STRATOVARIUS - ELEMENTS PT.1 - NUCLEAR BLAST
It is almost three years since Stratovarius' last album featuring new material. With solo material and a filler-album not doing much for fans, the anticipation for Elements Pt.1 has been high. The expectations will be both met, and not met. Let me explain. The concept album (note: the band has already recorded pt. II, yet denies the albums to be concepts) has several great songs. The utopian theme of a godless world, free and strong begins with Eagleheart which is a strong tune. The theme is established, as is the band's ongoing ability to write good songs, as is the CD's fantastic production value. Soul Of A Vagabond is another great song. This one paces brilliantly and serves as a reminder of Timo Kotipelto's vocals prowess. Find Your Own Voice is next and is a progressive barnstormer. Kotipelto reaches for the sky with his vocals and the band rocks away with talent. One could wish for an album full of Find Your Own Voices! The song is riddled with metallic, progressive and Classical elements. The ten-minute long Fantasia is up next and, while leaning strongly to the progressive side, is another good song riddled with talent. The song is pompous though which is to be expected from Stratovarius. The song seems to fall apart in the middle where Kotipelto stumbles on the word 'religion' and the more quiet and sampled section tarnishes the overall mood. The song quickly recovers though, picking up with a great rhythm, bass sound and a soaring lead. And this is where things begin to fall apart. While the next song, Learning To Fly, has many good parts; the whole is actually worse than the sum of all the parts. Next up is Papillon which begins with operatic vocals and impressive lead vocals, but ultimately is too long-winded for its own good. The band tries too many things within the confines of one track. Up next is the instrumental Stratofortress which borrows from Classical music, polka and Yngwie Malmsteen liberally. Elements follows for the next twelve minutes. It has its ups and downs and is quite pompous. The Stratovarius boys can play, but hardly anyone needs to still be convinced of that. What is more pertinent is how the band can go a tad too soft for its own good with this album. The song contains a profound message though. "What kind of a God justifies violence?" A Drop In The Ocean substantiates the fact the first part of this album is superior to its second. How soft is too soft?
One major sore point left to mention is the drumming. What Jorg Michael has immortalized here is some of the most humdrum drumming ever heard on a hard rock album. He takes the art of simple, no-frills, back-bone drumming to new heights (or lows)! The man is a great backbone, but an unimaginative drummer to say the least. Elements Pt. 1 is a good album where the fast parts are faster, the heavy parts heavier, the pompous parts more pompous and the progressive parts even more progressive than before. There is only the matter that Elements Pt. 1 would have been an even better EP. - Ali "The Metallian"
STRATOVARIUS - ELEMENTS PT.2 - NUCLEAR BLAST
Is Stratovarius sending secret Canadian messages via its album cover? The CD's front not only depicts the fleur de lys, which has been borrowed from monarchist France to become the symbol of Quebec, but has maple leaves flying everywhere; thereby giving a major Canadiana motif to the whole work. There is nothing Canadian about the music though. The Finnish pomp rockers have followed 'part 1' in the space of nine months with a new full-length album which is more melodic than the previous album. To prove the point the album begins with a ballad called Alpha & Omega which sets the tone for the rest of the songs. The songs do get faster and the vocals continue to reach into the stratosphere, but is the slow songs which dominate the conclusion of the concept. The emphasis is squarely on the vocals and the keyboards here. Interestingly, the song Luminous not only sings of the stars and the universe, but also begins with the notes from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
The band's fans will undoubtedly support the act and the quintet will certainly sell thousands of records in Europe and Japan, but it is difficult to predict metal listeners warming up to the luscious textures of the new Stratovarius album. The Finns have to harden their sound for that. - Ali "The Metallian"
STRATOVARIUS - Same - SANCTUARY
The band that had sundered and seemed beyond hope has managed to regroup and record a new album. The return of Finland’s biggest pomp rock export so far is as much a surprise, given the acrimonious nature of the members’ split, as the initial implosion.
The self-titled album at hand is more solid, less larger-than-life and more guitar-oriented than the band’s latest output. That is a good thing despite the inevitable presence of instances of unneeded commercialism.
