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Having grown to like power metal through listening to Helloween and Gamma Ray, a friend gave me all of the Stratovarius albums up to the self-titled effort. Listening to those 11 albums (I know what you're thinking - that's a great friend right?) as well as the later 'Polaris' and 'Nemesis', which I had bought around the same time, I had rather a troubling time trying to work out what had happened to the band's sound along the way. Sure, over 25 odd years a band's sound should change, but the extent to which 'Fright Night' differs compared to 'Fourth Dimension' or the two 'Elements' albums differ to 'Nemesis' is almost frightening, and certainly confusing. In many ways, all this change - progress may be a more fitting word - suggests that Stratovarius deserve to be marked with the progressive tag as much as power metal, certainly since there have always been certain songs on any given album that have ventured out of the box regarding song structure and ideas.
That brings us to 'Dreamspace', which I have seen labelled as "dark power metal" on several occasions. However, that label seems a little wayward (especially if one thinks of Helloween's 'The Dark Ride' as a dark power metal album) and would appear to have been applied retrospectively to explain Stratovarius's movement within heavy metal. Certainly a power metal band by the time 'Visions' rolled around, the Finns' early work has as much in common with classic metal bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, speed/thrash bands like Overkill and Megadeth, or slightly cheesier characters like Ozzy Osbourne and other stadium rock/metal bands as it does with Helloween, Blind Guardian, and the like. When 'Dreamspace' was released in 1994, those influences weren't quite so obvious as a couple of years previously, but there was still a long way to go towards power metal, sometimes dwelling at a crossroads between Savatage, Metal Church, and Rush that reflects the propensities of those bands to play thunderingly heavily, powerfully quickly, and quirkily. Other reviewers have already commented on the "dark" sound of this album, which separates it strongly from power metal, making it a much more varied and atmospheric album. I would put that darkness down to two main things - speed and Timo Tolkki's vocals.
As such, I'm going to start with the songs that have nothing to do with power metal in order to highlight the misunderstanding that I believe has been upheld regarding the kind of music that Stratovarius once played. From the first half of this album, down to 'Tears of Ice', there are 5 songs that clearly show an exploration of different sounds, many of them at slow or mid-pace and often containing atmospheric introductions or interludes courtesy of guitar or keyboard melodies. 'Magic Carpet Ride', fluffy name aside, has a real desire to oppress the listener with its unnerving opening (I shit you not, it reminds me of Mayhem until the keyboards come in) and those slightly hidden vocals. '4th Reich' is a pure progressive adventure, paying no heed to song structure or normal components like riffs and melodies, forging ahead by dint of atmosphere alone, while 'Chasing Shadows' takes a very slow and dour route towards traditional heavy/power songwriting. There are numerous examples in 'Dreamspace' of Tolkki banging out a very straight-ahead riff that is clearly designed to flatten with its heft in the same style as Savatage mastered in the mid-to-late 80s, not least in the chugging title track or the stomping 'Reign of Terror'. All of these experiments are satisfying to some degree, particularly the aforementioned riffing style, though the slow pace and frequent creepy crawls through insanity ('Thin Ice' is all tension and spidery acoustic guitar until its rather optimistic outro) do make the album seem longer than it is and cause some focus to be lost.
Of the other songs, 'Hold on to Your Dream', 'We Are the Future', and the kind-of-ballad 'Wings of Tomorrow' are the first clear signs of the direction that the band would head in before long, while 'Shattered' would arguably sit comfortably with fans of 'Painkiller'-era Judas Priest. What's surprising about hearing those songs on 'Dreamspace' is that, while they certainly stand out from the other songs on the album, they don't sound distinctive compared to other bands in the same field, and are much less creative than the tracks that surround them. Tolkki's vocals are not quite right for this kind of style, rarely jumping out with energy, so that the rather tired-sounding chorus of 'Chasing Shadows' gives the whole song a downbeat atmosphere that remains unique to my knowledge. He isn't a great singer, though he provides some great moments, such as his searing screams on 'Shattered' and the surprisingly poignant performance on 'Tears of Ice', which you would imagine should suck so hard from reading the lyrics alone. His solos are decent though due to the prevailing mood are less exuberant than on other albums, while his rhythm section actually have more to do, especially when filling in parts of the slower songs.
