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The New Stratovarius Avoids the Sophomore Slump - 95%

Twisted_Psychology, December 7th, 2012

Originally published at http://suite101.com

I can honestly say that this is the first Stratovarius album that I’ve ever been excited for. I could never get into the material helmed by former guitarist Timo Tolkki and I only bought Polaris in 2009 to see how much damage it was going to cause. Of course, no such train-wreck ever took place and it was one of the strongest albums of that year, effectively serving as a new beginning and hinting at a bright future. Two years later, the band is still going at a steady momentum and has already put out their thirteenth studio album. But while this album was the first to top the charts in their native Finland in nearly a decade, it may also be their last with longtime drummer Jorg Michael, who is departing on a quite friendly note due to illness.

On a superficial basis, there are many tropes on here that align with the sounds of the last release and Stratovarius albums past. The keyboards and guitar constantly compete for supremacy, the vocals are high-pitched and thickly accented, a number of symphonic elements are employed, and the songwriting is almost always uplifting and enthusiastic. But while Polaris was a very direct affair with occasional nods to prog metal, Elysium does have a noticeably more progressive feel. Even the power metal tunes get some structural complexity with the opening “Darkest Hours” having a classic Dream Theater feel and “Infernal Maze” has a soft, elaborate introduction before it goes into faster paced fare. And that’s not going into the closing title track, which is the longest Stratovarius song to date with an over eighteen minute duration!

And with everything going on, the band members manage to sound pretty good though there aren’t too many dramatic deviations from their usual performances. The keyboards and vocals are among the more noteworthy contributors as Jens Johansson brings forth a variety of effects and Timo Kotipelto show off some smooth vocal lines that make up for his occasionally goofy phrasing. But the real standout member on here is guitarist Matias Kupiainen. While the guitars are the most important part of any power metal band and Polaris certainly had plenty of great guitar moments, he really comes out on his own here as both a songwriter and performer. The former is especially worth noting as he is responsible for writing more songs on here than on the previous effort, effectively making him out to be Tolkki's most fitting successor.

Going off that, there seem to be three kinds of songs at work on here. While the title track appears to be a song all its own and encompasses the rest of the album’s elements, the rest of the release seems to go between fast and mid-tempo songs. Predictably, the faster songs are the most immediate and arguably most enjoyable that the album has to offer. The previously mentioned “Darkest Hours” and “Infernal Maze” are enjoyable for their upbeat tempos and complexity, but “Under Flaming Skies” and “The Game Never Ends” are probably the most entertaining. The former is made memorable by its eastern touches while the latter is a sugary power metal run-through with a particularly memorable chorus that should make “Eagleheart” eat its heart out.

The slow songs also manage to be pretty solid. “Moment In A Lifetime” manages to be another highlight as it is a slow, dramatic track in the vein of “King Of Nothing.” In addition, the transitions on “Move the Mountain” work quite well and “Fairness Justified” seems to go between the two songs with its snail pace and uplifting chorus. As expected, the title track manages to be pretty noteworthy. While its extensive length makes it a song that I personally don’t play often, it does go through a bunch of sounds in its three-part cycle. The first part with its soaring mid-tempo melodies is probably the most memorable segment on here though the second part’s faster hooks are also quite welcome and the third part is another sweet ballad.

If Polaris was the reborn Stratovarius’ debut album, then Elysium is surely the sophomore release that thoroughly avoids the slumps that are normally associated with albums of that nature. I hate to say that Tolkki was holding them back all this time, but the success of these last two albums and the mixed feelings that have come with his own recent projects does make one think along those lines…

If you liked Polaris, then I would definitely advise you to give this album a chance if you haven’t already. I’m not sure if it’s quite as powerful but it is an enjoyable release that follows it up nicely and a lot to offer on its own terms. Hopefully this can work for a while longer; I think European power metal is starting to get its balls back!

