2 years ago
SamueleMerco
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Ecliptica (Sonata Arctica), What I Think
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Power metal has never really been a prevalent force in mainstream music and is usually only known among hardcore metal fans. And with bands like Helloween, Gamma Ray, Stratovarius, and Hammerfall having seen the most success, no matter how moderate, their influence on the scene makes it difficult for other power metal bands to emerge without being labelled as "generic" or "uncreative," staying relatively underground. Understandably, Sonata Arctica had a lot going up against them with the release of their first album Ecliptica. Originally starting off as the hard rock band Tricky Means, the sound of Stratovarius turned them into the direction of power metal. And the influences are there, but since then, Sonata has made a moderate name for themselves with their own unique sound and have received a decent amount of popularity for a power metal band. But in 1999, it was the stylings of Stratovarius that shaped this album. While not their best release, there is still much good and would show much promise the band would later fulfill. Sonata has always been known for their blistering fast, yet very melodic and upbeat sound, mixed with soft and sentimental power ballads. That still holds true with their first effort, but the keyboards are heavy and layered, which is where the Stratovarius influences are most prevalent. Lead singer Tony Kakko himself was responsible for all of the keyboards for this album. The keyboards, while impressive in terms of riffs and solos, can sometimes be a little overwhelming and drown out Jani Liimatainen's guitar work, which, while usually only takes center stage during solos on future Sonata releases, is still a little too few and far between. This keyboards are heaviest on tracks such as Kingdom for a Heart and Picturing the Past. However, while the keyboards seem too full and layered, they still create some impressive sounds which even go beyond a Stratovarius sound. The lyrics are similar in terms of having both strong points and being somewhat unimpressive. The song Blank File is the best example of this. While an interesting, borderline speed metal track which is usually heralded as one of the album's strongest tracks, the lyrics about computers knowing everyone's lives are somewhat cheesy. And Tony's tenor, while stunning, also borders the edge of cheese on this track in particular when he hits the particularly higher notes. The lyrics on the special edition track Mary-Lou, which tell the unfortunate story of a unwed pregnant teenager are also somewhat simplistic compared to later releases. While there are some faults in the album, there is also much good to be had. 8th Commandment impresses with it's fast-paced and angry intensity, Kingdom for a Heart, while a little too keyboard heavy, is one of the band's catchiest, UnOpened features a nice, neo-classical power metal keyboard intro (again similar to their Finnish countrymen Stratovarius), My Land, while somewhat bizarre and simplistic in lyrics, has a great melody that blends both a power metal and power ballad style. Picturing the Past, while also suffering somewhat similarlly to Kingdom for a Heart, also has a powerful intensity and speed similar to 8th Commandment. While Blank File's lyrics and vocals are a little silly, it is still a very fun and fast-paced song with an impressive keyboard-guitar dynamic in the bridge. In fact, it ends up being a very strong track. Mary-Lou, while not having the best lyrics, is also an interestingly heavy and fast-paced track. While I'm not a big fan of the band's power ballads, Replica is one of their best with more creative lyrics and a catchy chorus and a still-heavy feel. Letter to Dana falls in with many of the other Sonata ballads of being a little to sentimental, but is overall a somewhat pleasant surprise with an interesting pipe-ending instrumental. Destruction Preventer serves as the epic album-ender with a soft intro, heavy and fast verses, and a soft bridge, all before reverting back to the heaviness with the final chorus before ending with the pipe heard in Letter to Dana after a few seconds of silence. However, the album's strongest track is the fan favorite and trademark song Full Moon. The first "wolf song" (in particular, a man who accidentally kills his lover after transforming into a werewolf) that Sonata usually follows in each release, it starts off with a soft piano tune and majestic singing by Tony, before picking up in heaviness and explosiveness right before the second verse and first chorus. And yet all the while it keeps a fairly moderate pace and a light and melodic yet still-prevalent keyboard/piano. There is also an impressive solo by Jani coupled by a strong keyboard solo. It is this song that made me a fan the band, as well as many others, and is perhaps the catchiest and most memorable song in the band's entire catalogue. Without hearing Full Moon I would not have been introduced to the power metal genre. While Sonata learned a lot after Ecliptica and eventually developed a more unique and diverse power metal sound in later releases, this album really set the stage for the band and acted as the blueprint to follow in their next album, the entertaining and complex Silence. The keyboards can be a little too much and the lyrics may not always be their most creative, but this album is more than just a "Stratovarius cookie-cutter" album, and is truly unique to anything I've ever heard in power metal. With Ecliptica, the metal world was introduced to the unique, fantasy-world Sonata depicted with their lyrics, the strong and un-replicatable tenor of Tony Kakko, and the fantastic solos of Jani Liimatainen. Every band starts somewhere, and in 1999, Sonata Arctica had a strong one.
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