I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t Sonata Arctica release a Christmas single a few years ago? Yes they did, and apparently though it really really really looks like one, Talviyö isn’t a Christmas album. Coming twenty years after the seminal first album Ecliptica (1999) this is the Finnish power metal institution’s tenth full length. The title means winter night, and it comes three years after the surprisingly good The Ninth Hour (2016), but unfortunately takes plenty of steps to be as uninteresting as possible, quality wise heading back to the likes of Pariah’s Child (2014), but without that one’s singular heights dotted through the runtime. I had this entire rant prepared over how lead single A Little Less Understanding - a drab four miutes of going nowhere and plodding the same moment over and over - was filler and one of the worst tracks on the album, but then the album hit and in one playthrough my mind was blown over how ridiculously filler most of the material felt, devoid of any energy or passion the band is usually so well known for.
Obviously, we’re still talking Sonata Arctica, and that sugary sweetness is still there, as well as the prevailing darker rhythm section breaking Tony Kakko’s by now iconic vocals. But what the album sorely lacks is the quintessential power metal ingredient; massive, memorable choruses that get instantly stuck, and the passion to make them pop. The previous album suffered from this as well to some extent, but they made it work then, opting for a slightly more progressively inspired setting. Here it just comes across as lifeless in most of the tracks, lacking the energetic flow that has permeated most of the band’s previous records. Stones Grow Her Name (2012) is one of the bands finest moments and the surprisingly good The Ninth Hour showed that their post power metal era could bring some great music, the former in the dark rock area while the more experimental latter held on to some melodic-y, power-y goodness, all sprinkled with the saccharine cheese the band is so known for.
That just doesn't happen here; Talviyö is dull at best, with few highlights or moments recalling the glorious days of old (or new). The closest equivalent in the band's history might be the darkly proggy Days of Grays (2009) but with a far bleaker soundscape and directionless ground. All layered in uninspired keys and a more nasal Kakko than ever, while Elias Viljanen just chugs the power chords never delving into any interesting riffs or melodic ventures. Take second track Whirlwind, a sure progressive stopper that has some cool ideas and thrifty guitars as well as fresh melodies, not done justice by the lack of weight and heaviness in the rhythm section, and how bored everyone just sounds. It’s followed by forgettable Cold and Storm the Armada, and four tracks into the album there’s still nothing entirely noteworthy. The Last of the Lambs is an eerie tune that does grab that attention, but ultimately also fades out simply because the buildup wasn’t worth it.
Highlights do flare up here and there but never really last an entire song’s worth, mostly it’s an intro here or a melody or a hook there. Who Failed the Most is that little darker take with a cool chorus, but it peters out before really climaxing, and Demon’s Gate carries more of the darker setting, supported by some dark lit keyboards from Henrik Klingenberg, aside from sporting the greatest intro on the entire album. It’s the closest we get to a real standout track. The Raven Still Flies With You is also that kind of progressive trickling that could have worked with a strand of passion to lift it. The album isn’t unejoyable per se but the problem is that it’s also just not interesting, like at all; you can move through the entire 55 minute runtime without any stir of emotion whatsoever. Even with a few moments here and there that could have amounted to good or even great songs, there is little interesting about it and that's probably because the guys themselves aren't interested anymore.
Standout tracks: Demon’s Gate, The Raven Still Flies With You