Sonata Artica is a Finnish power metal band that blends elements of symphonic metal, hard rock and progressive. The band consists of singer, keyboardist and songwriter Tony Kakko, guitarist Elias Viljanen, bass guitarist Marko Paasikoski, keyboardist and keytarist Henrik Klingenberg, and drummer Tommy Portimo. They originally formed in late 1995 as Tricky Beans, which later became Tricky Means. Early in their career they released three unsuccessful hard rock demos. After this failure, Paasikoski (then a second guitarist) and original bassist Pentti Peura left the band. Tricky Means decided to continue as a group despite these departures, choosing to go on with just one guitarist and recruiting Janne Kivilahti to replace Peura. It was at this time that the band decided to drop the Tricky Means moniker and adopt the name of Sonata Artica.
During all these changes the band worked on changing their sound from 1997 through 1999. The band adopted a sound that heavily emphasized keyboard melodies and an easily distinguishable rhythm line that was carried by both bass and guitar. This was a stark contrast to previous hard rock sound. After the name, musical style and lineup changes, Sonata Artica recorded a demo entitled FullMoon, their first metal recording. A friend of the band sent the demo to Spinefarm records with soon gained the band a record deal.
In late 1999, the band released their debut album, Ecliptica. They album had mixed reviews. Allmusic states that “Sonata Arctica continue the tradition of their Finnish contemporaries, like Stratovarius… Too bad that they just re-sample way too much of the others in their genre. What Sonata Arctica have [sic] to offer is just a bunch of interesting solos and melodies, but as a whole Ecliptica fails completely. The songs lack diversity, and it is almost impossible to listen to the album all the way through. That’s too bad, though; Sonata Arctica have proven earlier that they do have the skills and potential to make an exceptional heavy metal album, but here it seems that they have just chosen the easy path.” Their debut album did contain the hit song “Blank File”. Concerning “Blank File”, which is about internet privacy, Kakko once stated: “I had a vision of how things would be in the future [laughs]. Now that we’re in the future, it’s not as horrendously bad, although people are being really bad about their privacy. If you upload your family pictures online somewhere, even if you think you’ve erased them from the server, they’re still there. “Blank File” is all about that. […] I didn’t consider computers per se at the time. […] The starting point was all of the phone cards we had at the time, and when you’re shopping on the concord, someone knew what you bought. I found that somehow, disturbing. It’s great to realize that after so long, your songs are still valid.”
In 2001 they followed with the sophomore release Silence. For this record Paasikoski returned to the band, but as a bassist instead of guitarist. Kakko felt that Silence had more of a distinct sound than their previous album, describing the album as more ‘mature’ and more of Sonata Arctica’s own sound than Ecliptica. The album also has an even more emotional setting than their previous album. The website chroniclesofchaos.com said of Silence and Sonata Artica: “Some might classify them as one of those bands I described, but look deeper into the work of Sonata Arctica, and pretty soon you’ll change your mind about them. “Silence” is a great record. The vocals are incredible, the music masterful and the production is top notch. The band couldn’t have asked for a better follow-up to 1999’s stellar “Ecliptica”. Melodic metal it may be, but Sonata Arctica gather up a lot of steam on this record, showcasing that not only can they write good songs but they can speed it up too.” Timo Kotipelto, lead singer of power metal band Stratovarius, sang guest vocals on the album. Kakko decided to focus on vocals for this record and they recruited Mikko Härkin for keyboard duties. Härkin would eventually leave by late 2002 due to personal reasons.
Released in 2003, Winterheart’s Guild was the band’s third release. For this record Sonata Artica recruited the in-studio services of seasoned keyboard player Jens Johansson from Stratovarius who recorded the keyboard solos, while Kakko took care of the basics. Looking for a replacement keyboard player, the band recruited Klingenberg. The sputnikmusic.com said of the album’s lyrical content: “I’ll say it right now. Sonata Arctica writes cheesy lyrics. […]Sonata Arctica’s lyrics are not cheesy in the same way that DragonForce’s or Hammerfall’s are. Instead, frontman Tony Kakko pens his lyrics with personal themes of love and life in mind. Yes, they’re pretty cringe worthy, but it’s Sonata Arctica. Expecting Tony Kakko to write about anything different would be like expecting Slayer to write Christian metal.” Cheesy lyrics aside, the album sparked a successful tour that saw most shows selling out. The album and band would go on to be the basis of the action-RPG computer game Winterheart’s Guild. The characters and soundtrack to the game were provided by the band. Also in 2006, Sonata Artica released the live CD/DVD For Sake of Revenge.
Sonata Artica went on to release three more studio albums: Unia (2007), The Days of Grace (2009) and Stones Grow Her Name (2012). In 2007, then guitarist Jani Liimatainen was asked to leave the band due to problems with his Finnish conscription (compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service). He was replaced by Viljanen.
Though they have not gained commercial success in the US and repeatedly receive mixed reviews, Sonata Artica is a talented and dedicated group of musicians who love their craft and their fans. They play for the right reasons; not for money or fame, but for themselves and the joy it brings to whatever number of people that considers themselves to be fans. The fact of the matter is that you probably have never heard of them before this article. But if you enjoy various types of metal, especially power metal specifically, and songs filled with life, love and a bit of the fantastical, then Sonata Artica is a band worth a listen to!