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Darkest Excellence. - 86%

hells_unicorn, December 11th, 2010

The advent of 2010 has been, to put it mildly, a turbulent time in some quarters. It is marked by a rather auspicious fit of reaching the top of the mountain one last time before yet another suicidal meltdown by former Stratovarius leader and songwriter Timo Tolkki, who somehow managed to recapture his former glory in Revolution Renaissance’s 3rd and final installment “Trinity” (which hearkened back very noticeably to the glory of “Episode”), followed by the band’s immediate breakup. Thankfully his former outfit is not marred by such erratic occurrences and is marked by a consistent measure of excellence.

The preview for the up and coming 2nd effort of the newest incarnation of Stratovarius “Darkest Hours” takes the same general road as that of the lead up to “Polaris”, plus a demo song and 2 very well performed live songs from the band’s mid-90s glory days. The character of the sound is detailed with a somewhat groovy and progressive edge, as axe man Kupiainen’s riffing style is a bit more chunky and elaborate than Tolkki’s dogmatic speed metal work. The production of both the title song and the other album track “Infernal Maze” is extremely thick and somewhat mechanical, not all that different from the practices of the current Masterplan output.

Oddly enough, the real goods for most that come upon this single/EP are the live songs and the demo version of “Darkest Hours”. The latter, by virtue of its more humble production actual resembles the old Stratovarius of the 90s that everyone seems to miss, minus the complex riffing and much more virtuosic soloing of course. Both of the live songs are flawlessly executed and utterly spellbinding, but “Black Diamond” just cuts away the rest of the album with its intensity, showcasing the band’s skills in all quarters. Between the fancy keyboard cadenza that Jens Johansson pulls out at the beginning and the tight as hell performance of the song itself, one is led to ponder whether this would be what Dream Theater would sound like if they played power metal.

This is one of those cases where, in spite of this being simply a preview of things to come, the single is probably almost as essential of a purchase as the album that it is preceding. Barring a later compilation release carrying the 3 additional tracks on here, which most core fans will obviously not want to wait for, this, is the only place where these songs can be found and understood for their majesty. If anything in Stratovarius’ past has ever appealed to you, it is a pretty safe bet that this will too.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on December 11, 2010.