Finnish prog metal quartet Sonata Arctica specialize in a soaring, orchestral variation on European heavy metal, fusing the sweeping, romantic bombast of bands like Europe with the over-the-top instrumental chops of Dream Theater.
Born in 1996, the band, which included vocalist Tony Kakko, guitarist Jani Liimatainen, drummer Tommy Portimo, keyboardist Mikko Harkin, and bassist Janne Kivilahti, recorded a handful of demos before releasing their first single, "UnOpened," on Spinefarm Records in July of 1999. Producer Mikko Karmila (Children of Bodom, Stratovarius, Nightwish) recorded and mixed Sonata Arctica's full-length debut, Ecliptica, and the album was released in 2000 by Spinefarm and Century Media Records. Following a successful tour with Rhapsody and Stratovarius, the group put out a six-song EP, Successor, which featured live tracks, a pair of covers, and other previously unreleased material. Sonata Arctica were rewarded with various awards and honors around this time: Hard N' Heavy magazine voted them Newcomer of the Year, as did Emma, the Finnish Music Awards. Kivilahti quit the band in late 2000 and was replaced by Marko Paasikoski before work began on their second full-length album. With producer Ahti Kortelainen behind the boards, Sonata Arctica recorded Silence at Tico-Tico studios in time for a 2001 release. Winterheart's Guild and the Nuclear Blast-issued Reckoning Night followed in 2003 and 2004, respectively, and in 2007 the band issued their fifth full-length, the dark and aggressive Unia, which would serve as the last go-around for guitarist Jani Liimatainen, who would leave the group shortly after its release. New guitar player Elias Viljanen, who had been playing live with the group since Liimatainen's departure, would make his first album appearance on 2009's chart-topping Days of Grays. Longtime bass player Marko Paasikoski would bow out after the release of 2012's Stones Grow Her Name, making room for new bassist Pasi Kauppinen, who marked his debut on 2014's Pariah's Child -- that same year saw the release of Ecliptica Revisited, a full re-recording of their 1999 debut album. The aptly named Ninth Hour, the band's ninth studio long-player, dropped in October 2016. ~ Andy Hinds, Rovi