Sound: Sonata Arctica is now a household name in the legacy of the great power metal bands. They started with this little PowerBomb, Ecliptica, in 1999. The sound was described as "unique," yet, we can easily hear all the "Stratovarian" influence. Speaking of which; Sonata Arctica was the first "official" StratoClone. Critics all over the world started using this term to qualify any band that came from Finland and was making soem catchy, radio-friendly, melodic power metal.
But enough about the band in itself, let's talk about the album that started it all. Ecliptica is one hell of a record. Jani Liimatainen, the band's shredder, obviously gets the biggest part of the credit. Ecliptica really was a guitar album. Soloing like hell, complicated rhythm tracks, neo-classical influences, y'know, all the things that made Yngwie Malmsteen good before Alchemy. Drums are, and this became one of the most recognizable traits of SA, without removing any credit to Tommy Portimo's playing (this guy has some incredible endurance), boring. Every single "drum riff" can be heard minutes before. Linear, no complex phrases or anything, just some "hell-breaks-loose" double-bass madness. Keyboards are something, lots of "synth-harpsichord" sounds that can get annoying as the songs play, but nothing really dangerous. Bass is, and that's another classic SA flaw, really low in the mix, but it backs up perfectly in the ballads and amplifies the double-bass in the "speeders", so I guess it fulfills it duties.
The thing that would perfectly qualify the record, however, is production. The album was recorded at Tico Tico Studios, now one the best "metal-based" studios in Europe, and was mixed by one of the greatest Mixers ever, Mikko Karmila, at the most popular studio in Finland, legendary Finnvox Studios. Personally, I think that Ecliptica is, in terms of quality, the best debut album I've ever heard. Why is it so great? Hear those drums? Clear as hell. (But they use a special trick: snares and toms are triggered, but who doesn't use that nowadays?? )Guitars are crunchy and fresh, every thing that gets out of the amplifier seems to have the perfect tone! Keys are just the right level of intensity, they don't take that much of the "audio-space". As for the bass, that's really the only thing that gets on my nerves. I'm a man of the low-frequencies, so I like to hear the bass. Which is not really the case on Ecliptica. Anyhow, great work from the Production team. // 8
Lyrics: Ouch. Y'know, when you have the skillz, you really have the skillz. And master-writer Tony Kakko, who also handles vocal and keyboard tasks on this record, does have those skills. Harmonizing vocal technicity (is that even a word? If not, I invent it with his capacity of merging feelings with the pen and the paper, Mister Kakko creates all kinds of emotion-based lyrics that puts the listener in all kinds of moods. The overall feeling would actually (warning: another Sonata-character) fit with the album's cover: Blueish and cold. You can easily imagine yourself in a gentle snowfall, lost in a winter desert with the sun gleaming in you face or beating the shit out of someone in a hard snowstorm. Every song on the album fits with winter, snow and ice. And as we know it today, one of Sonata Arctica's main influence is the Finnish nature. Winter, snow, ice, snow-capped mountains and pine trees. I can feel and understand that, as I live in Quebec City, Canada. But it seems that it makes (I really heard that somewhere) the album a bit unaccessible to someone who lives in Mexico or in Brazil go figure.
The negative part of the album is that Tony Kakko, even as a fucking amazing singer, pushes his voice too hard. He has a great range, but as time will show it on the following albums, it's not the kind of songs you can sing live without destroying your throat. He now says in every interview that the overall tone of the Sonata sound got darker partly because of this, and as a singer, I feel for him. Early Sonata stuff is almost "un-singable". Cool, another invented word, I think // 8
Overall Impression: You can't really say it's the best thing Sonata has ever done. It was their first experience, after an extremely-popular demo tape, and a first EP that got all the attention back then. It was seen as a novelty, something new and fresh. Started some kind of revolution in Finland, as Sonata Arctica became one of the most popular bands to ever be exported out of Finland. With Children Of Bodom and Nightwish, they became the leader of what I call the "New Wave Of Finnish Heavy Metal" that started in 1997. Love it or hate it, Sonata Arctica will cause a certain kind of reaction in your ears! The American edition is an Euro import, and now, thanks to Sonata Arctica's popularity gain, the price lowers every year. But they album is complete is you buy the Japanese version, which has a great bonus-track, "Mary-Lou", on it. Catchy track. Costs about 19, 99 CAN$ for the American version. // 8