Current Highlights:
“Under Flaming Skies”
“Infernal Maze”
“The Game Never Ends”
“Lifetime In A Moment”
“Move the Mountain”

Off the beaten track - 95%

ijy10152, February 25th, 2012

We all know of Stratovarius's troubled history, Timo Tolkki the infamous ex song writer and guitarist of Stratovarius was busy leading Stratovarius down a slippery slope. Infinite was good and raised many eyebrows. Elements was not nearly as good and raised even more eyebrows. While part 1 was pretty good, part 2 was much worse and their next album after that, Stratovarius, was just so awful with only 2 good songs on it. Polaris was their first album after Tolkki left and was one of their strongest to date, rivaling some of their best albums such as Destiny, Infinite and Episode. This album, Elyisium, blows them all away like dead leaves in the wind. In this album, Stratovarius has taken the sounds from Polaris and improved them, while also going off in some completely new directions that I fully approve of.

The album starts off exceptionally strong with three bombastic and fun metal songs (Darkest Hours, Under Flaming Skies and Infernal Maze) containing some really fantastic musicianship and doing a good job of hooking anyone listening to this for the first time. Then it slows things down a bit with Fairness Justified, which while not my favorite song on this album, is a good song nonetheless and kind of gives the listener a break before moving on. In my opinion, The Game Never Ends deserves special mention because this song is probably the best straight up metal song ever produced by Stratovarius. It's fast, fun, has excellent vocals and really, really good guitar and keyboard work. The crown jewel of course is the solo starting around 2:04, this solo is.... mind blowing, it is the fastest and most intense metal solo I have ever heard (and I have heard a lot of good ones).

The rest of this album passes with some varied and very interesting songs leading up to the amazing, fantastic title track of this album, Elysium. This 18 minute behemoth is in my opinion the embodiment of good songwriting and symphonic power metal. It incorporates elements of Stratovarius heard in the other songs on this album while including some new material and new directions that make me really excited to hear what they come up with next. Movement 1 is a moderately slow anthemic piece with some very technical guitar and keyboard playing, and in my opinion the best vocals ever performed by Timo Kotipelto. The second movement goes back to the Darkest Hours/ Infernal Maze style of '90s-ish metal, but making it a little more modern and including a very catchy chorus, and as a singer myself this part has some of the most difficult vocals I have heard in Stratovarius music. The third movement is even slower than the first one and really incorporates more of this new Stratovarius that I really, really like. With sweeping vocals that arouse feelings of sadness and uplifting hope at the same time really make an impact and an incredible ending to this phenomenal album.

I love this album and I really hope that Stratovarius continues to build upon this new direction they seem to be moving in and make the next album even better! If that's even possible.

Misty impressions amid the virtuosic emblem. - 86%

hells_unicorn, August 15th, 2011

There has been an unofficial rivalry going on for the better part of the past 3 years between the Finnish power metal scene’s prime mover Stratovarius and its now former chief songwriter Timo Tolkki. The latter has been frantically releasing material, first with a newly created and now recently scuttled project in Revolution Renaissance, and now with his newly formed super band Symfonia, comprising the likes of ex-Angra vocalist Andre Matos, ex-Helloween drummer Uli Kusch, a former keyboardist out of Sonata Arctica and his former Stratovarius band mate Jari Kainulainen. By contrast, the newer version of Stratovarius that has emerged with 3 of its original fold and 2 newcomers has been on a steadier stride, putting out more stylistically innovative yet roughly the same quality of product.

“Polaris” was unique amongst the band’s back catalog in that it rediscovered, albeit in a more modern way, the freer tendencies of the era when Tolkki was handling vocal duties. A slight infusion of Symphony X and Pagan’s Mind tendencies came in, largely through the radically different riffing style of Matias Kupiainen, but tempered with an eye towards consistently maintaining the signature melodic character of Stratovarius that differentiates them from the 2 aforementioned power/progressive outfits. “Elysium” takes almost the exact same route, and expands upon it to the point of becoming a little bit overambitious. It’s not blatant enough to drag the album down to a massive degree, but it is noticeable when compared to the near perfect synchronicity heard on “Polaris”.