'Dreamspace' would be rather a surprise to the modern Stratovarius fan and deserves attention on its own merits, since it is a largely unique album, combining influences that have rarely met before or since. The themes, pace, and atmosphere are atypically downbeat for this kind of metal, yet do often work if one listens with an open mind. At times, the range of styles and experimentation can become a little wearing, especially as the album continues for more than an hour and often requires attention to the subtleties of the music. More interesting than great, but still not bad.
For any band with a substantial history and discography, particularly for any band that is somewhere within the Helloween paradigm, there is usually a point where a significant fork in the road is reached. While you usually see types and shadows in the sound of any band during their earliest period, this particular point is marked by a very noticeable, though usually not overwhelming change in direction. In some respects, the previous Stratovarius album and also the one that followed this one showcased elements of this, but “Dreamspace” is probably the most significant stylistic departure of what has otherwise been a very gradual transition out of the 80s metal paradigm into what became the late 90s sound as typified by a more formulaic and accessible songwriting style with safer melodies and a more Michael Kiske-like vocalist.
Whereas previous albums showcased an occasional flirtation with the readily known mishmash of speed metal riffing and AOR sounds, about half of this album is all but pointing at what became standard fare by “Visions”. But by the same token, the progressive and darker character of the last 2 albums is still heavily present, though softened a bit and localized to specific songs that stick out massively and, unfortunately, tend to not be featured on their live sets. When listening to bleak, politically relevant songs with a rather unusual feel such as “4th Reich” or slower, somewhat groove driven thrash numbers like “Reign Of Terror” it gets difficult to recognize this as the same band as the one that put out even the earliest subsequent albums with Koltipelto taking over the vocals. In fact, the quirky, progressive, all but Rush inspired number “Thin Ice” showcases Timo Tolkki belting out a few high notes that the current front man might have trouble hitting.
The breakdown of songs that can be classified as flirting with “Visions” material are actually quite varied in presentation, though indicative of a more formulaic direction. The vintage mid-80s speed metal cooker “Chasing Shadows” and the slightly lighter and happier “We Are The Future” definitely raise the eyebrows a bit if they tend towards such a reaction with typical Freedom Call and Gamma Ray songs from the 1999 glory period. The drum sound is still a bit light and 80s sounding and the general atmosphere reflect a more restrained and distant sound that could be more associated with 80s Leatherwolf and Accept. While these respective songs are quite firmly lodged in the Helloween paradigm, there are other instances such as “Hold On To Your Dream” and “Wings Of Tomorrow” that more closely resemble that vintage, 80s heavy metal with a dash of hard rock that typified Dio’s mid-80s releases, right up to the somewhat video game sounding keyboard parts.
The bright spots on this fine offering are plentiful, and the weaknesses all but non-existent, but three songs really jump out to anyone looking for some surprisingly different sounding songs. The first is “Eyes Of The World”, which is about as 80s cliché as Dokken’s discography from that area, and released in the thick of anti-80s 1994. “Abyss” takes another dive into dark, progressive territory with an intro and continuous keyboard character that bounces back and forth between a number of Ozzy solo songs and Rush’s “Trees”. And when all territory within the still undefined parameters of early 90s Euro power metal have been seemingly hit, they bust out a killer speed metal riff monster in “Shattered” which reeks of a colossal homage to “Painkiller”, right down to the crunchy, sci-fi sounding guitar tone. Everything is perfectly on point on all these songs, even Tolkki’s vocal display which is derided by some as being too generically 80s.
While one can barely see the connection between “Twilight Time” or “Fright Night” with Stratovarius’ mainline material, here the connection is a bit more ascertainable. But to be fully precise, this is an album that is firmly caught between two worlds, in a much more evenly divided way than “Fourth Dimension”, and still has enough dark elements to be able to stretch the divide between USPM fans and some in the European scene. However, like the other two early releases, this album is often passed up by Euro fans as being too stylistically confused and being just another one of those albums that Koltipelto is not on. It might not quite reach the same euphoric pinnacle as “Destiny” or “Visions”, but damned if it doesn’t get dangerously close to doing so.
Normally, I have always know Stratovarius as a band that plays charming, but mostly average European power metal, sometimes a little bit better stuff like "Twilight time", sometimes mediocre stuff like "Destiny" and sometimes even bad stuff like "Polaris". I recently started to have a look at the less known albums from the band but I never expected to discover something like this album here. I can't believe that it only has a few reviews and that some of the biggest fans or so it seems don't classify this masterpiece amongst the best stuff this band has ever done. I would not only go as far to say that it is really by far the best album of Stratovarius, but maybe the best power metal album ever from a band that I never thought it would be able to do so.
