Album number nine is a triumph of nature

The protest song.

Over the years, it’s come in all shapes and sizes.

From Woody Guthrie and his machine that killed fascists and the folk tradition that saw Bob Dylan become t5he mouthpiece for a generation, to the punk and ska movements that morphed into the Red Wedge and wouldn’t let Thatcher and her Tory cronies be evil without censure, music has always sought to be – on occasion –  a little more than rhyming “baby” with “maybe” and whatever the latest fad on X Factor is.

Melodic Power metal wouldn’t necessarily be the first place you’d naturally think of if you were looking for some social conscience, mind you. Which is where the new album from Sonata Arctica comes in.

The band have been at the top of their game recently, unashamedly bombastic, grandiose and sounding as European as can be – it is a fact that when dealing with a SA record there is no thought that they might try and sound American – with 2014’s “Pariah’s Child” being particularly good, indeed the year before the toured and were exceptional.

Happily then, although its got weighty issues on its mind – the destruction of the planet and all that – “The Ninth Hour” is a mighty fine effort that covers all the bases you’d want it to.

It does make its intentions – lyrically that is – clear from the get-go “Closure To An Animal” amounts to a brief history of the world set to an almost prog metal thumper, complete with spoken word passages and parping keyboards, “Life” manages to be even more overblown, sounding somewhere between an Avantasia record and a Eurovision entry, “Fairytale” operates in a world that is part soundtrack, part 80s TV movie, musically at least, the theme of the words “vote yes for the global warming” doesn’t see things stray too far from the path.

If those rather set the tone, then it is another elsewhere that really takes the thing to another level entirely. “We Are What We Are” – in many ways you suspect it to be the true centrepiece of the thing – adds a quite glorious folky tinge to proceedings, and there is a fine vocal interplay to “Till Death’s Done Us Apart” which as well as being the heaviest thing here, is also the best with its foray’s into areas that early Genesis might have found themselves in too.

“Among The Shooting Stars” is a lush ballad and in common with much here, there is barely a note out of place. “Raise A Night” sees hair let down and the tempo raised, while “Fly, Navigate, Communicate” is as overwrought as its title suggests and “Cradle Lawns” has a touch of Elton John about it (this by the way, is a good thing).

No doubt either, about the one the band most enjoyed. “White Pearl, Black Oceans Part II (By The Grace Of The Ocean)” is a labyrinthine 10 minute – an epic in every sense of the world, its very much the work of a band who is entering its third decade and frankly isn’t all that bothered about what anyone else thinks, as they’ve got a sound and are very much happy in their own skin.

“The Ninth Hour” is testament to that, and if the message gets through too, then so much the better.

Rating 7/10

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