rawer guitar sound, less polished mix and more ‘oomph’ to it. The key of several of the songs, most notably opener ‘Blank File’, has shifted down a notch or two to better suit Kakko’s range, and some of the solos have switched between instruments.
But, minor aesthetics aside, it is pleasing to report that, at least, they haven’t fucked around with it and Ecliptica – Revisited; 15th Anniversary Edition (Nuclear Blast) is pretty much a straight re-record. Why is this pleasing? Surely you’d want the band to do something different? Nah, because different isn’t always better and this faithful re-imagining serves a reminder of just how good the songs are and just how promising a band Sonata Arctica were in their early days.
Ultimately, it must be said, this is a very, very respectable re-recording of a great album, and about as a good a job as could be done to stay true to the original, but as with all of these types of things, the original is the King. If the debut didn’t exist, I’d be reigning down recommendations on this from on high – Ecliptica is a classic for a reason, all in, a collection of great songs.
The 15th Anniversary Edition, I’m sure, was fun for all concerned, but if you’re interested in dipping into the Stratovarius influenced Power Metal world of Sonata Arctica at their peak, pick up the originals of the first three.
The keyboardist from Nightwish has recorded a concept album about Scrooge McDuck. Read that sentence back again – your response to its very existence will tell you more than I could achieve in a thousand words.
Operating outside his famous alma mater for the first time, Holopainen has here abandoned every aspect of Nightwish’s sound that could be considered – no matter how controversially – Metal, pitching his sound in the kind of symphonic, culturally light-fingered soundtrack territory that suggests a lower-budget Enya. Swathes of mawkish synths hammer home cloying, heavy-handed melodies that seem to demand the listener has an emotional reaction, without providing appropriate reason to do so. Elsewhere, clumsy “ethnic” or celtic-sounding elements give the impression that Holopainen has been raiding the CDs in his local new-age shop.
Pretty much exactly what one would expect from keyboardist-minus-Nightwish, then, but one aspect in which the album fails to live up to reasonable expectations comes, regrettably, on the subject of fun. The concept sounds so ludicrous, so insane that one imagines the kind of tongue-in-cheek, unselfconscious silliness that can make even the terrible enjoyable for a time: Duck Tales samples, cartoonish key changes and the joyous middle-finger waving of a man who’s doing what he loves and doesn’t care what you think. It’s seriously disappointing, then, to realise how sober and restrained it is. Holopainen is taking his inspiration not from the cartoons but from Don Rosa’s well-regarded comic, and he’s at pains to make us realise just how “serious and moving” it is – there’s no Launchpad McQuack here, sadly. If Nightwish have anything to offer – and whether or not they do is a discussion for another place – then it’s surely the joyous, shameless sense of escapist fun that their best material captures, but that’s entirely absent from Life And Times.
An uninspired album of flat, featureless music which doesn’t provide any of the things that the small number of people who’ll actually want to listen to it will be hoping to hear. The soundtrack to a film you’d never watch.