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I am a power metal apologist; there is simply no getting around it. I don’t like the term because after 10 years or so of not only listening to, but also composing songs in the style, I do not feel the slightest need to apologize for anything. However, in metal company I often stand alone amongst a large collection of thrash purists, death metal bruisers, and black metal ghouls, defending my sexuality for my passion for the perfect symmetry that results from this style being done right, I am ultimately seen as that.
Anyway, like any metal head of any persuasion, I am equally as revolted by the notion of musical integrity being compromised in the name of commercialism, though commercial success itself does not necessitate this. So when I heard that Finland had its own version of the Idols concept that has been plaguing America like a rotten apple filled with genital-devouring tape worms and that some karaoke bar veteran managed to win this putrid contest singing Maiden and Whitesnake songs, I was half curious and half terrified at what my ears were about to witness. Was this an actual metal head winning over a crowd of pop culture zombies, or some no talent with good looks who sang a couple measly glam rock songs to differentiate himself from the pop/rock trash he shared the stage with?
I have to admit when I first heard Ari sing, I thought the guy was 17 years old and had yet to reach puberty. His voice is extremely boyish, to the point of making me remember those old Latin choir chants from the middle ages that I studied in college music history where they used children instead of a mixed gender choir to achieve all of the needed voice registers. Stylistically he is a mixture of David Coverdale, Timo Koltipelto and Marko Hietala, all of them done fairly competently, although the thin tinge in his voice drags down what is otherwise a fairly competent performance.
The songs on here are mostly standard faire Stratovarius worship with an injection of NWOBHM guitar riffing sensibilities. Although there is considerably less keyboard presence on this album, a good comparison would be with acts such as Dreamtale, Ultimatium, “Starfall” era Dragonland and even post 2002 Mob Rules. “I fly” and “God of War” are the best musical representations of the lead happy guitar approach that is entailed in all of these similar acts, although along with most of the other material on here, conforms a good deal more to the radio friendly AOR structure of verse/chorus and so on.
The principle factor that keeps this out of the realm of drudgery and total mediocrity is the A-team of musicians who contributed their chops to this project. Timo Tolkki’s wild yet idiomatic leads are easily recognized and succeed in surpassing his sluggish work on Stratovarius’ lackluster self-titled album, although doesn’t quite shack up to the splendor heard on “Destiny”. Janne Wirman’s keyboard work, though surprisingly sparse, also plays a key factor in adding the needed flash to keep some of these predictable songs interesting.
When I consider how saturated the Finnish scene has become with Stratovarius emulators, it’s difficult for me to give this a glowing recommendation, even though it listens pretty well for a debut by a newcomer who didn’t quite get the same road experience that most in this trade do before getting signed. Bands like Dreamtale and Dragonland pull this style off far better than this, not to mention that if you’re an American you have to blow a whopping $33 to get this sucker imported. Perhaps Ari will improve with time; your guess is as good as mine. And hopefully Ari will find a different label than Sony who won’t gouge prospective western hemisphere buyers in amounts comparable to highway robbery.