The main thing that comes across when reading the blurb that accompanies SONATA ARCTICA‘s The Ninth Hour is the amount of thought that has gone into creating the Finn’s latest opus. Not all album press releases contain biblical quotes and not all lyricists talk about mankind attempting to balance technology with nature. Kudos to Tony Kakko for that. However, ambition and endeavour do not in themselves make great albums. For all its lofty aspirations, The Ninth Hour is a good, but not great, album.
Musically, The Ninth Hour sits comfortably in SYMPHONY X/DREAM THEATER territory with some fleeting glimpses of the power metal of SONATA ARCTICA‘s Ecliptica and Silence albums. There’s a luxurious-as-a-night-in-a-five-star-hotel feel to the production and even the album’s cover art has been lovingly prepared to act as a window to peer through, in an attempt to gain an insight into the thought processes that birthed the album.
We Are What We Are is a classy rock ballad. Starting with some subdued wind instruments, it builds to a crescendo of power chords and heart-on-sleeve vocals. Stirring stuff. Rise A Night is the track which sails closest to the waters charted by SONATA ARCTICA’s earliest output, driven by speedy guitars, but embellished with the gold stars and glitter redolent of the remainder of The Ninth Hour.
Fairytale is a little twee, but is nevertheless an enjoyable romp through distinctly European melodic metal. However, not all the constituent parts of The Ninth Hour work quite as well. White Pearl, Black Oceans Part 2 sets itself up as the keystone of the album, but doesn’t really feel up to the task. Yes, there’s lots of trademark melody and experimentation, but it feels bloated in places rather than vital. Therein lies this album’s main downfall. There’s plenty of good stuff, but for every polished gem there’s an expensive presentation box with no gift inside.
For all its good intentions, love, skill and attention to detail, The Ninth Hour is an album of component parts which have been done better elsewhere. BLIND GUARDIAN and HELLOWEEN on top form do power metal better, Russell Allen is a better vocalist than the very decent Tony Kakko, KAMELOT do the overblown theatrics a bit better, but, most of all, the gargantuan shape of NIGHTWISH‘s Endless Forms Most Beautiful casts an all-enveloping shadow over The Ninth Hour. The album within a song that was The Greatest Show On Earth once and for all nailed the issue of mankind’s relationship with planet earth. My Walden took the same inspiration and turned it into a pop song with a multitude of changes of feel and instrumentation. Nothing on The Ninth Hour quite hits those heights.
Looked at in isolation, The Ninth Hour is a thoroughly enjoyable listen, but measure it against its competitors and it doesn’t quite push the boundaries in the same ways that some other bands have.
The Ninth Hour is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.
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