There are maybe two or three very good songs on this record like the catchy but not yet outstanding opener "Chasing shadows" and "Reign of terror" with its standard riffs. The rest of this album is pure genius. Let me point out only some highlights. The epic and dark "4th reich" is the first brilliant track and transmits a haunting atmosphere. The song is permanently changing and in not even six minutes more progressive than the band's recent songs that peak at eighteen minutes. Strange sound effects, military parade drumming and an epic chorus leave me surprised. "Magic carpet ride" seems to be a song filled with stereotypes, but the track is haunting with its slow and heavy riff and Asian folk influences. The atmospheric and emotional ballad "Tears of ice" almost makes me cry and has a somewhat devastating beauty. "Dreamspace" truly feels like a dream with many weird and progressive passages, changes in style and highly atmospheric or even haunting and frightening passages. "Thin ice" has a science-fiction touch with its voice effects, smooth high hat drumming, imperfect acoustic guitars and simple staccato guitar riff interludes. Every time I think that there must come a weaker song at some point, the album seems to laugh at me and presents even stronger tracks. Needless to say that there are no fillers on the entire record. I would like to point out the Japanese bonus track "Full moon" that can be found on some new versions that surprises once again with weird voice effects, smooth acoustic guitars, tribal drums played by hand and dark choirs in the verses. The guitar solos are haunting and play some imperfect harmonies that create an uneasy atmosphere. The song is exotic, relaxing and disturbing at the same time. If you get a chance to purchase a version with this track, you will be pleasantly surprised without the glimpse of a doubt.
This album is dark and far more than just power metal. With all its changes in style, I would rather talk about progressive metal with some folk and avant-garde influences. The musicians are at their creative heights and felt free to experiment with whatever they wanted to and you can feel this freedom of choice and courage on this album. Timo Tolkki isn't a perfect singer from a technical point of view, but his imperfect and hypnotizing voice fits simply perfectly to this masterpiece and I really ask myself why he led a rather ordinary Timo Kotipelto in the band that has great vocal skills but not this haunting and unique ability to tell strange stories and drown you into weird atmospheres. This album is perfect for lonesome nights in isolated rooms to dream along and get drowned into a devastating beauty. This album has nothing of the later happy metal style of the band and isn't comparable to anything I have ever heard before. “Twilight time” showed me that this band was able to create dark and epic songs and I admired the album. This album is a logical consequence and follow-up and at the same time not as this album outdoes the brilliant previous one easily. This is something for the ages, one of those well hidden gems to get discovered. This is a unique masterpiece and I would recommend this album immediately to anyone that is into power or progressive metal.
Stratovavarius is often remembered and characterized by their catchy, anthemic later works. It's a shame, because people with only passing interest in the band, or just plain don't like Strato's brand of Power Metal are missing out on a truly great album. More progressive than the "strictly followed, almost rulebook-like set of song-styles" Stratovarius of later albums such as, well, every album after this one, Dreamspace is an album full of awesome riffs, progressive song structures, pounding drums with alot of great, creative patterns and perfectly executed catchy, melodic vocals which include awesome high pitched screams that just absolutley slay (i.e., right before the outro melody comes in on the title track "Dreamspace" -- holy crap!).
What I really like best about this stellar album is just the overall quality of the way the songs come together. A perfect example of what I'm describing is the song "4th Reich". The interplay between the military style drums, the awesome, atmospheric melody and the mood setting keyboards is absolutely breathtaking and is 100 percent epic in a totally different way than Stratovarius is usually acclaimed for (think Queensryche). And then the melodic solo comes in and if you haven't creamed your pants by now, you have got to have defective equipment. Not only that but the way all the songs flow during the length of the album is awesome. Every song is perfectly placed with purpose on the track listing and to switch the tracks could spell disaster. Opener "Chasing Shadows" sounds like a regular ol' slab of killer power/speed metal, which then leads into the next, more brooding and progressive "4th Reich" which then leads into the dreamy "Eyes of the World", etc... As you listen to the album you are taken on a trip through what I would describe as the dreams of someone a little fucked up. Don't think it sounds appealing? Oh, but how wrong you are.