To avoid getting overly technical about the nuances at work here, this is an album that is basically consistent in that it doesn’t fall short on catchiness, but it does get a little convoluted at a few key points. In essence, this album succeeds when it keeps things relatively short and simple. The lead off song and single “Darkest Hours” is a perfect example of how a mid-tempo, groove based number with a few rhythmic tricks can accent the slight prog infusion without meandering about and keeping the emphasis on a powerful chorus. But the real meat and potatoes is found in faster celebrations of speed riffing with a bit more elaboration such as “Under Flaming Skies” and “Infernal Maze”, or the absolutely spellbinding mixture of “Fourth Dimension” brilliance with Michael Romeo style shredding in “Event Horizon”, an absolute keeper if there ever was one.

The bulk of the remaining contents on here are largely good, though a bit hung up on complexity seeming for little other reason than being different. “Move The Mountain” is a good bit better than a number of lame ballads that Timo Tolkki put out in his 2000s tenure with the band, but it doesn’t really strike with the same level of passion and brilliance as, say, “Years Go By” or “Coming Home”. But probably the weak point of the album, in contrast to the sentiments of most who’ve opined on this album, is the longwinded title song “Elysium”. While definitely far from the sheer boredom of “Mother Gaia”, which was an exercise in ad nauseam repetition for a longer song length, this song just wanders around from one idea to the next, and doesn’t really have an overt focal point to speak of. One section might come by that grabs the ears, but after a minute or so it fades back into the ether of its own overambitious tendencies.

This is a crackerjack performance in terms of what every musician brings to the table, and the songwriting on here is fairly fresh and inviting, but this doesn’t quite hit as hard as “Polaris” did. The great pitfall isn’t so much that the album is overly technical, as this is pretty restrained when compared to what Dream Theater has been bringing to the table for the past couple decades, but that it kind of downplays the power metal side of the coin a little more than it needs to. It’s more reliant on atmosphere than it is speed and majestic melodies. But it is a worthy venture for those with money to burn, though I would actually recommend Symfonia’s latest album more for the orthodox Finnish power metal fanatic.

A new and bold era for Stratovarius - 70%

TrooperOfSteel, May 16th, 2011

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of Stratovarius. The last 7-8 years for all involved within Stratovarius has very much been like a soap opera; with the central villain being Timo Tolkki. But unlike Stefano DiMera (I admit, I used to watch “Days of our Lives” when I was a young tack), Tolkki has left the picture for good, forming the unsuccessful Revolution Renaissance and now Symfonia. The turmoil has not gone unnoticed however, with bassist Jari Kainulainen leaving the band (joining Evergrey) and also frontman Timo Kotipelto and drummer Jorg Michael at one stage being fired from the band. Tolkki eventually stepped aside and the remaining members have continued on as Stratovarius (Tolkki signed over the rights to the name and back catalogue), and released the solid ‘Polaris’ back in 2009.

It was a different sounding Strato, with new members Matias Kupiainen (guitar) and Lauri Porra (bass) brought in to fill the gaps and contribute to the song-writing. Fans were somewhat happy with the output of the new album (expectations were probably much lower with all things considered) and in reality; the release was probably their most consistent since ‘Infinite’, back in 2000. Fast forward two years and Stratovarius are back with their 13th full-length release entitled ‘Elysium’. With some time for all the members to gel properly after ‘Polaris’, and the soap opera style antics now a few years behind them, most fans were expecting an album quite worthy of the name Stratovarius.

Knowing that Strato’s peak was achieved back in the mid to late 90’s, this new era of Stratovarius is not making a grab for 90’s glory. That was ruled out when ‘Polaris’ was released. The first big promising factor for Strato and ‘Elysium’ is that both Matias Kupiainen and Lauri Porra have firmly entrenched themselves into the band, both members writing the majority of the tracks with the help of Timo Kotipelto. Matias sounds right at home on the new album, delivering a knockout guitar performance containing groove, creative riffs, hooks and shredding. Of course the three veterans Kotipelto, Michael and Jens Johansson add their usual commendable performances, particularly Kotipelto who seems to have much more freedom than before and it really comes through well and clear in his vocals.

Stratovarius have maintained their epic feel from the previous disc, despite the majority of their tracks not being fast-paced. In this uncharted territory the band has drifted into, they certainly have done very well for themselves. The majority of the tracks are pretty much straight-forward in terms of song-writing, however with very effective and creative collaborations between the guitars and keyboards, not to mention the strong vocal arrangements; particularly during the typical Strato-style uplifting choruses.

