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Sonata Arctica

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It's a never-ending source of frustration to some folks that Mannheim Steamroller makes cheeseball holiday music and not the crushing Teutonic metal its name suggests. It should swap with Sonata Arctica, which sounds like an orchestral Yule-log soundtrack but is actually a metal group, albeit one with extended keyboard solos and all the other hallmarks of symphonic European prog-metal.

Its Century Media discs distilled the stylistic innovations of peers like Dream Theater and Stratovarius, and combined them with orchestral flourishes worthy of a Rick Wakeman solo album. It does acknowledge the validity of other, less pomptastic schools of headbanging; its 2004 CD Takatalvi contained covers of the Scorpions' "Still Loving You" and Metallica's "Fade to Black" (the latter coming in at a full 1:15 longer than the original). But the bandmates' hearts are in big, swooping synth solos, screaming vocals, and all the other things that make power metal so huge in Europe's frozen north -- and so utterly inexplicable to the majority of American headbangers.

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