I have to dedicate some time to what I think differentiates this album from typical Stratovarius albums: the riffs! Pretty much every song has a killer intro filled with fast, intense, melodic riffs. Some standouts are "We Are the Future", title track "Dreamspace" and my personal favorite, "Abyss". Almost every riff on this album rules in every sense of the word. The only tracks that I'd say has a subpar riff would be the albums pretty much only straightforward rocker "Reign of Terror". It actually sounds a lot like Megadeth's "Symphony of Destruction" except even less thrashy which results in... well, nothing too great. The song is actually not that bad as a whole, but it is pretty lacking and I'd rank it probably as the worst track on the album. "Shattered", one of the album's least progressive tracks is also a little worse off than the rest in the riff department. Too me, it sounds like a quicker, more "power metal" version of "Reign of Terror". with palm muted sixteenths everywhere. The closer "Wings of Tomorrow" isn't really too great either, but it serves as the perfect closer. Like described in previous reviews of the album it really serves to conclude or end basically what could be describe a nightmare in music form.
As a passing, I would like to at least mention the production. Most Kotipelto era Stratovarius albums have VERY slick production (maybe with the exception of "4th Dimension", but the production is much more gritty and echoey. Indeed it sounds much more "metalic" than their later works. The snare drum has this awesome reverb and the guitars have a great "Queensryche" like tone to them alot of the time. It really does add to the atmosphere, making this album sound a lot less upbeat than it's successors.
Really, the only other thing I'd like to point out is Tolkki's vocals. I really think everyone saying they are a little lacking or sub-par is just a slice of unabashed Kotipelto worship. Don't get me wrong, Kotipelto is obviously very talented, but Tolkki delivers some really great vocal melodies and can also hit some awesomely high notes. Like I said before, listen to the outro on the title track. You know who else is often described as sub-par? Kai Hansen (think Walls of Jericho). You know what else he is on that album? Awesome.
All of this stuff considered, I really must say that I think this is probably Stratovarius' best effort. Really, songwriting-wise, this album is positively solid all the way through with some slight speed bumps. I think even people who don't like Stratovarius really should at least give this album the old college try, cause it's definintely their best effort.
And I don't give a 100 because there are even better albums.
I will try not to be a fanboy, but since this will be difficult, I can't promise anything. This album is for me one of the best, if not the best album that Stratovarius has made. It's heavy and very powerful, dark in some moments and very uplifting in others, especially in the choruses.
Many tracks start with a fast, killer riff. 'Chasing Shadows', 'We are the future', 'Shattered' and 'Reign of Terror' are some examples. The album is indeed very guitar-driven, but the keyboards are not as much in the background as in, say, Malmsteen's Rising Force. They are mostly used to create an uplifting feeling or to enhance the darkness in the already dark guitar passages. The bass is mostly following the guitars, but when it's not, it is just so well placed. For an example, check the interlude in 'Tears of Ice'. The guitar, bass and piano make a perfect three-voice harmony, one of those where if you take away one instrument, the whole thing is destroyed.
Other tracks like 'In the eyes of the world', 'Thin Ice', 'Abyss' or 'Tears of Ice' start slowly and then build up reaching the same power of the earlier mentioned tracks, with the obvious exception of 'Tears of Ice', since it's a ballad. 'Atlantis' is a short instrumental, and while it does not add much to the album, it is still quite good.
The final track 'Wings of Tomorrow' is the perfect closer, since it's very uplifting and gives a final feeling of hope after much darkness.
The vocals from Tolkki are good, but just good, nothing more than that. At this point it's obvious that if the band wants to progress more, they'll need a new vocalist. His distant and muted vocals are well achieved, and the production is quite flawless - it's no news that Tolkki has an excellent ear when it comes to mixing and producing an album. This album was intended to sound dark, and the production accomplishes its goal.
I highly recommend this to any power metal fan, but don't expect a happy album in the lines of Keepers-era Helloween. This one is dark and scary at times.
Stratovarius's third release is it's best release that far. The leaders of finnish progressive power metal movement was bigger in Japan than in it's home country. Stratovarius was earlier persecuted in Finland, because it wasn't musically trendy.
This is the last album to feature the guitarist and leader Timo Tolkki on vocals. Dreamspace is the band's darkest creation to date. Fourteen songs of the album fitted in about 64 minutes sounds a bit long, and it is.