The album opener “Darkest Hours” is quite simple yet catchy, but it is the chorus and the keys which stand out the most. There’s nothing over the top here, just effective and easy on the ears. The same can be said for other standout tracks on the album, including the intricate and bombastic “Fairness Justified” and the quicker “Under Flaming Skies”. There is a hint of old classic Strato on the track “The Game Never Ends”, with pummelling double bass drumming from Jorg Michael and brilliant guitar work from Kupiainen; the track is one of the best on the album and easily could have slotted right into any of Strato’s 90’s releases. “Lifetime in a Moment” is a slower song with a chugging driving beat, lead by Porra and Michael. Kotipelto’s voice on this track is outstanding, his emotional and melodic soaring vocals penning this one in as another top track.

The opus on this release is undoubtedly the album closer and title track, “Elysium”. Very grandiose and epic, clocking in at 18 minutes in length, it is the longest track Strato have done since “Elements” from the ‘Elements – Part 1’ album. It’s also one of the best Stratovarius tracks, period, where the entire 18 minutes (three sections of six minutes each) is filled with emotional vocals and excellent musicianship from all involved. It ranges from fast passages to acoustic parts, all intricate, soothing and elegant at the same time. It’s not a track where 4-5 minutes or so of it is wasted on an intro and/or an outro; in fact the vocals come in very quickly and continues on in grand and epic style til the final seconds tick down. It is with “Elysium” where the inspiration and exuberance really peaks for the entire album and the song is a spectacular way to complete the disc.

A return to form tag can be used here for this release. The members of Stratovarius have endured some hardships as of late, so to produce an album of the quality such as this one must be quite satisfying for them. The loss of Tolkki and his distracting erratic behaviour has done these guys a massive favour and it shows in what the band has been able to create together, as a collective group. Although ‘Elysium’ is not the best album the Finnish quintet have released, it is (in my opinion) an improvement over the tentative ‘Polaris’ and should persuade those old Strato fans to possibly rejoin the flock.

Originally reviewed for www.themetalforge.com

Ordinary first half and stunning second half - 79%

kluseba, February 3rd, 2011

After the very weak and annoying "Polaris" I expected the worst and wasn't sure if the band would be able to carry on writing amazing albums without the mastermind Timo Tolkki. Obviously, they can as this new album beats the previous disaster piece by far. The keyboards have gone to the background and the guitar celebrates a furious revival by playing some very strong solos. Even the bass is audible and the drums quite which one couldn't quite say about the last album. The songs are truly diversified, especially in the second half of the record.

Let's be honest. The first five songs are rather standard power metal. Those songs are enjoyable to listen to but wouldn't carry a whole record. The dramatic and melancholic "Infernal maze" is the best songs out of the first five ones while I ask myself why the band puts inoffensive average power metal tracks like "Under flaming skies" or "The game never ends" on this record. "Darkest hours" sounds somewhat like "Deep unknown" or "Millenium" and though it is catchy the band has already been there and should not try to copy itself too much after all the things that happened with the line-up.

The band is though really strong as soon as they create epic and progressive masterpieces and I think that this has always been their stronger side. "Lifetime in a moment" surprises with an atmospheric introduction and a very epic chorus. "Move the mountain" is a rather calm progressive song that creates a magic atmosphere that grows more and more on me. "Event horizon" surprises with interesting sound effects and an original intro and outro and is still one of the heaviest tracks on the record. This kind of strange balance works very well and rates this song up to one of the very best on this record alongside with "Lifetime in a moment" and finally the title track "Elysium". Instead of doing minute long intros like many other so called progressive bands would do, the band kicks off with a catchy riff and leads us from one great melody to the other and the eighteen minutes pass quite fast and are surprisingly entertaining. This song is not that epic and pathetic as one might expect, it simply rocks and keeps the tension high without minute long solos and I liked the track from the beginning to the end the first time I listened to it. And I am sure that the song and even the album itself will still grow on me in the future.

