Sonata Arctica- Finnish Power Metal on the Rise
Sonata Arctica was first founded in the Finnish harbor town of Kemi in 1996 under the name “Tricky Beans”. Principal members Tony Kakko, Jani Liimatainen, Marko Paasikoski, and Tommy Portimo first produced hard rock, citing such bands as the Ramones and KISS as their inspiration.
Unfortunately, their work never really caught on. Though they produced three demos: Friend 'till the End, Agre Pamppers and PeaceMaker, they were never picked up by any record labels.
From 1997 to 1999 the band focused on changing their sound; replacing growls, screams, and shred guitar with an altogether clearer sound. They cite the well known European power metal band, Stratovarius, as the group that led them to their current style. By the end of their transformation the band’s lineup had changed.
Vocalist, Tony Kakko, focused on singing in a clear tone of voice, primarily using tenor with falsetto overtones to obtain a powerful sound with whispering, breathy qualities. While Tony focused on his vocals, keyboardist Mikko Härkin was brought in to take up the slack. Lead guitarist Jani Limmatainen was noted for focusing on his sweep picking in order to bring about faster, but cleaner sounding guitar work. It was then that they decided to change the name of the band to Sonata Arctica, though they refuse to comment on its meaning.
The produced their first single, Unopened, which quickly reached the top 20 on the Finnish charts and landed them their first record deal with Spinefarm Records. The album,"Ecliptica”, was released at the end of 1999 worldwide and received very good reviews, sparking their first tour in 2000 as an opening act for their idols, Stratovarius.
Critics raved about the qualities of their work; mentioning that many of the songs, while fast paced, had a lamenting quality of lost love. The concept of love; be it lost, gained, or fought for, is something for which Sonata Arctica has become known.
They continued on various tours, including the US and Japan, until 2002, when keyboardist Mikko Härkin parted with the band for personal reasons. Open auditions were held, during which the band narrowed down the thousands of applicants to two men. Both were phenomenally skilled, but after having had a number of unpleasant experiences with their previous keyboardist, they decided that the personality of the applicant would be the deciding factor.
To that end Sonata Arctica spent the entire night talking and drinking with each of the applicants, until Henrik Klingenberg was decided upon. Unfortunately he was far too hung over to be present for the press gathering the following day.
Since then the band was enjoyed much success, both overseas, in Europe, and particularly in Japan. When their contract with Spinefarm Records expired they signed with Nuclear Blast Europe and have recorded three more albums: “Winterheart’s Guild” in 2003, “Reckoning Night” in 2004, and the live CD “For The Sake of Revenge” in 2005.
Shortly after the release of their most recent album, “Unia”, in 2007 the band suffered a loss. Lead guitarist Jani Liimatainen was jailed for failing to report for military duty. It is federal Finnish law that all fit citizens must serve two years military active duty before they turn 30. Jani refused and spent a month in federal prison before finally reconsidering.
He parted ways with Sonata Arctica, who wished him well. The band took on Elias Viljanen, who had already filled in for Jani when he was sick on several previous tours.
The band really hasn’t received all that much publicity until recently, when on the Ultra Beatdown tour, they opened for the speed metal band, DragonForce. DragonForce has been criticized as of late for their insanely fast guitar solos, which, though well presented on their albums, they are hard-pressed to recreate during live performances. On more than one occasion DragonForce was met with boos and shouts from the crowd, who preferred Sonata Arctica and wanted them to continue playing.
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