Despite being tagged as a melodic metal band, Sonata Arctica boasts a sound as deeply rooted in the Seventies and Eighties American hard rock scene as it is in the fine metal tradition of fellow Finns Stratovarius and Nightwish. That dichotomy has never been more apparent than on Winterheart's Guild, the third full-length album from a band that began back in 1996. After all, the synth solo on "Silver Tongue" is stripped straight from Styx's "Come Sail Away" and the arena-ready drums near the end of "Victoria's Secret" echo Mötley Crüe. Musical blasphemy? Hardly.
On Winterheart's Guild, the five Finns in Sonata Arctica take those influences and do what they do best: play complex, elaborate and fast progressive metal blended with elegantly sophisticated ballads – somehow managing to still come off fresh in a convoluted and overcrowded genre. Granted, "Broken" sounds startlingly similar to "Replica" and "FullMoon," two standout tracks from the band's 2000 debut, Ecliptica. But this time around, everything has matured, as singer Tony Kakko lowers the register of his voice (growling a bit at times) and Stratovarius keyboard player Jens Johansson handles all of the keyboard solos.
The result is a dark yet hopeful album that should firmly position Sonata Arctica as the rightful heir to the throne slowly being ceded by Johansson's main band.