All in all, this is an unexpected comeback of the power metal legends and I feel happy about it as the other leaders of the genre like Helloween, Gamma Ray, Edguy and so on delivered rather disappointing and weak records in the past two or three years and I felt somewhat a downward spiral of the European power metal scene that ceased to innovate and surprise me. And though the first five tracks rate this album a little bit down, the four final songs are worth the wait and sound fresh and progressive at the same time. Maybe the band could do a whole album like this the next time and forget about the potential singles, especially about putting four or five of them on a record that will surely never be put out in the end.

Nevertheless, one can say that Stratovarius are back in force for a new decade!

Melodic, intense and emotive. - 90%

Empyreal, January 27th, 2011

Second album for these venerable Finns after the exodus of resident crackpot Timo Tolkki. Their last one, Polaris, was a volleying, energetic return to form that basically proved to the world that they didn’t need Tolkki at all to pump out good power metal. And their newest full length Elysium is simply an extension and progression of the ideas that album used.

With an epic sweep, Stratovarius produce some of their best songs in years. Really this is just Stratovarius doing what they do best, with their most consistent set of songs in a decade. The melodies are sweet and wistful, and the songs they’re worked into are hard-hitting and snappy as hell, not to mention addictive, too. I haven’t been able to stop playing this recently. Guitarist Matias Kupiainen deserves special mention here, as he wrote a bunch of the best songs on here, and as he is a new member, I think that’s an accomplishment to be lauded. Stunning work from the whole band, though.

The band’s blend of sweetened melodic power metal has not faltered here, but rather been touched up with slightly more intricate songwriting. There are fast songs here, like “Under Flaming Skies” and “Infernal Maze,” but where the band really shines is on the midpaced numbers, which they frankly have never done better. Tracks like opener “Darkest Hours,” “Lifetime in a Moment” and the excellent “Fairness Justified” are some of the strongest on here with their huge, emotive vocal performances and simple but effective guitar, bass and keyboard combinations – less is truly more in this scenario. “Event Horizon” is also one of the album’s standouts, with a blazing tempo, a firestorm of a chorus and some really cool sound effects to boot.

But of course the 18 minute title track is where the bulk of the band’s inspiration clearly was on this album, and it shows. Now, this is not one of those songs where you get like three minutes of intro and outro background noise book-ending a bunch of prog-jerking; no no. This is a full 18 minutes of crushingly dramatic Thespian-level power metal with vocalist Koltipelto giving an absolutely stunning performance – every single vocal line is pure gold; I am dead serious. The rest of the band is great, too, with crystal-clear guitars and lush synths and the electric fuzz of the bass coming together wonderfully, but it’s Koltipelto’s moment of glory, and he just absolutely shines. One of Stratovarius’s best songs ever. They never could have done this with Tolkki in the band; it would have come out terrible. But this…this is a band at full power.

So, yeah, Elysium is a hell of an album, improving on Polaris just like any good follow up should. The songwriting is rock solid, the performances are all great and there are just some really great songs on here. They’re all enjoyable, really. This is going to be on many end-of-year Top 10s, and one or two listens will show you why.

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com

Varied, interesting, and lacking stagnancy. - 80%

AnalogKid, January 15th, 2011

Elysium is the 13th entry of the illustrious Stratovarius. A band that needs no introduction, and has amassed critical acclaim, incredible success, and die-hard fans the world around. It's also the follow-up to the band's most excellent comeback album Polaris. As Stratovarius gets used to life and releasing albums without former writer Timo Tolkki, it's pretty clear that they're not only around to stay, but that they can and will get better.

Elysium represents another stage of evolution in Stratovarius's career, and the band's skill at songwriting and arranging is as evident here as it ever has been. In some ways, the band is reaching into uncharted territory for themselves, while still managing to sound like the same band that we've all known for years. There's a hefty touch of grandeur on Elysium that sounds somehow more “epic” than previous Strat releases to these ears. This is nowhere more evident than on songs like “Infernal Maze” and “Lifetime in a Moment.” The band continues to forsake some of the more mellow moments from albums like Elements in favor of a bit more punch, darkness, and general interest. Even slower songs like “Move the Mountain” seem to be fresh and interesting (this song has a good melody line, lots of piano for ambiance, and an interesting synthesizer solo to boot), so much so that despite my original estimation, I find that Elysium is perhaps on par with its predecessor Polaris after all, despite my initial thoughts.

