Power Metal is proving to be a popular genre around the world these days, and here in the US is no exception. Finland's young guns Sonata Arctica made their triumphant return to New York recently, this time as headliners, to the BB King Blues Club, home to some of the best metal and progressive rock shows in the area over the last few years.
Sea of Tranquility writers Ken Pierce and Jack Toledano were on hand, and give their full report on the show.
Ken Pierce-Finland has been one of the strongest contributors to the world of Metal music over the most recent few years. Of the many notable bands we have seen Nightwish make a dent in the Operatic Metal world while Finntroll serves up the Folk Metal side. Melodic Power Metal gets delivered a hefty blow by the one and only Sonata Arctica and for listeners of this end of the genre there are few better at it. Tonight, the guys in the group would be continuing the support of their Nuclear Blast release Reckoning Night. In early 2005 the band performed for the first time in the US with Thrash Metal legends Overkill. It was an interesting blend of styles and Sonata truly came out as a powerhouse that night. It would be great to find them on their first headlining tour for this run of shows. They would be the only major group performing for the night and across the tour different openers were being featured. For the New York appearance fans would be treated to of all things a Queensryche tribute band called "Queen Of The Ryche". I had heard the name before and worried that this totally driven Sonata fan base would not be so accepting yet when the group began they certainly showed that there were chops aplenty. Lead singer Todd Kaminski leads the troupe formerly known as Lestat through the best Queensryche material in existence. Highlights of their set would definitely be the Operation Mindcrime material and with the Ryche ready to unleash a new CD on the world I think this was a nice choice to have in New York.
Sonata Arctica came up very quickly after this and it was the musical equivalent of a hurricane on stage. The club was at a comfortable 800 or so attendees and honestly a growing in popularity headliner could not ask for anything more. Lead singer Tony Kakko is a fantastic front man and is in possession of one of the purest voices in Heavy Metal music today. He stands above some of his peers in the genre and while normally one expects a nice level of backing vocal from the other members - the strong choruses in Sonata material finds most members singing a lot during the songs. This gives their material an over-powering difference which makes Sonata Arctica unlike most of the other purveyors of Melodic Power Metal. As referenced earlier, the group was still in support of their latest release Reckoning Night and Tony was wearing a shirt that reminded you of the album. He also wore some sort of pajama pants which while a strange outfit for performance surely must have been comfortable and allow him to move as free and fast as he was doing. He possessed as much energy as his label mate Tobias Sammet of EdGuy and each of these singers grabs a fantastic level of connection to the crowd. For a band with only one album available officially in the States, I found it amazing and impressive that people were singing along with so much of the songs. The thing that is also interesting about Sonata Arctica is the fact that everyone looks like they are Friends and not performing a mere job of this. They all enjoy performing and being in new areas giving you their all as best as possible. Jani Liimatainen is a great guitarist and his melodies compliment the keyboard craziness of Henrik very well. Henrik's weapon of choice tonight would be a "key-tar", a keyboard that one can wear and run about the unfortunately confined stage. That is the one drawback of the venue itself. Tommy and Marko are also wonderful players and merit noting as well. The set list would be interesting as while the band would promote this latest album their song selection would cross a number of their releases and even include a medley of some older tracks mixed with newer ones.
Tony mainly spoke to the audience to let them know of how much fun they were having and while some of this was probably tour talk, they said the New York audience had been the best and most receptive so far on the tour. The reaction of the crowd to this was fantastic and I don't think any cared if he was saying this at other shows. As a closer the band makes the audience sing and first it was a very odd choice of "Old McDonald" which led into their "Vodka Song". Given the ages of the audience members being so vast and varied I got a kick out them all singing about Vodka. The memory I took from the show was also the amount of smiles and energetic feeling that the audience had in them, not one person walked out of there disappointed with the exception of perhaps missing one song they would like to have heard. The band also was heard to have met with fans outside of the venue where pictures were taken and autographs signed. If for some reason you are still unclear on the band, grab a copy of the album Reckoning Night and invest a few more bucks for Winterheart's Guild (my personal favorite and one that the group has received some amount of praise for). Sonata Arctica is a band that Metal needs and I hope they will be doing it for years to come.
