Nearly 20 years on from the release of their now-revered debut album "Ecliptica", SONATA ARCTICA are a permanent fixture in power metal's upper tier, both in terms of popularity and critical acclaim. Getting jaded metal hacks to say nice things about yet another big, shiny power metal record is never an easy task, but frontman and creative dynamo Tony Kakko has made it look easy over the years. Whether producing one of the definitive 21st century power metal records in the form of 2003's "Winterheart's Guild" or rattling through a subsequent and steady stream of ambitious but effortlessly accessible albums like 2009's prog-tinged "The Days of Grays" and 2014's underrated "Pariah's Child", SONATA ARCTICA have always been a class act. In fact, it's hard to imagine the band losing momentum, even if "Talviyö" turned out to be a one-legged turkey. It's nothing of the sort, of course, this tenth full-length offering from Kemi's favorite sons: it's every bit as polished, precise and bursting with emotional peaks and extravagant depths as its predecessors, and if 2016's "The Ninth Hour" felt more consolidatory than confident, its follow-up showcases a wholesale return to wide-eyed fearlessness.
Fans of the band's more direct, anthemic material need not panic. "Talviyö" is as fervently melodic as anything SONATA ARCTICA have recorded. At times, there are so many melodies rolling over the horizon, like disarming waves of sonic warmth, that it's hard to pinpoint where choruses begin and verses end. The cumulative effect is of a wildly cinematic and multi-sensory musical journey, albeit one with shitloads of blistering solos, ultra-pompy keyboards and countless moments of elegance and subtlety: again, not something the majority of power metal bands tend to concern themselves with. Opener "Message From The Sun" is a typically effusive starting point, with one of those tooth-dislodging ensemble performances that speak of a thousand sweaty live shows, but also blessed with a sublime melodic sheen and sense of occasion that could hardly be more commanding. But it's second track "Whirlwind" that truly blows the metaphorical doors off. Six-and-a-half minutes of texturally rich prog metal, with Tony Kakko in the finest voice of his career to date, with multiple twists, turns, dynamic detours and unexpected embellishments; it feels like the coalescing of all those preposterous ideas that the Finns' explored with glee on past albums into one well-rounded but thrillingly indulgent burst of metallic euphoria. And if that sounds like frothing hyperbole, you're not wrong — "Talviyö" is the kind of power metal record that demands a hysterical response, because it's so much more substantial and absorbing than the genre tends to allow. Every one of these songs has its own identity, all seamlessly blended to make a deeply satisfying whole. SONATA ARCTICA can still peel off an instant sing-along anthem, "Cold" and "A Little Less Understanding" are the obvious candidates here, but it's the more adventurous moments, from "Storm The Armada" and its bullish, melodramatic squall to the expansive, theatrical splendor of "The Raven Still Flies", that will once again set this band apart from the rest. Oh, and those melodies. Always the melodies.