If there's a difference to be had, it's that Elysium is perhaps a little less immediately accessible (with the notable exception of the driving single “Darkest Hours”) than Polaris, but has a slow growth upon repeated listens that ensures enjoyment sooner or later to any fan of the band's work. This is due at least in part to the reduced importance of the guitar lines and the returned prominence of keyboard player Jens Johansson. Vocalist Kotipelto is just as good as he's ever been and has some very good melodies that allow his distinctively clear voice to excel. I'm not the greatest fan of the timbre of Timo's voice, but he's certainly got some decent range and performs enough vocal acrobatics to impress any critic.

The title track is a long, 18+ minutes giant of a song that dwarfs anything that the band has written in the past. To me, this was immediately cause for concern. I tend to feel that power metal bands that take a sudden interest in long complex song lengths and progressive pursuits end up losing vision and suffering in quality. Mercifully, the titular track is completely listenable, featuring some really emotive and powerful guitar playing, on top of one of the best vocal performances of Kotipelto's not-insignificant career. There's even a bass solo!

This is bound to be an album upon which people will be somewhat divided, and many more qualified than I will review it as well. Concisely, it is a fairly complex (for Stratovarius) album that sees the band honing their songwriting skills and masterfully scouting new territory, all while maintaining their classic charm and superb musical talent. Elysium is Stratovarius's logical next step in growth, and this is right up there with Polaris and a number of their older albums in terms of outright quality.

Originally written for www.blackwindmetal.blogspot.com

Same stratogy, better batch of tunes - 72%

autothrall, January 14th, 2011

Stratovarius were once an extremely promising band (around 1994-1998). That is, if you could hang with their brand of entirely too safe, heavily formulaic and polished fare which is among the poppiest of all power/flower metal in all of Europe; but they've faltered numerous times since all their Timo & Timo drama ensued in the early 21st century. Elysium joins in their endless tirade of pretty, single word titled albums (I bet they wish they could take the titles for Fright Night, Twilight Time and Fourth Dimension back). It's their second album post-Timo Tolkki, and 13th overall, and as luck would have it, they've managed to overcome the stigma of that particular number and release something decent, superior to the underwhelming Polaris in all categories.

The general strength of this album lies in its sheer variety, for few numbers here sound alike. Veterans Timo Kotipelto, Jens Johansson and Jörg Michael all turn in the expected performance of seasoned veterans, but even better, Matias Kupiainen and Lauri Porra have truly fallen in line with their respective instruments; Kupiainen taking a page straight out of the Tolkki book of shredding, and Porra laying it down thick (though the bass was never this band's focal point). They also manage to produce hooks together that are effective and occasionally breathtaking. Airy, glistening synths capitalize on the low end, simple groove guitars that anchor "Darkest Hours", in which even the verse sounds pretty good. "Under Flaming Skies" is likewise pretty straightforward and heavy, but the chorus is catchy, and I love the bell-like pads Jens is using; "Infernal Maze" seems like an old school Stratovarius track, one you've heard before but still soothes the ears.

The band get a little more ambitious though, with the arena melter "Fairness Justified". You can just picture all those lighters as the chords crush into the graceful, sad lead around 2:20. "The Game That Never Ends" lets Porra pump out a little louder, and "Lifetime in a Moment" is another pure 80s plodder, like Triumph or Journey given the bold new flesh of Finnish flower metal, some nice chords ringing in to signify the verse shifts. The 'ballad', "Move the Mountain" is admittedly pretty cheesy and disposable, but then they compensate with another of their pure Episode like thrusters, "Event Horizon". Closing out the album is the 18 minute "Elysium", which is about half quality riffing and transitions and half forgettable, a 50:50 ratio of 'we should have cut this down to size'. I'll just say it's not the sort of epic I want to listen through repeatedly just to scrounge for the good bits, because they're just not that good.

