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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.