The album starts with fast and light "Chasing shadows", which is one of the best tracks of the album. It's even a bit cathchy, but it gives a wrong picture of rest of the album. The sad "happiness" is soon ended when the album seems to go down on more misty, darker and scarier places. "4th reich" is progressive as hell, thought it has some metallic bursts, it's a bit army style drumming combided with Tolkki's sometimes very distant and muted vocals is really stunning.
"Eyes of the world" has an acoustic guitar driven intro. The song is dark and scary, but it still gives some distant hope with it's chorus. "Hold on to your dream" is something between two previous tracks and "Chasing shadows". It's more faster and clear, but it isn't too happy. Actually this band can make songs which sound like they're happy, but they aren't. "Hold on to your dream" has even a keyboard driven, progressive interval session. "Magic Carpet Ride" starts again scarily. Overall, it's pretty dim with it's threatening keyboards, which sometimes give even hope. Song actually sounds like it's arabian.
"We are the future" is faster and it has a simple riff opening it, and it's leaning to more traditional power metal. Some parts of it are quite similar to Helloween's Keeper era. "Tears of ice" is more progressive and sad, mainly by it's flute session in the start. Tolkki's singing in it's beginning is more singing and less screaming. This can be said that it's the album's ballad. It's depressive, but not tired and weepy, thought the beautiful piano and flute sessions gives wings to this song.
Title track "Dreamspace" is one of the album's highlights. The tempo changes couple of times in this song, what is also one the most progressive tracks of the album. The song sounds very normal for the first two minutes, then it becames progressive and scary. Just listen to that "space" section in the middle! Tolkki's vocals end scarily. He then sings again, till the best guitar riff of the album starts. The end of the track is hope giving. "Reign of terror" offers a very strong riff what makes this the heavist track of the package. "Thin ice" makes return to more progressive, scarier and more hostile waters. Tolkki's vocals are distant and muted. Suddenly he starts his muted screaming, and the song becames more heavier and sturdy. The track ends heavily and Tolkki screams on the background.
"Atlantis" is scary but fast guitar-only driven instrumental. It's also the shortest one (1:09). I was beginning to wonder if there wasn't no instrumental tracks. "Abyss" is already a scary name without the song making it even scarier. It's guitar parts are one the best ones of the record. "Shattered" starts with very solid and promising riffing. It appears to be faster side of the album. It's dark, but not that scary. The final track, "Wings of tomorrow" sounds more hope-giving and it completely fits to be the ending track. It's moods are like getting out from some strange and gloomy abyss, where the album was getting in after the starting track "Chasing shadows", and where the album has been all the time. It's like getting in and out of darkness, to the light. Got the point?
Dreamspace is overall the most accomplished album from Stratovarius to that date, and it's still stong. The music is gloomy keyboard driven and progressive, what fits to this album's thematics. The scariest album the Stratovarius has ever made.
This is the album where Stratovarius gets their shit together and forms a really coherent sound that serves as the foundation of their international success. All they need now is a good vocalist, and the band is good to go.
What we have here in Dreamspace is the complete maturity of the band's sound. Timo Tolkki gets his shit together and irons out all the kinks in his style to create his original sound that fans love so much. The riffs are here, and they're very well-done; we hear a lot of those can-do-no-wrong opening riffs and chords that Timo never seems to run out of. The drum work is steadier here and is more indicative ofthe complementary rhythms that mark the golden era of the band. The keyboards aren't quite as much of a presence as they are in later albums, but that's only because we don't have Jens Johanssen yet. Who we DO have is Jari Kainulaerinsfaufnaelfnefmd, who came in at about the halfway mark of recording but definitely adds his own unique sound to the bass playin that works perfectly with the other band members.
We also have some songs that mark some important styles in Stratovarius's repertoire. 4th Reich is that sort of slower epic power song that we get over and over again in later Stratovarius albums, while Eyes of the World features the Stratovarius trademark of having a solo acoustic opening ditty followed by an explosion of riffage playing the same thing. Hold On to Your Dream is, for all intents and purposes, the birth mother of Hunting High & Low; the styles are almost identical. There are no throwaway tracks on here, and everything blends in really well with Stratovarius's sound. The other song worth a special mention is Atlantis, which is the first of a small and oft-overlooked group of Stratovarius songs that features drumless instrumentals that are short yet very cool.
This is the first absolute must-have for any fan of Power Metal, but certainly not the last. The legend has begun.