Reckoning Night is considered by many fans to be Sonata Arctica’s swansong, as if the band mysteriously disappeared in 2005 and has been missing ever since. It’s a silly idea, but what those people are right on is that this is, by far, the band’s most mature effort to this point. The production is rich and powerful, bringing forth tight musicianship from all angles (although they’ve never been the most technical group around) and sounding every bit as wintry as their previous works while packing a punch that a lot of metal records like it lack. It’s also noticeably darker, as this is where the Finns really started to explore territory beyond their Stratoesque roots, writing longer songs and easing up a bit on the tiring double-kick drum patterns; the use of keyboards can still be considered “flowery,” except they’re accompanied by a great dose of melancholy this time around. When the band’s discography is listened to chronologically, it’s quite easy to tell that this is where they exchanged their light, fun atmosphere for something much heavier and intimate, though not yet to the point of Unia or The Days of Grays.
Lyrically, Tony Kakko has never been better, painting somber tales of sadness (“Misplaced”) and angst (“Blinded No More”), along with the traditional Sonata Arctica wolf anthem, “Ain’t Your Fairytale”. His vocals, despite being somewhat lower-pitched than they were in the band’s earlier years, convey the songs’ messages perfectly while being intertwined with complex choir arrangements; the best example of this would probably be in the classic “Don’t Say a Word,” although the vocal arrangements are consistently strong throughout the album as a whole and really show Kakko’s growth as a composer rather than a singer.
The mood change and musical evolution on Reckoning Night acts both as a boon and a hindrance; while it may appeal to those who were wishing Sonata Arctica would find their own sound (which, in my opinion, they already did on Winterheart’s Guild), it just seems plodding in areas where I’m used to the band soaring. Yes, there are more midtempo tracks here, but that’s not necessarily it; “My Selene,” while being one of the album’s faster songs, is simply not up to the usual Sonata Arctica standard of power metal. The same goes for “The Boy Who Wanted to Be A Real Puppet” and “Blinded No More,” which are basically just there-not bad enough to be filler, but not really memorable in any way either.
Sonata Arctica hits a grand slam, however, on the epic “While Pearl, Black Oceans”. A fascinating yet woeful tale of a lighthouse keeper and a tragic shipwreck he indirectly causes, the song stands both as the end of the straightforward power metal era of the band and perhaps their biggest triumph as an overall composition. A lyrical masterpiece, the song builds as the story goes on, Kakko adding more and more choirs before it reaches its sorrowful climax. It’s just so beautifully sad and gripping, making it the perfect album closer (unfortunately, this is not the case). Definitely the best song on the album, and maybe in Sonata Arctica’s career.
So while I find myself missing the energy and enthusiasm of the band’s earlier works, the fourth Sonata Arctica album certainly has its fair share to offer. Reckoning Night is certainly worth a listen, even if it’s just for its standout tracks; inconsistent, but enjoyable nonetheless.