When it comes to power metal there are few purveyors of the sacred art more renowned than Sonata Arctica who have released eight astonishingly successful records since their inception in 1995 and now this collection ‘Takatalvi’ which is a partial re-release of a Japanese compilation released in 2003 expanding the original from seven to eleven tracks and which features rare EP tracks, cover versions and album highlights.
Considering it is a compilation from a variety of sources and featuring material not actually written by the band, Takatalvi hangs together surprisingly well, with the band maintaining the epic feel of their albums with ease through a mixture of acoustic balladry and carefully chosen covers (it may surprise some of you to learn that Bette Midler lends herself surprisingly well to the power metal experience) which are tailored to fit the band’s panoramic style. ‘San Sebastian’ which opens the record is still a gorgeous song, rich in melody and a reminder of the heights Sonata Arctica can scale, ‘The Gun’ meanwhile offering the heavier side to the band’s output, with blistering guitars and pounding drums welding some heavy metal bluster to the bands epic output. ‘Still loving you’ (originally by the Scorpions) is given a thorough shake up, while the pop nous of the original still shines through. ‘Dream thieves’ is a fantastic track, heavy and with a lyrical intensity that propels the track through a maelstrom of pounding beats and a frankly bonkers synth part. It’s a standout track that showcases the band in full flight. ‘I want out’ is pure cheesy metal, complete with an eighties style harmonised chorus, but it’s skilfully done and works well.
Interestingly ‘fade to black’, despite being in keeping with Sonata Arctica’s epic style, does not work as well as one might hope – possibly it is the inherent danger of choosing a track so well known and loved, but it never quite gains the momentum of the original. ‘Black sheep’, however, is a belter – all galloping guitars, over-the-top vocals and raging solos. ‘Mary-Lou’ slows the pace for an epic acoustic moment that is more akin to the monumental story-telling folk ballads of yore than metal before the excellent Bette Midler cover ‘The wind beneath my wings’ which is cheery, cheesy fun. Final track ‘Die with your boots on’ takes on the mighty Iron maiden, a band whose style fits Sonata Arctica like a glove, and the band clearly had fun recording this track which sees the disc out in style.
Overall this is a classy compilation which does nothing to sully the reputation of a great band. Some readers may well find Sonata Arctica too lightweight for their tastes, and this will do nothing to alter their opinion, but for fans of the band, or even as an introduction this works well. Frighteningly well played and produced and with some top class tunes this is a great place to kick off your Sonata Arctica collection.