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After the split of Stratovarius and a true soap opera between the remaining members and Timo Tolkki, the Finnish guitar hero hectically presented his new project, released the material written for the Stratovarius record that was finally never released and wanted to prove the world the high quality of his song writing, his ability to have an open mind for a new project and his strength to create a power metal super-group within several months only.
What came out is a horribly weak compilation record with three different singers and many guest musicians that I usually like but who sing mostly without power and emotion on this release. I'm especially disappointed with Tobias Sammet who is a big hope for the power metal scene but who rather headed for rock and roll music at that time and failed to sing those power metal tracks on here with conviction. Even the controversially discussed legend Michael Kiske has recently performed with better skills on several projects.
But what I need to mention to the defence of those musicians is that the song writing is truly horrible and on a same level as the two "Elements" records from Stratovarius. The songs are mostly short and focus on cheesy and catchy choruses but there is not one emotional guitar solo, one progressive keyboard passage, one outstanding track to find on here. The best song is "Keep the flame alive" because of its calm and beautiful opening and closure and a good job of Michael Kiske and "I did it my way" would have been a good and more successful single as the last Stratovarius contributions from Tolkki were. A part of those two songs, tolkki delivers us boring filler tracks without any inspirations that would have created one of the worst Stratovarius albums ever but maybe still something better than the horrible "Polaris" record that the band eventually released. Nevertheless, the split was necessary and the only way out for both sides even if the first results for both sides were heavily disappointing.
The short living Revolution Renaissance project was something like a therapy for Timo Tolkki to come back with Symfonia recently and it was important for him to release all this music and change his mind with workaholic tendencies. All three albums rather offer quantity than quality though and even if this first album might be something very important and personal for Tolkki, it surely is a pretty heavy disappointment for most of his fans and not a record worth being purchased. It eventually is the worst album of the band and anybody should jump to the other two releases if he or she wants to check out a real band and not a boring compilation project.
It’s a safe assumption that regardless of what came afterward, there was nowhere for Stratovarius to go but up after that hideous self-titled album they put out a few years ago. However, when competing visions come into play as to where to go next, the eventual split that occurred during the creation of this troubled opus became an inevitability. Surprisingly enough, Timo Tolkki seemed to have learned just as much as the others from the horrid mistake that the band released as an album in 2005, as “New Era” (formerly titled “Revolution Renaissance”) seems a concerted effort at turning back the clock about 10 or 12 years. But the question that tends to arise is, would this have been as good as “Polaris” if Tolkki had not split with his former band and this had been the band’s comeback album?
The problem in answering this question is that Timo essentially took the concept of Avantasia, on a smaller scale, and put out something that doesn’t sound like a singular band. Simply employing the services of Michael Kiske for the whole album would have likely achieved the best results considering that he towers over Sammet and Rantanen on here, but then again, Kiske’s status as a Christian might have come into question with him singing the hair-brained lyrics of lust in “Glorious And Divine”, let alone the pseudo-Dan Brown meets a modern version of the Aryan Heresy prose of “Burn Upon The Cross”. But in spite of Tolkki’s continuing lack of lyrical prowess, he’s taken some sizable steps back towards a respectable formula of song creation that, although pretty formulaic, is consistently easy on the ears.
To call the contents of this album formulaic would be an understatement, as most of these songs take a single signature riff with verse and chorus structure approach that is almost pop/rock in character. It sometimes takes on a nature not all that far off from Black Sabbath’s “Tyr”, though a bit more flowery and keyboard oriented, and with less of an epic feel. There’s a large collection of slower, heavier songs built off of basic riffs that get so close to that album that one wonders why Timo didn’t call up Tony Martin instead of sticking the Rod Stewart of power metal Pasi Rantanen on these songs. “We Are Magic” is a solid up tempo rocker with a really solid chorus and “Eden Is Burning” is essentially a shorter and improved version of the title song of “Infinite”, but both of them would be better served with a vocalist who didn’t sound like he’s half whispering.
While the hearkening back to older Stratovarius days are definitely on full display, things definitely pull equally if not more so in an Avantasia direction whenever Kiske or Sammet takes the lead. Both “Heroes” and “Glorious And Divine” are loaded with “Metal Opera” references, dredging up images of classics such as “Breaking Away” and “Neverland”, albeit with Tobias going it alone rather than a choir of backing vocalists filling out every crevice of the arrangement. The songs that Kiske sings on take a much slower and mellower character, in fact, the ex-Helloween veteran manages to get himself stuck on both of the album’s extremely subdued ballads and a couple of down tempo rockers, probably not all that far removed from the lighter sounding rock music he’s done on his solo albums.
Suffice to say, “Angel” and “Keep The Flame Alive” are both cut from Stratovarius’ later 90s grade of ballad work, loaded with serene keyboard lines and prose oriented lyrics, but thankfully avoiding that folksy sounding John Lennon worship that Tolkki became obsessed with on the last 4 albums with said band. But the real standout moments of his performance on here, and of the whole album for that matter, are the last two songs on here. “Last Night On Earth” is cut from that same stream of Gary Moore’s “Out In The Fields” emulations that “I Want Out” started about 20 years ago, but with a bigger keyboard emphasis and a really solid lead guitar line.