The album kicks off with Maniac Dance, which is clearly a commercial tune that even starts akin to an ELO song. The song gets harder and eventually boasts decent guitar and bass. Fight!!! Ventures into more familiar territory!!! And is in place!!! to show that Stratovarius!!! is back and has not lost its feel!!! Just Carry On is next and is a great song complete with soaring vocals, backing vocals, guitar solo and chords and is catchy yet sharp. The song’s title is a good one given the band’s history. Watch for the surprise tempo change at the end of the track. Back To Madness is another title that could speak to the band’s recent developments, but more likely speaks to the assorted melancholy and hard tendencies of the song. The brooding repetitious chords and the lyrics are accompanied by the not unusually impressive screaming of Timo Kotipelto. Gypsy In Me is insignificant in comparison and flows by fast. Götterdämmerung (Zenith Of Power) is the band’s elongated seven minute title. As it turns out the length is enhanced artificially for the number is repetitious and filled with monotonous notes. Not only does the song begins with keyboards, and the attempt at atmosphere, but also there just plain is not enough metal here. The light drum sound is finally somewhat drowned by the good singing which sound angrier than elsewhere and show a purpose before reverting to the unnecessary. The Land Of Ice And Snow is the Finns’ obligatory reference and ode to their nation (snore) and a filler really. At least, Finland has something to be proud of; when the Americans try their hand at this type of thing the hypocrisy is outright nauseating. The next song immediately begins with a gritty guitar chord and that too light a snare sound that is the bane of the drum and overall sound on this disc. The song itself is mid-paced and were it not for the short lead and the vocals the monotonous droning rhythm section would have turned Leave The Tribe into a doom song. Could the title refer to this Survivor series on TV everyone was talking about last year? The song has a changed bass sound. The album closes with the anthem, United. The song is about band’s aforementioned soap opera. Now if the lyrics were the words of a politician people would be crying out of cynicism and disbelief. Oh well, the music is satisfactory in itself. Given the keyboards and topic the number is pompous, but that is standard fare for Stratovarius.
The reviews of this album have been needlessly negative. Stratovarius is not a masterpiece of course, but is not short of the band’s standards either and is, furthermore, better than the band’s last couple of albums which overdid the softness in all departments. Either way, Sanctuary must be delighted to have finally gotten an album out of the line-up it signed to a deal. - Ali “The Metallian”
STRATOVARIUS - POLARIS - ARMOURY
Now officially Timo Tolkki-less (which is absurd in the same way that Megadeth without Dave Mustaine would be), this incarnation of Stratovarius is still as bombastic and over-the-top as ever, the Finns (and a Swede) obviously attempting to regain their fan base after the mildly received, mid-paced self-titled ’05 record. Though no tracks on Polaris enter the ultra-fast realms of previous Stratovarius fare (it’s well known that vocalist Timo Kotipelto isn’t found of that inhuman speed nor what he refers to as “dog-whistle vocals”), Jens Johansson’s '80s keyboards are still a main offender in the pompous department and are the element that continues to transform Stratovarius into one long-lasting '80s video game soundtrack. There’s very little that’s cool about Stratovarius in any capacity and, once again, the group has clearly proven this point beyond a reasonable doubt. - James Tape
STRATOVARIUS - ELYSIUM - ARMOURY
Here is Stratovarius doing what it does well: deliver pomp-ridden, big swish, grand sound with multiple layers and tempos. Elysium has Matias Kupiainen on guitars and he doe not miss a beat for the band delivering Yngwie-like licks and frills aplenty, but it’s all part of the Stratotradition so it should keep fans content and in check.
Song-wise, Fairness Justified is slower and bombastic, The Game Never Ends explodes with speed to make up for it (nice words to this one), Lifetime In A Moment begins slowly and broods with effects, that might be meant as whispers, before the big bass and marvel vocals come rushing in. The album has to end with the symphonic, varied, epic loooong title track, which at 18 minutes long is both interesting and clichéd. The track contains three parts and impresses with content - as opposed to effects, intros and outros. Yes, Stratovarius is pageantry and grandeur on purpose which can get tiring when all one wants is heavy metal, keep the synthesizers thank-you very much, but for what it is the band is in top form. The cover artwork is also captivating. - Ali “The Metallian”