Sticks and Stones

in category of Bad News Suz, music, reviews, Suz Baldwin

I’m sure most of you reading this are scratching your heads. I’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of Sonata Arctica; they haven’t really hit it big in the U.S. yet, though they’ve toured here in the past. They’re a Finnish rock/metal group, and their seventh album, Stones Grow Her Name, has finally been released in the U.S. Being a loyal fan, I hauled ass to Amazon to pick up the new CD.  

Sonata Arctica and I go back to 2005, when I heard “Don’t Say a Word” through a forum I frequented. I thought, holy crap, this music is insane, I really like it! Up to that point, the heaviest thing I listened to was Bon Jovi.

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

The band has had its ups and downs. They’ve grown and changed with each album, and Stones Grow Her Name, the newest release, is no exception. I’ll just send you to the band’s website or Wikipedia entry if you want all the specifics – I don’t know much about music, beyond “I like this” or “ick,” so this is purely a personal review. Don’t look for musical insights or commentary about how Marko tunes his bass or whether or not Henkka’s keytar is overdone.

I’m sort of wavering on my opinion of the album. It’s not dreadful like Unia (album #5, and a total departure from the band’s previous material), but aside from a few standout tracks, it sounds a lot like generic rock to me. I would not be surprised if this is the album that lands them on American mainstream stations, but it general it leaves me wanting more.

I think the shortcoming is in the lyrics. I wouldn’t call Sonata’s lyrics overly complex, but they certainly had some depth when they wanted to. The band has covered a lot of ground across its seven albums; we’ve got werewolves (“Full Moon”), revenge (“Don’t Say a Word,”) alien abduction (“The Truth is Out There”) and Bette Midler (“The Wind Beneath My Wings”).

Stones Grow Her Name has a bunch of songs that are just…I stop short of calling them dull, but they don’t do anything for me. There’s nothing wrong with them, really. The music is great, and frontman Tony Kakko sounds wonderful, but there’s just…nothing…there for me. I think it’s the lyrics. I don’t know what else it could be. They’re missing some sort of punch.

With that said, I like that the band is exploring and trying new things. Yeah, I’d rather have another Reckoning Night, but I also understand the need to stretch and experiment as an artist. Is it my cup of tea, maybe not, but I’ll keep buying their albums. Even Unia, which I seriously considered setting on fire, had a couple of gems.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. “Cinderblox” has joined “My Selene” as my favorite Sonata Arctica song. I don’t even know how to explain this song; it’s got a freaking banjo in it, along with a violin, and it’s just…forget my inadequate attempts to articulate its awesomeness and just go listen to it. Sonata goes psychobilly? Metal meets bluegrass? It’s an unconventional song, but it blew me away. I can’t decide if it’s about jailbait or a fast car.

Then there’s “Only the Broken Hearts,” which is an entertaining melodic romp, and “I Have a Right,” the lead single. The song titles are…uninspiring…but the songs themselves are fast-paced and have a lot going for them. I transferred those, along with “Cinderblox,” to my iPod so I can merrily blast out my eardrums while out running.

Overall, it’s not a bad album. Only a few tracks really grabbed me, but they were good songs. Tony’s voice has changed and grown stronger over the years, but he’s still one of the most emotive singers I’ve ever heard – when he sings something, I believe it. I'm not sure I'd recommend it to those just getting into the band; I still think Reckoning Night is the best example of the best they can do, but The Days of Grays (#6) is another good one. Overall, I'd give Stones Grow Her Name a 3/5.

I'll be happy to see them when they come back to Southern California, as they usually put on a great show. Check out "Cinderblox" if nothing else!

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