Before I begin, I'd like to call upon two previously made statements during my journey through Sonata Arctica's studio albums. In my review for Winterheart's Guild, I alluded to the fact that "moving through Sonata Arctica's discography after Silence is an interesting experience." Less than a week later, I mentioned that "something happened" about ten minutes into The Days of Grays. Both are vague, commonly used statements. And yet, they're the most appropriate ones to make when regarding these Finlanders circa 2012--the same year I graduated college. Not only had the majestic power metal band taken quite an interesting turn, but something had happened to bring them to this point; a point that, after two divisive albums, finally seemed to bring all listeners together in one collective consensus.
Stones Grow Her Name is quite a doozie. Fans and naysayers of Sonata Arctica were thrown for the curveball of the band's career when the album released. The jump from Reckoning Night to Unia suddenly felt like a sidewalk stride on a skateboard. If opener "Only the Broken Hearts (Make You Beautiful)" somehow doesn't convince you of the slip, don't worry, the following track will do the trick. After all, with a title like "Shitload of Money," how do you expect to take things seriously? The band do absolutely nothing to make you feel differently, either. They embrace the silliness that comes with sinking what seriousness they once clung to. Impressive lyrics and brooding subject matter? Forget it. Developing and refining their sound? Not a chance. Keeping a straight face while listening? As if!
What's amusing is that, for a few minutes, Stones Grow Her Name actually functions on a guilty pleasure basis. Those first two tracks have all the substance of an arena overflowing with cotton candy, but the flavor is so punishingly sweet. After that, however, Stones Grow Her Name falls into the same rut as The Days of Grays. So instead of being bad and sounding fun, they just sound bad. I'll admit that the subject matter on "Alone in Heaven" is an interesting one, but as with the majority of the album, it exhibits no more merit than an Avenged Sevenfold song.
"Now hold on," you might be thinking, "what about the pair of Wildfire songs?" To that I'd ask, "what about them?" The original "Wildfire" was self-sufficient, so other than trying to give Stones Grow Her Name a chance at actual merit, I'm not sure what purpose they actually serve. But they've been presented, and while it's true the direction they assume is different from the preceding material, they're hardly redeeming. A lack of consistency with the rest of the album isn't exactly a bad thing, but it does leave one to wonder why every other song couldn't have followed suit. Even if they did, Stones Grow Her Name would probably amount to little more than a smooth transition from The Days of Grays; neither of the "Wildfire" sequels feel like proper successors to anything on Reckoning Night.
Nothing on Stones Grow Her Name captures the essence of Sonata Arctica. Oh sure, there's dumb fun to find during the first two tracks, along with reaching towards a final goal on its two "Wildfire" entries. Unfortunately, half of those highlights see them slash and shred away at their foundation. If Unia was "executed with tipsiness," as I said in my review, then Stones Grow Her Name is a case of drunken battery.
Question of the Day: What are some truly awful songs you can't help but enjoy?