Sonata Arctica have gradually established their position in the forefront of Finnish metal. At the same time, the band has grown further and further apart from their power metal roots, and broken – in addition to few barriers – many unwritten rules of the genre. Precisely that makes Sonata Arctica interesting, because the band is like a smart pop band who just happens to be playing heavy metal.
“In the beginning we were quite surprised ourselves of how it turned out”, the band’s vocalist and songwriter Tony Kakko starts, reasoning the almost complete exit of traditional heavy metal elements in the band’s music.
“Anyway, at the same time we wanted to do something different. The idea we have had for a while has been to develop this genre with devotion, and not care too much about what others expect from us. The old truth, that you make music from selfish point of view, exactly the kind of music we like ourselves, holds true with us."
“We haven't really drifted too far from our previous works. But of course, if you just recycle the same old thing for too long, you get bored. The changes have been natural, and if you work naturally and follow your inspiration, that’s the only thing you can get”, keyboard player Henrik Klingenberg adds.
Indeed, Sonata Arctica have dropped the pounding double bass drums and speed-of-light guitar solos. The new album, entitled “Unia”, is intelligent heavy metal, which power lies in strong compositions. Sonata Arctica cannot be compared to anything, the closest comparisons are in the field of pop rather than in the field of heavy metal. As a proof it has to be said that yours truly has never be able to stand any band of this genre, but Sonata Arctica gives me goose bumps with their brilliance.
“Well, why would we rewrite our debut album, it already exists. Those times are far behind, at times it felt like the whole power metal thing was a ballast for us. Now it feels like we don’t have to force the music out of us. Everything is much more natural and easy for us”, Kakko ensures.
“And you are right, I write songs with a definite pop mentality. I believe that the band makes them sound like Sonata Arctica. Looks like this time the band didn’t want to do the old things again either. Usually I have some vision, maybe even concerning all the instruments, but the musicians make the final versions themselves.”
“And we even modify the original ideas”, Klingenberg adds before Kakko continues.
“Yeah. But I write the songs to stand by the composition, and in the beginning they do not sound like heavy metal at all. The tempos usually change radically as well. I have a strong history with pop music, so maybe the song writing style and the melodies come from there. I like to write different songs anyway. Time also helps with making the songs better.”
“The last record was made pretty much in the studio, and an unpleasant panic hit us at a certain point”, Klingenberg tells.
“Yeah, this time we wanted to everything more strictly and deliberate, and rehearse well. That’s why the record turned out better and more pervasive”, Kakko ponders.
Despite their success, Sonata Arctica have been one of the most mocked bands in the scene. Kakko sees the thing clearly.
“The spirit has been from the beginning that, the street credibility that’s so typical for heavy metal has never been our strongest point, since we have never wanted to live like people expect us to. So I’ve always thought, we have to focus on the songs, because there is no credibility! Music is the most important thing here anyway.”
“Sometimes the response has been quite weird, people have felt like we have betrayed our fans and done something unforgivable. There have been very precise instructions on what we should have done and what we should do next. That’s when you lose your nerves – once I’ve had to answer “thanks for the response, but please, form your own band””, Klingenberg says.
“We appreciate the fact that people take us so seriously, but maybe we’ve always had certain reluctance to live according to other people’s expectation and follow the mandatory clichés. Thus we have always ended up doing things in our own way, and thought only about the music and its high quality. Music is the reason why we are here, and that’s why everything else than that may be very different from all the other bands. We do not want to pretend we are something we are not”, Kakko reveals.
“Heavy metal guys are not as narrow minded as they used to, there is a small marginal of loud people who get irritated by even the smallest things, but usually heavy metal guys listen to at least many different kinds of heavy metal. And I believe that with age the narrow-mindedness will vanish, at least I hope so”, Klingenberg laughs.
Sonata Arctica are indeed quite different from the other bands of the same genre. The lyrics are different as well, once again a class of their own. Kakko dares to write about things people normally don’t talk about. Faithfully to pop, relationships are the main source of inspiration.
“Great that someone has noticed this. I feel that heavy metal has to develop. We are giving our own input to that. Of course, you need versatility and daring if you want to leave a trace of ourselves”.
Kakko declares that he always writes the songs alone, because that way he can best perceive the song as a whole. Sometimes the rest of the band may wonder what to do, but the other members rely on Kakko’s vision. This vision has led the band much further than they ever thought. Kakko and Klingenberg also tell that hard rehearsing is always mandatory.
“If some people think we drive sport cars and so on, they’re wrong. We make the ends meet so that we don’t have to do much else, but at times it’s very dry and in others something ends up on the bank account. However, you have to play gigs all the time.”
“There is still a lot to do, we have some reputation in Europe already, but even here there is a lot to do. And in America we are, of course, a pretty unknown band. A couple of thousand records sold are next to nothing there. We have played shows, and we have already been pretty much everywhere in the world. It is quite an achievement on its own. But you really have to focus a lot in if you want to break in America”, Kakko clarifies.
“But we play gigs quite willingly, even if there is not much money made. When you see people having their fists up in the air and that they have fun, it creates the feeling that you have to do this again and again”, Klingenberg laughs.
“The response of the audience motivates us the most anyway. When you see happy faces and notice that the audience knows the lyrics very well, you get devotion for what you are doing”, Kakko adds.
“Some songs are pretty boring to play at rehearsals, when you are quite fed up with yourself. But with the audiences reaction you get new energy and it’s a pleasure to play even some boring song”, Klingenberg ends.
The Sonata boys say their goal is pretty much to make music even after years and to make a living on it. Kakko tells the writing songs is very precious work to him, and the channels of creativity will never foul. According to his own words, he can’t do anything else as well. He would continue to make music as a solo artist or with some other band, because the emotions are so strong.
“Indeed, music means a hell of a lot of different things to me. It relaxes and modifies your feelings, it is a work and a hobby, exposing oneself and creativity”, Kakko explains.
“I like playing and live gigs the most. They are the most fun”, Klingenberg adds.
Sonata Arctica feature almost virtuoso status musicians.
“I don’t think this kind of virtuosity is necessary if you have good compositions and a good grasp on the whole thing”, Kakko says.
“You have to play a solo if there is a obvious place for a solo. I could play a lot of solos, especially live, but the other guys wouldn’t probably like it”, Klingenberg laughs.
“Many a heavy metal record has been spoiled by too much soloing, and then you’ve got more than enough of all these guitar hero records. I guess that means somebody must like them”, Kakko complements.
“That’s entirely up to your personal taste. You may think Children of Bodom is too much playing and too little song writing, but I think the balance is perfect. We players look at it a bit differently”, Klingenberg pleas.
Besides Sonata Arctica, Kakko has made music for Ari Koivunen and Agnes Pihlava, two potential long term favourites who originally came to the public eye in the Idols competition.
“I don’t want to start biting the hand that feeds me, writing songs for other artists however opened my vision to the fact that you can make pretty much any kind of music. Maybe you’re anyway so blind to your own work that other people recognize it was written by you from mile away”, Kakko laughs.
“Nevertheless, I don’t believe Idols artists take space from actual bands, if the record companies don’t run out of resources. It’s easy money for the companies to sell the Idols stars. But it has been fun for me to make songs for them, and I don’t believe I’ve been shooting myself in the foot by doing that. Good music always gets noticed. Even if the record companies wouldn’t notice a good band right away, the audience will!”, Kakko ends.