I have listened with great anticipation to the new Sonata Arctica The Days of Gray CD more than a few times. The band has certainly changed their style over the last two albums, but this change has evolved more with The Days of Gray when compared to Reckoning Night, their last gasp at the Wolves years as I like to call the earlier works; and Unia, the more “pop” sounding Sonata Arctica.
The Days of Gray opens with a beautiful instrumental in “Everything Fades to Gray,” which has majesty and a nod to classical music. The band then uncharacteristically open the second track, “Deathaura” with a female vocal supplied by the sweet voice of Johanna Kurkela. The song is wandering and builds to a classical sounding crash. The band has moved its sound to a place I have not heard from them before, and it is bit more than reminiscent of a band like Kamelot than Sonata Arctica. There is some displaced (in all honesty) multi-layered sounds coming through on this song, which adds to the “metal” moments of the album. It also adds a bit to the song.
“The Last Amazing Grays” is the third track, which sounds a bit more like “pop” than “power” metal. All of the time, Marko Passikoski’s thundering bass strums evenly along. Tony Kakko’s vocals are in perfect pitch. Missing is Henrik Klingenberg’s flashy keyboards in this song, giving in to a more classical sway in the background. Tommy Portimo’s high snare drums are missing as well, as the more thundering bass heavy drums are pounded. The guitars of Elias Viljanen play the power metal riffs with clarity and precisely. This is the signature song on the album, that explains the themes of death, redemption, atonement and individuality, which is the reality of maturity and “the days of grays” as we age. The band seems to set the tone of the growing musically with their spirit of aging theme that encompasses this album.
“Flag in the Ground” is the traditionally “tuneful hit” that we have come to expect from Sonata Arctica over the years, as it hearkens back to their mid-period. To me it is an opposite of “Don’t Say a Word,” in which a lover learns of his woman’s infidelity and brutally says good bye. Now a maturing Kakko is finding himself and discovers his lover wants him back. Truly a great song.
Carrying on that self-discovery theme is “Breathing,” perhaps the most deeply moving song on the album. Kakko sings “I cannot control my life anymore; Feel a need to leave and breathe on my own; I remember all the broken songs of my life; Maybe one more wrong will make it all right; I just really need to be alone now…” It reminds me of Ruins of My Life from Ecliptica, as this one is a slower and more haunting song.
“Zeroes” follows as a quicker, but more of a throw-off song. Not my favorite on the album, but it offers some speed at a space in the album when it is needed. It also features the famous Kakko scream.
After “Zeroes” is “The Dead Skin’ continuing the aging sage theme of the band. It has grown me in its pacing and building up to a climax theme. It also features the heaviest bass riffs thus far on the whole album. And then in the center of the song are the tuneful keyboards that I enjoy from the band. Probably among the most powerful songs on the album. I really like this one.
“Juliet” follows and I again sense a nod to more gothic sounds of bands like Kamelot (and no, I am not calling my favorite melodic/power metal band a goth band). This one has the thundering signature rhythm sound of Sonata Arctica, cat references, and a sense of longing. You can sense this has the longing and despair as they Kakko sings “life is but a long, sad game; lifeless souls avoiding shame; two dead swans is all we need; to pave the winding memory lane.” It also plays on Shakespeare’s theme of lost love, but the “Romeo” and “Juliet” are much older from Sonata Arctica and have lived much longer than Shakespeare’s characters. It sounds honestly like something that could have been pulled from Kamelot’s Black Halo
“No Dream Can Heal a Broken Heart,” follows the bombastic “Juliet” and features Johanna Kurkela on vocals. The aging theme is continued as Kakko sings “One day we will run out of tomorrows; and yesterday’s become the stuff our dreams are made of…” The poisoned lips references are also a connection to “Juliet’s” theme.
The next song “As If The World Wasn’t Ending” starts with a keyboard solo that I swear was lifted from early to mid 1970s pop music like the Carpenters. It seems oddly out of place, but then the crash and rumble of the bass and guitars crescendo rescues the song and the guitar solo in this one is the best on the album. This is a song about a delusional soul looking for comfort in toxic liquids to reach drunken understanding.
“The Truth Is Out There” is a redemption song of sorts, atonement by acceptance. It also has among the most clever lyrics on the album. “Now I am crawling in (my crawling skin); I can’t wake up anymore (can’t find the door); I try to make a deal (with myself); to avoid the blinding door (once again)….Can I trust my own eyes; Is that me in disguise; Is this bliss or am I insane?” There is a soaring and swirling quality in the keyboards and choruses of voices in this one, complete with cellos and orchestration. This song seems like a more mature piece of music performed by Sonata Arctica.
The album proper ends with a return to the themes and musical moments of “Everything Fades To Gray.” The song is a summation of life. Lyrically, the philosophy is clear: “When it all ends; when everything fades to gray, we dive into the darkness; some things are needless to say.” There is a crash of sounds in this one as a false ending brings us back to the central theme of age, redemption, acceptance, and the inevitable end.
The bonus track “In My Eyes You’re a Giant” is among my favorites. It sounds like it could have easily fit on Eclipitica, or Silence from their past. The “wolves’ theme returns as well. Kakko sings “Here I am howling at the bright new moon; the burning flame within, my own kin, and; every night I heard something out there calling me; reminding me, friend, to know, I am not your child.” This song hearkens all of the Sonata Arctica fans to the high hat and snare drums, the heavy bass, the quirky vocals, the sharp guitars and the signature keyboard solos. It is the perfect ending of this mature album, as this song is a return to the colors of the band in the last hurrahs of The Days of Gray. For more of my stuff, just check out Sweetwood Metal Moments, my hard rock, power metal and heavy metal blog; you’ll be glad you did.