SONATA ARCTICA is one of Finland’s biggest metal exports and one of the country’s power metal founders. However, two decades ago on this day, a young Tony Kakko and co. released their sophomore album via Spinefarm, “Silence.” As Bear Wiseman and Simo Kuusterä cover the low-to-high spectrum of enthusiasm towards this album respectively, they decided to team up to look back on this piece of power metal history on its 20th anniversary.
Perhaps known as the band’s best era by many fans, one of the major differences in “Silence,” compared to now, is the production value. It is clear and balanced and no one is masked, but it’s also worth noticing that everyone is at peak performance both style and energy -wise; no one is hiding or half-assing it. “Silence” remains one of SONATA ARCTICA‘s most popular albums due to the strength of the pure power metal sound and furor.
Opening on a spoken word intro by Nik Van-Eckmann, “…Of Silence,” this rather poignant piece draws attention to the importance of silence before leading the listener into “Weballergy.” In researching this article, we discovered that this track was meant to be the sequel to “Blank File” from the band’s debut. While many of the songs on this album are a bit straightforward, it’s the strong vocal performance by Tony Kakko, as well as the truly incredible fills and solos that draw the listener in and keep them hooked, making SONATA ARCTICA into far more than a one-trick pony. Also of note, “False News Travels Fast” features some of Timo Kotipelto‘s [STRATOVARIUS, CAIN’S OFFERING] high wailing towards the end, as he was a guest vocalist on this release – can you tell the two legendary vocalists apart?
The beginning of the band’s legendary stalker saga a.k.a. “the Caleb saga” was “The End of This Chapter,” which is notable for its very creepy intro, a slower pace than a lot of the driven power metal that permeates this album, as well as one of the best lines: “while you are sleeping / I steal your earring / light you one candle / this anger I handle....” So creepy! This was the basis of so many great songs to come, so naturally this track has a special place in the hearts of many (despite it’s cute Finglish lines). In fact, songs like this also show what a creative writer Kakko is – he may not have spoken English extremely fluently, but he shows a poetic soul nonetheless and did a great job with what he had.
It’s back to full blast with one of the most iconic SONATA riffs, with “Black Sheep.” While Bear found this song pretty basic/simple for most of her life and was never very into it, Simo argues that it’s catchy and the riffing is what brings it to life and makes it great. Hard to disagree with that, as the soloing is really stylish and skillful. “Land of the Free” is a little bit more interesting, with an almost NIGHTWISH-y intro. This track also stands out for one of the interesting middle parts that may have snuck past casual listeners like Bear in the past. Kakko‘s voice is at the max for a lot of the song, but back then, why not use what you’ve got, right? Bear always appreciated that Tony Kakko has/had more nuance to his singing than just hitting high notes; this really shows in this album, as his voice covers a melodic spectrum that isn’t focused on screaming at the top of his lungs.
“Last Drop Falls” is, according to Simo, SONATA ARTICA‘s best ballad, though he admits that it’s nostalgic as hell for a young Finnish metalhead and is associated with a lot of great memories. Admittedly, Bear was also fond of this song back in the early 2000s, but disagrees about it being their best ballad. Another happy-go-lucky song to celebrate life and love is “San Sebastian,” which is good fun live. This is one of the great classic shreddy power metal songs, fast and a little wanky in those slick shred battles, but in a good way. Naturally, this has the “ohh-ohh” part, but drummer Tommy Portimo never once slows down – what a fabulous change from the bored drums of more recent albums!
“Sing in Silence” is another step away from the fast-paced norm, with more eerie and ominous lyrics set to a softer, more melodic beat. Jani Liimatainen‘s solo is laid-back yet creative and the song ends on a creepy lyric before uproariously bursting into “Revontulet” [eng: aurora borealis/northern lights]. This instrumental would not be out of place on an early NIGHTWISH album due to the clear Tuomas Holopainen influence in the forefronted synth sounds.
Then comes “Tallulah.” This song is self-explanatory for any Finn, but for those of you who have never been to Finland, this reason this song is such a big deal in Finland may come as a surprise. Bear would like to explain:
“Tallulah,” which is mispronounced into Finnish from “tah-loo-lah” to “taa-loo-laa” is considered, by pretty much every Finnish person, to be a pure and earnest song about heartbreak. It is very common to see couples slow-dancing to this at festivals and lighters/cell phones in the air, and not at all rare to see tears. While Finns normally are unusually ruthless towards Finglish in (English-speaking) Finnish bands, all of the silly Finglish lines – such as, “don’t even dare to say you hi” – are masked by the genuine yearning in Tony Kakko‘s singing. So to everyone else in the world who just thinks this is a nice but super cheesy ballad, to Finns, this is often listed among the first ballads that budding metalheads found in the ’90s when first getting into the genre, when Finland was emerging as the heavy metal capital of the world with legends like NIGHTWISH, CHILDREN OF BODOM, APOCALYPTICA, and SONATA ARCTICA. It is teenage nostalgia in bottled form and should be consumed with caution.
The album then begins to wrap up with “Wolf & Raven,” which is so full-blast for so long that we wondered how hard this must be to perform (we might even tease that the band are too old to pull this one off too often these days). There’s a lot of youthful aggression in the songs, with the weirdest collection of interludes and fills that you may find in SONATA ARCTICA‘s material. “Respect the Wilderness” is one of those songs that makes sense as a Japanese bonus track – those songs are often songs that didn’t make the final cut to an album and this track is, indeed, not quite as outstanding as the rest of the material. It appears to be an environmental empowerment anthem, a love letter of sorts to Lapland (the north of Finland and some of the other Nordic countries). Then, another of the band’s long-time fan-favorites -and to this day longest track – “The Power of One” finishes the album (at least, if you don’t have more bonus tracks). Clocking in at over 11½ minutes, not even 2009’s “Deathaura” or 2016’s “White Pearl, Black Oceans II: By the Grace of the Sea” top this piece in length. There’s a great atmosphere with guitar and rain as the narrator’s voice speaks again to start the track. As it takes off, the song is surprisingly rockin’ and not as purely power metal as most of the rest of the album. While it’s not quite prog, necessarily, it does show an early interest from the band in what listeners eventually would hear in “Unia” (2004). The middle parts and riffs are truly the outstanding highlights of “Silence,” always coming when you might start feeling a tiny bit bored, to keep you engaged. Then there’s a bunch of slick soloing to keep all the metalheads happy, while Portimo maintains an unearthly speed.
Ultimately, Bear decided to side with Simo – there are a lot of treasures hidden in this album, if you listen beyond the super-fast, straightforward power metal outer exterior. “Silence” is undoubtedly a power metal classic for lovers of the genre. Yet it isn’t all just pounding drums and Kakko wailing; within all of these tracks are quirky and stylish little treasures to be found, and that is largely what adds so much character to these older SONATA ARCTICA songs.
Written by Bear W. & Simo K.
- …Of Silence
- False News Travels Fast
- The End of This Chapter
- Black Sheep
- Land of the Free
- Last Drop Falls
- San Sebastian (revisited)
- Sing in Silence
- Wolf & Raven
- Respect the Wilderness (Japanese bonus track)
- The Power of One
Tony Kakko – vocals
Jani Liimatainen – guitars
Mikko Härkin – keyboards
Marko Paasikoski – bass
Tommy Portimo – drums