The closing title track takes another classic metal approach and brings in the line of power metal emulations of “Heaven And Hell”, albeit in the plainer “Holy Diver” meets “Headless Cross” manner that lacks a triumphant up tempo ending. It has a riffing approach that is akin to a simpler version of “Soul Of A Vagabond”, but without all of the unnecessary lyrical meandering and wandering drum fills. For some reason, in spite of the overt simplicity at work here, I just can’t get enough of this song and can see it staying in my listening rotation for a few years. Why Michael Kiske can’t bring himself to do a couple of power metal albums like this is beyond me, as I doubt too many would complain about any pro-Christianity lyrics, particularly in the fan base that makes up most of the ones that follow the bands he does guest slots for.
Getting back to the general question of would this have been a better album than “Polaris” if the original Stratovarius lineup would have finished and released it, the answer is a pretty clear no. Even when canceling out the vocal work, the music at work on here comes much closer to sounding like the 3rd installment to “The Metal Opera” that never occurred, which is the case even if you go by Tolkki‘s guitar tone which has somehow managed to completely clone what Henjo Richter put forth on “Part 2“. This is a relatively solid album and could have been even better with a more consistent vocal presence and a bit more development in the songwriting. It tends to play to those who like this style completely removed from any sense of epic or symphonic tendencies and presented in the most bare bones of fashions. Don’t expect it to have a whole lot of staying power, with perhaps a few individual exceptions, but instead something that’s good for the occasional listen.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on August 16, 2009.
Almost one month before the release of 'Revolution Renaissance' the band's founder and ex-Stratovarius main man Timo Tolkki announced the disbandment of Stratovarius and the birth of this new project. The announcement was followed by skepticism and disbelief amongst the metal world...
Tolkki gathered a group of rather unknown musicians and recruited vocalists Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Place Vendome, etc), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia) and Pasi Rantanen (Thunderstone) to complete the line-up for this album.
"New Era" sounds like a farewell to Tolkki's former band. The music trends on the same path as the melodic power metal of Stratovarius did, but is less keyboard driven, it lucks the long-crazy-fast solos, most tracks fall in the mid-tempo category, while the instrumentation along with the production suggest a more down to earth approach.
There is plenty of musical variety amongst the songs and the fact that there are three vocalists singing on the album adds even more versatility. The standout tracks, in my opinion are the title track, Eden Is Burning, Keep The Flame Alive, Heroes and Last Night On Earth.
Musically speaking 'Revolution Renaissance' is the richest song on offer, bringing back memories of epic songwriting and vocal pyrotechnics. Heavy yet melodic riffs, breakdowns, rhythm changes, bombastic choruses backed by quires, a short but fitting guitar solo and Michael Kiske's voice complementing everything with perfect precision, control, power and emotion. All in all a perfectly executed heavy metal epic.
'Eden Is Burning' is somewhat darker in mood and is dominated by heavy riffing, perfect instrumentation and some remarkable soloing by Tolkki. The song starts of at a mid pace with some heavy guitar riffs playing the chorus melody, slows down for some melancholic verses and picks up speed again for the chorus were Rantanen's aggressive and somewhat raspy hard-rock voice fits perfectly.
'Keep The Flame Alive' is definitely one of the best power ballads I have heard in years. You hear sea waves in the background during the intro and then a beautiful melody (provided by a flute or bagpipe?) perfectly sets the mood of this magical piece. Vocal duties go once again to Michael Kiske who really shines here. Michael starts of with an emotional mid range, almost whispered vocal delivery, building it up slowly until switching effortlessly to a high pitched soaring voice during the powerful chorus. Tolkki's emotionally driven guitar solo earns additional points for this track.
'Heroes' is a pleasant fast paced power metal track, with nice melodies, sharp guitars, double bass drumming and Tobias Sammet on the vocal helm providing a Avantasia meets Stratovarius feel to the whole thing. A catchy chorus and some nice guitar work round up this non-innovative but very enjoyable song.
'Last Night On Earth' has an up-tempo melodic power metal feel throughout. The more evident keyboards together with Tolkki's melodic guitar leads/solos, some energetic drumming and one of the albums catchiest choruses; make Last Night On Earth a definite stand out. Kiske provides another confident vocal performance rounding of the track perfectly.
My conclusion is that "New Era" is a very well balanced melodic metal album (I wouldn't dare to say that this is a pure power metal album as it includes only two fast paced tracks). When compared to previous Stratovarius releases, it seems that some songs carry an atmosphere which is closer to the Episode album, others resemble more the style of Visions and there are also some Elements influences to be found here and there. Another advantage of "New Era" is the fact that the album offers better vocals and more controlled guitar playing compared to past Stratovarius releases. The only downside of this album is the fact that some songs luck a few additional guitar riffs in order to become more interesting and the absence of longer guitar solos.
