Clear Cold Beyond

Atomic Fire
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. First In Line
02. California
03. Shah Mat
04. Dark Empath
05. Cure For Everything
06. A Monster Only You Can't See
07. Teardrops
08. Angel Defiled
09. The Best Things
10. Clear Cold Beyond

One of power metal's most ambitious and adventurous bands for the last quarter-of-a-century, SONATA ARCTICA have a sound that is instantly recognizable. More flamboyant than the majority of their peers, the Finns have evolved at a steady pace over ten studio albums, becoming more theatrical, romantic and indulgent as the years have passed. Their last full-length, "Talviyö" (2019),  was particularly opulent and overblown, garnering plenty of positive reviews. Conversely, many fans continue to hanker for a SONATA ARCTICA record that dials down the multi-layered richness, with the joyously melodic and straightforward approach showcased on early classics like "Silence" (2001) and, in particular, the flawless "Winterheart's Guild" (2003). This, as ever, is the plight of the successful metal band. Stick rigidly to the script, and people will complain about a lack of imagination. Deviate from the original blueprint too much, and fans will complain about that instead. It must be irritating.

But here we are, 25 years after the release of revered debut "Ecliptica", and SONATA ARCTICA have made the somewhat retrogressive step of returning to something approaching their original sound. Admittedly, "Clear Cold Beyond" is much smarter and classier than that apparent compromise might suggest. Founding frontman Tony Kakko could easily churn out textbook melodic metal albums until his creative spirit resigns in protest, but album number 11 points to a much more sophisticated grand plan. A collection of songs that echo past glories while still moving in a forward direction, this is where SONATA ARCTICA harness the best of both worlds.

Diehard fans will undoubtedly allow themselves a grin of recognition when opener "First In Line" bursts into action. Partly a throwback to the "Winterheart's…" era, it's also a much more intricate and nuanced song than anything SONATA ARCTICA produced in their early days. A stone-cold banger that rattles along at hectic pace, it's noticeably heavier than anything on the band's last few albums, but with the progressive excess of recent efforts still firmly in place. Mood established, Kakko and Co go for broke on "California": even faster than "First In Line", it's a breathless reclaiming of the European power metal crown, liberally dowsed in frantic keyboard runs and angelic choirs that underpin one of the sharpest vocals the singer has delivered in years. Again, SONATA ARCTICA are happy to whip the rug from under the listener's feet: a wonderfully weird mid-song detour is the kind of thing that only this band can do, and it drags those familiar elements somewhere entirely new. Equally heavy but considerably more extravagant, the rambunctious, multi-tempo "Shah Mat" ends an opening trilogy that feels designed to reassure the diehards that, yes, the Finns have lost none of their original flair for power metal that subverts clichés at will.

The rest of "Clear Cold Beyond" maintains an exhilarating balance between full-throttle melodic abandon and the versatile, symphonic splendor that has driven many of their most radical moments over the last two decades. "Dark Empath" and "A Monster Only You Can't See" are dexterous, dynamic epics; "Angel Defiled" is a glossy, galloping, speed metal riot, replete with futuristic harpsichord flurries and dizzying lead work from guitarist Elias Viljanen. Best of all, the closing title track is grandiose, knowingly schmaltzy and sonically sumptuous, as dark and light collide around Kakko's masterful vocal to riveting effect.

It would be unfair to say that SONATA ARCTICA are back because they never went away. But by reconnecting with the spirit of those cherished early works, they have created one of their strongest and most satisfying albums to date.

Author: Dom Lawson
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • reddit
  • email

Comments Disclaimer And Information

BLABBERMOUTH.NET uses the Facebook Comments plugin to let people comment on content on the site using their Facebook account. The comments reside on Facebook servers and are not stored on BLABBERMOUTH.NET. To comment on a BLABBERMOUTH.NET story or review, you must be logged in to an active personal account on Facebook. Once you're logged in, you will be able to comment. User comments or postings do not reflect the viewpoint of BLABBERMOUTH.NET and BLABBERMOUTH.NET does not endorse, or guarantee the accuracy of, any user comment. To report spam or any abusive, obscene, defamatory, racist, homophobic or threatening comments, or anything that may violate any applicable laws, use the "Report to Facebook" and "Mark as spam" links that appear next to the comments themselves. To do so, click the downward arrow on the top-right corner of the Facebook comment (the arrow is invisible until you roll over it) and select the appropriate action. You can also send an e-mail to blabbermouthinbox(@) with pertinent details. BLABBERMOUTH.NET reserves the right to "hide" comments that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate and to "ban" users that violate the site's Terms Of Service. Hidden comments will still appear to the user and to the user's Facebook friends. If a new comment is published from a "banned" user or contains a blacklisted word, this comment will automatically have limited visibility (the "banned" user's comments will only be visible to the user and the user's Facebook friends).