Sonata Arctica - Stones Grow Her Name
Nuclear Blast
Power Metal
11 songs (53:00)
Release year: 2012
Sonata Arctica, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Cory

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: I love Sonata Arctica. There have been times when I don’t like what they have done musically, but regardless they have a firmly entrenched place in my list of bands that I will always have in my player more often than not. Ecliptica was one of the finest debut’s during the last decade (certainly in the power metal genre). Winter Heart’s Guild and Reckoning Night were both powerful albums in their own right, flush with memorable songs despite a few clunkers here and there. Then there is the pinnacle of their career up to this point, the magnificent Silence, which is pretty much wall to wall power metal brilliance. During this span Sonata Arctica ruled their genre as kings, firmly knocking Stratovarious off of the Finnish throne while that band crumbled under the weight of melodrama.

Then came Unia, and holy hell did the tide ever change with that album. This is the point where, from an outsider’s perspective, Tony Kakko (vocalist and song writer) took complete and utter control of the bands creative direction. The guitar, which had been so prominent and creative before, was now reduced to basically keeping time and pace through far simpler riff work (at least in comparison to earlier albums). It doesn’t take a genius to surmise that this fact led to the departure of founding member guitarist Jani Liimatainen in 2007, the same year of its release. In 2009 he would return to the scene with Cain’s Offering, a band that bore more than a passing resemblance to early Sonata Arctica. On the other hand, the keys and compositional aspects of the music basically exploded off of the charts. Unia is certainly the densest album in their discography, featuring cello, violin, viola, double bass, acoustic, bouzouki, chromaharp, kavquinho, and a Q-chord, and of course various guest vocalists. If other artists/bands sell out, then I believe this is the point where Tony “sold in”, delivering an album that obliterated any fan’s expectations and solely served his artistic needs. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, music being a primarily expressive art form, but the result was a difficult album to digest that is rightly considered to be their weakest effort to date. Oh, and where the hell did the choruses disappear to on this album? Sonata Arctica feature some of the most mind numbingly catchy choruses ever penned, but on Unia they largely got the cold shoulder.

The Days of Grays (2009) pumped the brakes on the Unia train somewhat, but not enough to fully get me back on board. Tony brought things back to a more familiar level with Deathaura and The Last Amazing Grays, and even threw older fans a bone with Flag in the Ground, which was more reminiscent of Reckoning Day than anything else they had done since. I’ll even give a nod to Zeroes, one of his many attempts at being creatively off the wall that I thought was pretty good. Unfortunately, that’s about where the memorable list comes to an end, and the rest of the album once again got sucked into that artistic gravity well from which no memorable hook can escape.

Finally that brings us to Stones Grow Her Name. I have spent weeks dissecting this album, and everything that came before it, trying to gain the best perspective on which to consider it. Know that, in listening to a new Sonata Arctica album, I want to enjoy the album. I want it to be the best thing that they have ever done, because I feel that when they are firing on all cylinders they create some of the best power metal there is. In the case of Stones Grow Her Name, I find that they have covered some ground heading back in that direction. Rather than having to force myself to understand what the hell is going on, as was the case on with their last two albums, this one presents itself in a much more straight forward fashion. I don’t know if Tony felt fully satisfied with what he had accomplished in the previous two albums, or if he simply decided to heed his critics and throttle back on the excessive moments (my guess is the former), but Stones Grow Her Name plays out largely like a more traditional power metal album. There is an increased presence of the guitars, and mellowing of the compositional aspects and keys to a much more tolerable playing field, but nothing is lost in the process unless you thought Unia was amazing (and I don’t recall ever coming across that particular review).

Only the Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful) kicks things off on a high note. The melody is memorable, the guitar is respectable, and the chorus stands out. Sure, by modern power metal standards it may feel a bit grounded, but remember that this is the direction I was looking for on this album. The boat shakes a bit with Shitload O’ Money (lurking somewhere between a clever song title and a terrible one when taken in context with the lyrics, not sure which). The structure is that of a hard rock tune, and honestly reminds me of Nickelback in some ways, but it is overall saved by just being a well written song. It is interesting, catchy, and well done. Losing My Insanity just owns, and feels like the closest thing we have had to old school Sonata Arctica in years. Somewhere Close To You leans on down tuned guitars to deliver a more aggressive feel, and stylistically fits into the Unia mind frame, but had it been on that album it would have been one of the better songs, so it still gets my nod of approval. I Have A Right is the first misstep on Stones Grow Her Name. For one thing, it was a mistake to make it the first single. The sugary sweet children’s melody that dominates this song simply does not serve as a good representation for what I find the rest of the album to be about, and despite some thoughtful lyrics regarding our treatment of children I believe this song to be one of the weaker on the album. Unfortunately things don’t improve with Alone in Heaven, which features a nice melody and flow that is inevitably sunk by a chorus that doesn’t hold up. The Day does nothing for me, and not much to say other than I skip it every time. Fortunately, it is followed by the real winner of the album: Cinderblox. Now up to this point I have been critical of Tony’s habit of throwing musical paint on the wall, looking for what sticks, but it takes some considerable intestinal fortitude to merge any form of metal (though as I think about it, power metal would be the most logical choice) with red dirt country music. I am stationed in Altus, Oklahoma and country music is huge here. You couldn’t get the majority of people to give metal the time of day, but I did not play this song for one person that didn’t think it was brilliant, which is exactly where I stand. I am not saying I want to hear copy cat bands turn this into its own genre (which to my knowledge doesn’t exist yet), but for one glorious moment in time the banjo and the electric guitar united with double bass and vocal arrangements done in both styles (presumably by Tony himself, since I can’t find any credits to anyone else on that songs vocals) in awesomeness. Which is then promptly ground to a halt with Don’t Be Mean, a fairly weak ballad that really doesn’t inspire me to say much about it. Tony has done great ballads before; this just isn’t one of them. Wildfire, Pt 2 – One With the Mountain is a sprawling track that draws heavily on the Days of Grays playbook, mixing interesting riffs and vocals with less interesting compositional sections that leave the listener confused, but still fairly pleased. I enjoy the track, but I really can’t say definitively why after listening to it. Wildfire, Pt 3 – Wildfire Town, Population: 0 plays out in a much more straight forward fashion, leaning on a heavy riff and faster pace that I enjoy quite a bit. I am not sure why they decided to return to the Wildfire theme (begun on Reckoning Day), but I found it to be fairly successful and enjoyable.

All that said, here is my final verdict on Stones Grow Her Name: Better. Better than Days of Grays, and much better than Unia, perhaps even on par with Winter Hearts Guild, but still looking way up at everything else. I believe Sonata Arctica had the right idea with this album, and hope that they will continue to push forward in this direction because that is the Sonata Arctica I love. If you were a fan of Reckoning Night, but jumped out of the boat when Unia torpedoed it out of the water, then Stones Grow Her Name is a good reason to get back in. Still, remember to give it time and patience because we are a long way from a full recovery, though in my opinion there is enough here to suggest that we are on our way.

Killing Songs :
Only the Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful), Losing My Insanity, Cinderblox
Cory quoted 71 / 100
Other albums by Sonata Arctica that we have reviewed:
Sonata Arctica - The Ninth Hour reviewed by Jared and quoted 70 / 100
Sonata Arctica - Pariah's Child reviewed by Joel and quoted 85 / 100
Sonata Arctica - The Days Of Grays reviewed by Elias and quoted 95 / 100
Sonata Arctica - Unia reviewed by Chris and quoted 55 / 100
Sonata Arctica - For The Sake Of Revenge (DVD/CD) reviewed by Marty and quoted no quote
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