The bottom line: Outstanding vocals by Kiske (one of his strongest vocal performances in recent years), good songwriting and great guitar playing by Tolkki (not much shredding), melodic, emotional, confident, fresh and uplifting atmosphere and some really good songs. This is definitely some of Timo Tolkki's best work, but it does not surpass the brilliance of some earlier Stratovarius albums.
(originally written for www.amazon.com)
Here comes the Tolkki Train again with yet another album! Fortunately, unlike his misbegotten headache Saana, this new project, titled Revolution Renaissance, reigns in the bullshit to make for a listenable and somewhat enjoyable palette of Power Metal fruits and vegetables.
Apparently afraid of negative feedback, our good friend Timo Tolkki has crafted a healthy and well balanced diet of happy, upbeat Power Metal that reigns in silliness and pomp in favor for clean, simple, catchy melodies and nimble guitarwork, with a crystal clear, shiny production job to round the whole thing off in style. This really isn't spectacular, as it is too safe and fluffy to pack any real punch (beyond the ballsy Speed Metal riffing of opener "Heroes") or bite, and it's all so simple and basic that, if not for the distorted guitars, it would very well be pop-rock music rather than Heavy Metal. The vocal duties on New Era are shared by Michael Kiske, Tobias Sammet and Pasi Rantanen, and they are clearly the focal point here, with few instrumental breaks - and when there are some, they are short and snappy. There are really only a couple good songs here, the best being the opening feel-good jaunt of the aforementioned "Heroes," with Tobias Sammet belting out the cheesiest, happiest lyrics you can imagine with 110% power. "I Did It My Way" is decent Keepers Helloween worship, with a catchy chorus via Kiske, and "Glorious & Divine" is a fun, catchy song that flows like the white water rapids, with Sammet's smooth croon giving it an extra spice of personality. "Last Night on Earth" is another good song, reminiscent of later Stratovarius, with strong melodies and a very catchy chorus. Hey, it might not be the most amazing stuff ever, but how can I turn down such blatantly catchy, fun shit? I can't, that's right.
Otherwise, there isn't much of worth here, and only a few traces of Tolkki's usual inconsistencies pop up: the awful "Born Upon the Cross," with its Jesus-blowjob styled lyrics that will make any self respecting Heavy Metal fan cringe in disgust, the boring "Keep the Flame Alive" and the even worse "Angel," and the plodding, lame title track, which shamelessly rips off an earlier Stratovarius song in "Soul of a Vagabond."
This one is pretty middle-ground, and unless you worship Timo Tolkki, you can safely skip it and not miss too much. Catchy but shallow.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
The Strato soap opera has again stirred up and Tolkki formed a new band, the rest of this novel is worthless to me so I'll just say that. The only way that all that crap affects this album is that it's played by him and some hired guns instead of a “real” band, even changing singers within the album.
Vocal duties are handled mostly (50%) by Kiske, who sings rather well and improves a lot from his lackluster performance in “The scarecrow”, but is also aided by the fact that he gets the better songs here. Still it's nothing outstanding and won't ever surpass his Keepers performances.
Sammet does another good job as well as Rantanen, who has a slightly raspy voice that I like.
The problem here is not the musicians either, who do their job fairly well. Tolkki plays in a very personal way and his style is immediately recognizable here (despite a major flaw, more on that later), so if you like his style you shouldn't expect something else here.
The drums are played competently yet do not impress as the drummer mostly keeps time and does a couple of double bass runs and marathons but nothing not heard before. The bass is mixed very low and follows the guitar the entire time except when the guitar is silent (ugh...) but even there it's just basic root notes. Concerning keyboards, it's not a prominent part of the album (it's quite vocal-centered) and only play a support role excepting Last Night on Earth and the ballads.
So what's the problem here you may ask?
The songwriting my friend. Not only is this one of the less experimental albums ever, but also extremely generic and full of rip-offs. Take the first song for example. It sounds very much like Edguy, not only because Sammet sings on it, but also the riffing and the keyboards joining in the chorus are very Edguy-like. Which in turn is very Strato-like, since (old) Edguy is a Strato worship. Other songs are direct rip-offs, nothing new to Tolkki who's been “borrowing” his own stuff since 2000.
"We are Magic" is a carbon copy of "Paradise", especially the chorus.
"Angel" is very similar to "Before the Winter".
"Born Upon the Cross" is the downgraded equivalent of "Babylon".
"Keep the Flame Alive" is reminiscent of "Mother Gaia".
The rest are not direct stealing but still very generic, the only standout track being “Last Night on Earth” only because it rocks harder than the rest of the album, and the last track also is above average. However the Generica Award (tm) goes to “Glorious and Divine” which manages to fulfill absolutely all the clichés of the power metal genre.
Concerning the production, it's very clear and crisp, but it definitely lacks heaviness and the guitar tone is downright poor. Sure it's distorted but non-agressive and lifeless as hell, and it hurts the music a lot making it sound more hard rock instead of actual heavy metal. Other than that, a good job but the most important element in a heavy metal album has been neutered.
I recommend this album only to the most hardcore Stratovarius fans. If you are not one of them, ignore this as “yet another generic power metal album”, but I'm sure most people will be curious and give it a try because it's Tolkki we're talking about and also the cast he put together.