REVIEW: SONATA ARCTICA – “Acoustic Adventures Volume One”
“Acoustic Adventures” Volume One by Sonata Arctica is a sprawling and beautiful compilation of tunes from throughout the bands’ career performed in a series of stripped-back renditions. It takes the bands’ signature sound and extracts the heaviness to render the songs in a breathtaking new light. That’s not to say that the songs have completely lost their heaviness but are heavy in an alternative and unique way.
The album has a timeless quality about it that conjures the spirit of the late ’70s or ’80s and brings with it an unexpected meditative quality.
Despite the name “Acoustic Adventures”, it’s not entirely an acoustic album. It’s more akin to a re-imagining of the songs performed live in the studio together. Substituting the tried and true formula of distorted guitars and massive drums for something more intimate. Taking the bones of original songs from across the band’s career, the performances present a fresh perspective that adds a compelling and frankly gorgeous spin absent from the original recordings.
Blending a lens reminiscent of Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Dream Theater, contemporary Opeth, and Folk music with the bands’ compositions, This is far from a typical acoustic album. Sonata Arctica have taken the very best parts of their catalog appropriate for this setting and meticulously developed them to create something that sounds like performance and not production.
Beginning with the goosebump-inducing “The Rest of the Sun Belongs to Me” which was originally a Japan-only bonus track off the 2003 album Winterheart Guild, Sonata Arctica quickly establishes what this performance is about. Glorious though subtle tension builds in the verses that suspend in bridges and hint at resolve before breaking into euphoric, grand choruses.
This leads into the track “For the Sake of Revenge” which presents as though it came from a Danny Elfman soundtrack. Musing with flowing rhythm, singer Tony Kakko bleeds emotion so strongly that he almost leaps from the speaker in an impassioned plea to the listener.
While the guitars are mostly acoustic, there are a few clean electric guitars abound, namely on the song “The Wolves Die Young”. Jangly clean strat-type guitars dance around a heavily distorted bass and madly tango’s with piano parts. Speaking of keys, Henkka adds a massive amount of heaviness throughout the album with his virtuosic playing. Especially when he employs an organ in tracks like “Alone in Heaven” or rips out INTENSE neo-classical shredding as heard on “Wolf and Raven”.
Moments of dynamic brilliance adorn the entire performance and the band is deliberate in how they present each section. Key changes, volume swells, the timbre of instruments, tempo changes, and ambiance lend to a monumental density of heart-stopping moments. This isn’t even touching on the vocal production that knows exactly when to walk alone or to layer harmonies. There truly exists an extreme variety and master of musicianship on “Acoustic Adventures” that is somewhat uncommon in contemporary music.
The compositions and musical choices selected by Sonata Arctica on “Acoustic Adventures” validate their expert mastery of the songwriting process. Twenty years’ worth of distilled deep cuts demonstrates the phenomenal musical aptitude of the band. Their mutability in transmuting these songs into a fully realized and developed concept such as this performance is beyond impressive.
Keyboardist Henrik “Henkka” Klingenberg says of the song “The Rest Of The Sun Belongs To Me”, “It was a song that first appeared as a bonus track for Japan back in 2003, just around the time I joined the band. When we started to arrange songs for the second Acoustic Adventures tour in 2019, this song somehow kept popping up and we decided to give it a go. Our dear friend Masi Hukari who joined us on stage for the tour did a lot of the work on this particular arrangement and I think that his input was really important in how this song turned out. For this record, we used the live arrangement as a starting point and I don’t think the song changed that much, so what you hear is a slightly refined version of the 2019 tour arrangement. We decided to use this song as the first single since it’s really different from the original studio version and as always, we prefer to offer something new and interesting for our fans and for ourselves as well.”
I’ve never said this before on any album and I’ve thought very carefully about including it in this review. This album is a perfect 10. “Acoustic Adventures” is an instant classic and the prospect that a second volume will be released sometime soon is thrilling! They got everything right on this album and while I would normally err on the side of “enough of a good thing is enough”, I am genuinely interested in hearing more of Sonata Arctica in this format.