Sound — 8
Sonata Arctica have existed under that name since 1999, and since that time have released an impressive round of power metal albums. While a lot of metal bands take themselves too seriously, Sonata Arctica have found a great balance by having mainly serious songs but having a few songs on each album that are humorous and sometimes even self-mocking to an extent. That is a vital element for a power metal band themed with wolves for me to be able to stomach them long term, personally. "Pariah's Child" is the band's eighth full-length studio album, and as the band has stated in interviews it marks a return to their earlier sound as well as the wolf themed artwork and lyrics on many of their tracks. There are ten tracks on the album with a total runtime of approximately fifty-three minutes. There have been three singles released for the album. The first single, "The Wolves Die Young," was released in early February. The second single, "Cloud Factory," was released in late February. The third single, "Love," was released shortly thereafter, and is possibly one of the only "happy" love songs the band has ever released.
The album opens with the first single, "The Wolves Die Young," which definitely has a very "folk metal" feel to it, as does much of the album, and somehow a vague Christmas-y feel to it. While the song is played with distorted muted guitars playing little galloping rhythms I could also hear someone singing the song with a more traditional arrangement on a mandolin or just an acoustic guitar. "Running Lights" has an engine revving in the intro, and was originally written loosely as a tribute to Lou Reed, with lines like "he was one of the wilder kind." "Take One Breath" is up next, which has a really cool piano/keyboard intro and some of the heaviest guitar later in the track, with the lyrics dealing with the general philosophy of post-humanism or transhumanism. Next is the second single from the album, "Cloud Factory," which is another of the heavier tracks from the album, but with some interesting stuff going on with the keyboards as well. This is probably one of the most melodic tracks from the album, at least from a vocal standpoint. "Blood" starts with a wolf howling and a haunting keyboard/piano line and as the song builds the guitars, bass and drums are definitely some of the heaviest from the album - and possibly my favorite track from the album. There are some weird sound clips throughout the track which add a kind of sci-fi vibe to the track. "What Did You Do in the War, Dad?" starts with a lullaby type of melody, but it grows in to a much more complex keyboard melody. It is definitely the saddest song from the album, seemingly dealing with the songwriter's father trying to cope with what happened when he was in the war. "Half a Marathon Man" is one of the more straightforward songs on the album, though it is definitely different between the first half of the song to the second half of the song. "X Marks the Spot" definitely takes a turn from the rest of the album and is really goofy, but it works really well as a song. Supposedly, there is an uncredited secret guest vocalist on the track according to internet rumblings, but I couldn't confirm this with my meager investigation skills. "Love" is a really odd love song. This definitely has some of the most dramatic vocal work and impressive keyboard work on the album. Also, this has one of my favorite guitar solos from the album - it is very melodic and I'm a pushover for a solo with a little bit of delay and reverb. The album closes out with "Larger Than Life," which is the longest song on the album, clocking in at right under 10 minutes. The song is very narrative, telling the story of an actor (or possibly a musician) who realizes as he's growing old that while he has had success he's never taken the time to make a life for himself. The song ends with the message to not take life so seriously that you forget to enjoy it. The song definitely has some twists and turns in it, reminding me of Queen at some points and Pink Floyd at others and sometimes there is no comparison, and this is one of my favorites from the album.
Lyrics — 9
Tony Kakko is seriously a phenomenal vocalist - for some reason power metal and symphonic metal usually have much more skilled vocalists (probably because those genres take a certain level of vocal skill to perform). Basically, the entire rest of the band provides backing vocals which allows for the great harmonized vocal parts on the album. There is nothing to complain about on the vocals - I actually found myself impressed at several moments throughout the album. As a sample of the lyrics from the album, here are some from the track "Cloud Factory": "For every child there dawns the day/ Wonder where they come/ Why is the sky so pink tonight/ How fast do clouds fly by/ And so you come up with stories you tell/ Eyes are open wide/ When you tell them about the sky/ All that beneath resides/ There is a factory clouds are made in/ They make them big and blue/ The Factory eats you/ it swallows you whole/ It fills you with conceit and never lets you leave/ If you ever dream, at the end of the day/ That you´re gonna live as a free man/ There's no hook, no sinker, no line/ And you will never leave/ The Cloud Factory/ If you join the same brigade/ That I invented when I was young/ You will never see beyond the skyline of this town/ Take my word, my son and run/ While your dreams fly free/ Have them write my story down/ Like silence breaking sound." Some very interesting stuff is going on lyrically on this entire album.
Overall Impression — 8
I thoroughly enjoyed this album, and was glad that for the most part the band avoided sounding like a metal Christmas album, which is what a lot of power and symphonic metal bands tend to do these days. There was a shaky moment or two, but in the end it was okay. My favorite songs from the album were "Cloud Factory," "Blood," and "Larger Than Life." I've enjoyed the ride with Sonata Arctica, and they are definitely still at the top of their game.