Jack Toledano-On Jan. 18, 2006, BB King's in New York, NY was treated to a double prog metal treat, featuring headliners Sonata Artica, and the warmup band being a Queensryche tribute band, the aptly named "Queen Of The Ryche". As our own Ken Pierce focused most of his review on Sonata Arctica, I figured I would spend a few moments reflecting on "Queen Of The Ryche" as well.
Sonata Arctica chose to use local support bands for each of their US shows, with QOTR getting the nod for the NYC show. QOTR consists of Todd Kaminsky (Vocals), Kelli McCloud (Backing Vocals), Nat Gardiner (Guitars), Damon Fibraio (Keyboards), Marc Rabin (Bass), & Russ Murray (Drums), who I believe hail from New Jersey. While I cannot mistake Todd Kaminsky for the great Geoff Tate, Todd did a very good job performing the frontman duties in the role of Geoff Tate, with his powerful and wide ranging vocals. Todd Kaminsky was accompanied by Kelli McCloud, who lent her vocal support throughout. As the crowd was very pro-Sonata Arctica, QOTR did a great job for 30-40 minutes helping us forget that Queensryche was not in the building, as they performed all of the Queensryche classics very well. The setlist that QOTR chose to play was indeed classic Queensryche material, as the only post 1990 song performed was the opener, "Sign Of The Times", off of 1997's Hear In The Now Frontier. The remainder of the set, which included 3 classics off of Operation Mindcrime, also included Queensryche standards "Take Hold Of The Flame" & "Queen Of The Reich".
As for Sonata Arctica, I have to admit that while my overall review of Sonata Arctica's performance is very good, I do have a couple of notes. Having not been familiar with Sonata Arctica's material, I found out about the show only about two weeks prior, so luckily, I was able to pick up a copy of Sonata Arctica's most recent release, Reckoning Night about one week prior to the show to gather at least a little familiarity. Well, I found that not only is the CD 4 to 4 ½ star material (by SoT's standards), but that Sonata Arctica certainly do not take a backseat to their fellow Finnish countrymen, Stratovarious, when it comes to their instrumental virtuosity, and their ability to write great melodic power metal songs. That being said, I was slightly disappointed that Sonata Arctica only played 3 songs from the latest album, while concentrating a good majority of their set on their two oldest releases, Ecliptica (1999) & Silence (2001). I had a similar critique a few years ago when I saw Blind Guardian for the first time in New Jersey. I guess being a European band headlining in the US for the first time, both bands felt the need to concentrate on their back catalog since US fans may have never witnessed it live before.
Putting that aside, Sonata Arctica is an extremely talented band. While I found that Tony Kakko was not very talkative with the in between song banter, unlike Hammerfall frontman Joacim Cans and Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet (both of whom were at BB King's last August, and seemed to really appreciate and enjoy the New York crowd), his vocals throughout the show were top notch. As for the other musicians, I really enjoyed the lightning quick drumming of Tommy Portimo, and Henrik Klingenberg belting out his keyboard sounds on a "keytar" for the entire show was also enjoyable to watch. And even though Sonata Arctica is more on the melodic side of power metal, guitarist Jani Limatainen seems to shred with the best of them. With Marko Paasikoski very ably rounding out the rhythm section on bass, Sonata Arctica certainly wowed the very enthusiastic and packed New York crowd with their instrumental and vocal prowess.
QOTR Set list
Sign Of The Times
Child Of Fire
Walk In The Shadows
Breaking The Silence
I Don't Believe In Love
Eyes Of A Stranger
Take Hold Of The Flame
Queen Of The Reich
Sonata Artica Set List
Blinded No More
Last Drop Falls
Kingdom For A Heart
Don't Say A Word
Official Web site: http://www.sonataarctica.info/