This album has already divided most fans, and I must admit I didn’t expect too much when I duly picked up a copy. Most people seem to be put off by the supposed “happy” (i.e. flowery) sound of this band but I have almost always been depressed by these Finns, not because I view their music as horrible but because I picked up “Winterheart’s Guild” during a particularly horrible stage of my life. Thus, whenever I hear their music I am instantly transported back to that part of my life… ugh. Anyway, so what does their latest album offer then?
Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock you’d know that this album is regarded by many as their worst yet due to its decidedly more laidback approach. Where their early albums (especially “Ecliptica”) was speedy Euro Power Metal, “Unia” is almost entirely bereft of such exploits, with the band opting for a much slower, ballad-driven affair. If their ballads sucked this would have spelled doom for the band but since I’ve always felt they were quite good at penning these sort of songs I wasn’t as surprised or disappointed by “Unia” as so many of you out there. Sure, I would have loved this album to feature more tracks in the vein of “San Sebastian” or “Wolf & Raven”, but I cannot deny that songs like the mid-paced single “Paid In Full” and “Under Your Tree” are outstanding songs that show that this band is capable of a lot more than just mindless double-bass driven “happy” anthems. The latter track in particular features one of the most beautiful yet understated intros I’ve heard in a long time, with the entire song flowing along at just the right pace. “For The Sake Of Revenge” is another favorite of mine with its great chorus and subtle keyboard lines. These tracks work because they don’t rely on pomp, focusing instead on building atmosphere through vocal arrangements and deft little keyboard touches. Of course there are some absolute duds on here, chief among them the jarring opener “In Black And White” (a track that is devoid of any direction whatsoever) and the plodding “The Vice” and “The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden”. Since this isn’t a particularly riff-centered album these songs have to rely on strong choruses to see them through – yet these last two songs don’t even possess that, ensuring they are dead on arrival.
Tony Kakko is, as always, the lynchpin of the band. Say what you want, but I am still absolutely enthralled by his vocal work, and the keyboard instrumentation is as good as anything they’ve mustered before. The production is solid too.
I’m sure this album will cause many to abandon the band but the truth is that they have been hinting at this direction ever since the release of “Winterheart’s Guild”. Some will label this as a sign of the band wimping out but I feel it’s more a case of the band growing up than anything else. The unorthodox nature of the album ensures that many of these songs will take a few spins before grabbing the listener, and it is actually something I prefer over the accessible bubblegum-Power Metal of many of their contemporaries. It’s not an easy listen and I respect the band’s decision to go with their hearts instead of whoring themselves to the fans.
So yeah, this is a flawed album but it was the best thing they could’ve done after the rather mundane last two albums. This is Power Metal without the power, yet there is still enough beauty and progression in most of these songs to warrant the occasional listen. Consider this their “X Factor”… different but solid nonetheless.
(Online August 9, 2007)