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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)