"Unia" was a bit of an odd album, as it pretty much broke with many things that Finnish Power Metallers SONATA ARCTICA had built up over the course of the four albums before by turning a bit more progressive and less "happy". When the first trailers and sneak peeks for their sixth effort "The Days Of Grays" surfaced, the track "Flag In The Ground" was the, I believe, first one to reach the fans' ears and I must say that it was a rather unfortunate choice by Nuclear Blast, as they picked the probably least representative track, which on top of that also is the only one that harkens back to the older all-out Power Metal days of the band.
The wonderful artwork is what hit me first and it reminds me of "Silence" and together with the first single, it definitely put me on the wrong track in terms of expectations, because "The Days Of Grays" absolutely is not a Power Metal album, because Toni Kakko has discovered depression and the darker side of life overall and that does not only translate into the lyrics, but also the music and this is, where many fans of old probably will want to curl up in a ball once more and hope for it to go away.
The instrumental version of "Everything Fades To Gray" sets the mood with a playful piano melody over some fairly symphonic setting and a dramatic touch, which then leads into the "real" opener "Deathaura" and SONATA ARCTICA have put the probably bulkiest and least accessible track of the whole album on this spot, which will make the above-mentioned curled up ball even tighter, because it is dark, dramatic, quite progressive and does not only feature female guest vocals, but even some growls, so you will get a lot of layers and not much catchiness with the exception of the straight double-bass driven chorus.
"The Last Amazing Grays" only contains relatively few guitars, but for that has a great melody, flow and emotional atmosphere that you can't elude, great track that then gives way to above mentioned "Flag In The Ground", which actually is not even a SONATA ARCTICA song per se, but a re-model of the track "BlackOut" off the "Friends Till The End" demo of the band TRICKY BEANS, which then turned into SONATA ARCTICA, so this track is actually 13 years old already! But there are more songs that stand out for various reasons.
"Zeroes" offers us partially distorted vocals (as does "The Truth Is OUt There"), but has this insanely catchy chorus, while "The Dead Skin" is in many ways a lot more aggressive, especially in the vocals and guitars), but weaves this into the overall style of the album, while "Juliet" is another one of my faves, as it has a very nice dramatic structure and flow and also features great melodies and dynamics overall.
It is clear very early on that "The Days Of Grays" is a very personal and dark album and it at times almost feels like a catalyst for some dark emotions that Toni has/had inside of him. While it surely is quite a bit different than "Ecliptica" or "Silence", though, the overall quality of songwriting and cohesion within the album are way too high to just dismiss SONATA ARCTICA's latest as a band gone astray, because let's be honest, it's not as if this came as a gigantic surprise, now did it?
Anyways, no matter how you look at it, this is a very high quality album. Different from what they used to be, yes, but it's not as if they tried to become the next SLIPKNOT out there. Jump over your own shadow and admit that you can't just dismiss this, it's a dark journey through the mind and a continued evolution of an established band that tries to push their own boundaries.
(Online December 22, 2009)