When last we saw Sonata Arctica, the veteran band was in the midst of rebuilding their legacy, after a detour that alienated a large portion of their fan base. That record was a step in the right direction, but not one that was up to the standard that everyone has set for the band. For every great song they wrote, there was a ridiculous attempt at pop stardom, or a banjo-infused number that made little sense. By this point, Sonata Arctica has spent almost as much time rebuilding their credibility as they did establishing it in the first place. “Pariah's Child” is yet another album that attempts to bring the band back from the edge, one that needs to hit the mark before the majority gives up on them.
The album gets off to a promising start, regardless of what side you come down on. “The Wolves Die Young” is power metal through and through, with galloping guitars and prominent keyboards. There's a modern tinge to the riffs that keep the song from being just another cookie-cutter power metal number, and the chorus rises up and grabs you the way that little on the previous album was able to. These are the kinds of songs that make me remember why I loved power metal so much when I was first getting into metal, and show that there's still plenty of life left in Sonata Arctica.
“Pariah's Child” finds the band playing to their strengths, keeping the wild tangents to a minimum. It could be looked at as a calculated decision, but there's something to be said for knowing what you're good at. This album is a far more consistent, and satisfying, platter than their previous few records. That being said, it isn't a great album. While the band knows how to write a hook, they don't dig in and make every song as strong as possible. After the terrific opening, the songs fall back into a comfort zone, and hardly do anything exciting. There are nice melodies in songs like “Take One Breath” and “Cloud Factory”, but they're missing the killer instinct.
As the songs get longer deeper into the album, they begin taking a few more chances, without changing the basis of the sound. Those elements are mostly kept to the instrumental sections, giving them color, rather than trying to build metal songs on a non-metal foundation. The best of these songs is “Half Of A Marathon Man”, which draws influence from 80's hard rock, with a biting riff, and spitting organs that play up the cheese factor. It's a tongue-in-cheek reminder of how power metal is often viewed, wrapped up in an awesome song.
Between the spoken word introduction to “X Marks The Spot”, and the theatrical excess of “Larger Than Life”, the album ends on a note that may not sit well with everyone. The closing numbers are an acquired taste, that is for sure, but they have some of the most rewarding songwriting on the album. That's not to say they're necessarily the most enjoyable to listen to, because there are places where they meander too long, but there are some great ideas to be found.
Overall, “Pariah's Child” is another step back in the right direction for Sonata Arctica. They've pared back on the inclination to throw everything into the mix, but they haven't quite returned to form when it comes to writing songs. Some of the album finds them wanting to write big hooks, and some of the album is more concerned with stretching their boundaries as songwriters. Either way can be successful, but they haven't decided where to go, and because of that, the album doesn't hold together as a coherently great Sonata Arctica record.