One of Finland’s first true power metal bands to make it big on the European stage, Sonata Arctica have long since earned the right to satisfy their musical urges however they please. However I can’t deny a little frisson of excitement ran down my spine when the band announced their new album was set to be a ‘return to our roots’ release, wherein the band would fulfil our power metal needs to the max… Would they? Would they really?

On the whole I think they probably have. For a start, Mikko Karmila‘s production has a deliciously traditional feel to it, taking the listener right back to the glory days of this kind of music. That’s not to say the record sounds dated, by the way – it doesn’t. But the atmosphere created by the sound of Clear Cold Beyond is evocative of a time and a place that’s sure to appeal to long-term fans of the band and the genre. A nice move.

After the trad one-two of opening tracks First In Line and California – all parping keys and driving double kicks built in support of anthemic choruses, the tracks Shah Mat and Dark Empath add real flesh to the bone, especially the latter; A grinding piece of symphonic pomp, it’s a song of real substance and weight that stands out on first listen even if it doesn’t carry the earworm capabilities of some of it’s companion tracks.

A Monster Only You Can’t See brings everything together – by which I mean all the little elements that made you love this band in the first place – superbly, with Tony Kakko giving a masterclass vocal supported by some interesting guitar work from Elias Viljanen, who weaves in and out of Kakko’s voice before taking the spotlight fully with a beautiful, succinct solo. Tommy Portimo gives the whole thing form with his swinging percussive insertions, locking in with Pasi Kauppinen in the engine room while Henrik Klingenberg garnishes the whole thing with some nice keyboard flourishes.

But for all this, for all the joy at the return of unrestrained power metal nirvana, it’s the quirky, symphonic ballad Teardrops that really brings home the bacon for this reviewer. It’s a wonderful track, at once epic and yet still intimate and fragile, and it’s a superb reminder of why, despite the many twists and stylistic turns this band has taken over the years. it’s fans still flock to the Sonata Arctica banner. A statement piece from a standout band, it’s first among equals on an album full of highlight moments.

As returns to form go, this is a pretty good one – my warmest congratulations to everybody involved!

Clear Cold Beyond releases on March 8th.