|Review: Sonata Arctica - The Days of Grays|
|The Days of Grays|
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Year released: 2009
Genre: Progressive Metal
Review online: September 30, 2009
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
for:The Days of Grays
Depression is a pervasive problem in our modern society. It is not something to snort at, as anyone who has been or who has known someone who was depressed will confirm. But what happens when a collective group of individuals expresses their medical depression in a positive way, letting it out, say, through progressively tinted, vaguely metallic pop music? Well, in the interest of answering this very important question, Sonata Arctica sat down with me and a group of other experienced men in white coats (who had very professional-looking credentials and prefixes to their names) to negotiate a way to find out. Their results have been published in this very unique volume of aural audacity that the band chose to entitle The Days of Grays.
The band's experiment is certainly interesting, but I think they took it a bit too far. I mean, this is almost too dark sometimes. There's a big difference between the aggressive nature of Unia (which was perhaps the band's creative zenith so far), which some people could also cite as being too dark, and the extremely passive, drained nature of The Days of Grays. I mean, just listen to the last song on this album, "Everything Fades to Grey (Full)" – what the hell happened? I'm not even saying it's a bad song, it's just wow. It's a really somber, bleak song, with these really dissonant, sad chords and vocal lines that are more muttered than sung. And I'd like to point out "The Dead Skin" specifically as the point where the band throws a middle finger at their old sound and anyone who liked it, completely throwing their old ideals and values into the garbage and starting from scratch. Did you ever want to hear pained screams and primal, chugging guitar mongering in a Sonata Arctica song? Well, for those of you who did this is your song. I like it actually; it's just so surreal that it's hard to believe.
And that can be said of this entire album. It's like the life soundtrack of a depressed, insomnia-ridden paranoid schizophrenic wearing a tinfoil hat and writing incomprehensible notes about alien invasions and Armageddon. Tony Kakko, who on the last album channeled pure spite and vitriol-fueled anger, now sounds more the part of a sad, drunk ex-theater actor putting on his swansong performance – to a stage that has long been empty. Wasn't this band once singing about covert FBI operations and werewolves? Good grief, why so depressed, guys? Lighten up a bit.
I don't even think it's necessarily a bad thing so much as just interesting, yet again. I actually like this album quite a bit. The band clearly doesn't want to conform to any stereotypes or do what anyone else wants them to do. Kakko is moving the band to uncharted waters, for better or worse, and we're just spectators along for the ride. I think my favorite thing about this isn't so much the music itself as it is the pure adventurousness of the compositions: they don't always work, but good god is the band ever trying. This album is just too interesting to pass up. It's experimental to a fault, but you always want to hear what the band does next.
Musically, this album isn't so "metal" – not that the band was ever the epitome of Heavy Metal anyway, but here it's more of a step back than usual. A lot of these songs are rather akin to a strange chimerical blend between progressive rock music and a mix between 80s and 90s pop at some of the more subdued moments. The band retains their signature flavor and pizzazz at some points, such as on the shimmering standout "Flag in the Ground" or the wistful "Breathing," but then there are songs like the rattling "Zeroes," which has some of Kakko's most eccentric and interesting vocal lines yet, as well as some very odd industrial sections that the band should probably expand on more if they want to complete their metamorphosis. "No Dream Can Heal a Broken Heart" is another very odd song, and probably the album's worst example of sloppiness, as it segues rather clumsily from an upbeat melodic rock tune into a rather wallowing, anti-depressant starved synth-industrial hybrid, female vocals included. The beginning part is really great, but the second half of the song just doesn't work, and it makes you wish they had stuck to that catchy riff and chorus instead.
But then there are more "in the middle" tunes that sound like a nice blend between old and new – just check "Deathaura," with its brave, dashing symphonic touches, "The Last Amazing Grays," with its old-school chorus (but decidedly modernized structure otherwise) and "Juliet," which articulates itself masterfully, having all the theatricality of the band's new incarnation with the bittersweet wintry melody of their old work. This is probably the best song on the album, as the band rarely writes songs this powerfully balanced and moving. "The Truth is Out There" is the album closer, bringing to mind faint echoes of Silence, but simply being too fuzzed out in drugged out depression to be anything but something new and fresh – in some manner of the word, at least.
So that's The Days of Grays. It's tragic, rambling and at times too unique for its own good. I think some of these songs kind of meander on a bit, like the band forgot what they were doing (in the midst of drugs and depression, per se), and that hurts the album a bit, but it's still just too damn interesting for me to ignore. It's probably the sloppiest Sonata album yet, with none of these songs really having much to do with one another, but they really were trying to make something different and cool, and they did at least partially succeed. It's just, next time, guys don't put the songwriting in the backseat to the creativity. That isn't the way to go.
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