Stratovarius are of course not reassessing themselves or reinventing any wheel, thus the most refreshing bits on this album will feel very familiar to long time fans of the band. The mix of material reminds me of Infinite or Elements, which were about the same quality as this. I felt that the previous album had a few stronger songs at the fore and then drifted off into lollipop land, but this one only rarely dips its scrotum into the candy, with the weakest material only coming in at the final third. Despite the new members having been with the band for a couple years now, it still feels similar to Tolkki's writing, so it's unlikely to alienate anyone. Though the writing doesn't match up with the band's strongest history, and the individual songs are unlikely to spark reminiscence even a few years down the line, it's enjoyable enough for a few spins.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

Stratovarius Sound Better Without Tolkki - 95%

metal_bryan, January 12th, 2011

This was my first 2011 release and I must say I started off the year very well! Stratovarius have never been known for consistency, which a lot of people tend to peg on former band leader/guitarist Timo Tolkki, but since he's left the band they have found their own sound and very much delivered on their last album, Polaris. I think all of the Strato fans (me included) were more than happy with that release and worried about how the guys would be able to continue to hold the quality high this late into their career.

Well, wonder no more, Strato fans. Elysium is released on January 12, 2011, and it's even better than Polaris! The band's 13th studio album starts off with a couple very standard Strato tracks, one of which being the first single, Darkest Hours. It's a bit heavier than previous Strato singles, but it's still very straight-forward with a memorable chorus. It's no Hunting High And Low or Eagleheart, but it gets the job done and starts off the album right. The real punch in the nuts comes on track 3 with Infernal Maze. The old Strato returns with shades of modern progressive flourishes among the neo-classical soloing and it's downright amazing. If Rhapsody Of Fire rediscovered and reinvented themselves with Reign Of Terror last year, then Infernal Maze is that song for Stratovarius in 2011.

The sound of this album tends to range somewhere between Stratovarius' work on Destiny and the Elements albums; specifically Elements Part 1. There is a large focus on lyrical content and Timo Kotipelto's vocals, and it's especially evident in songs like Fairness Justified, Liftime In A Moment and Move The Mountain. This isn't the cheesy Strato you might be used to from the past decade or so, but instead it is a band who have been born again through adversity and are coming into their own once again. There's a lot of maturity in the songwriting, with ample prudence.

I'm especially fond of Jens Johansson's new place in the mix, providing more of a backdrop at times than being right up front. He plays the solos and leads where needed and not just because it's expected of him. Also, Timo Kotipelto's vocals sound even better than on the last album. He's never forcing the high notes and the recording quality is more like his solo work than anything he's done with Strato. Jorg puts in a solid performance on drums, as usual. Nothing flashy, but definitely spot-on and complimentary to the music. Lauri Porra is an excellent bassist and he gets a few moments to shine on this album, though his place in the music is very much overshadowed by the vocals and the guitars.

The guitars are the real surprise here. Matias Kupiainen definitely fills the shoes left by Timo Tolkki, and even improves upon the formula by adding his own style into the neo-classical mix. There's more of a musician's vibe to the recording and it lends a credibility the band has been missing since the old days on Dreamspace. No more neo-classical-for-the-sake-of-it sections are present, nor are there needless solos. The guitars (and keyboards) shine in that they've become a part of the band and not the diva instrument anymore.

However, the guitars and keyboards definitely do get their chances to show off some masturbatory prowess. Event Horizon is the fastest-paced, old-school Strato song of the album and it's easily another classic along the lines of Speed Of Light or Against The Wind. It's fast and neo-classical... and that's about it. Fans of the Visions/Episode era will definitely love this track and I can tell you it's something else to hear this sound come from Strato again. Check out this song if you wanna hear a blast from the past!

The countdown at the end of Event Horizon leads right into the final track and longest song of the album, Elysium. Weighing in at just over 18 minutes, this song is a journey which wraps up the album as a whole and makes me wonder if this whole thing is meant to be a loose concept. The direct link in album art to Polaris is interesting, but the way this album is edited together, especially the second half, leads one to believe that the songs are supposed to be played back-to-back. They all flow into each other and it's definitely interesting to wonder at the intentions of it all. You'd probably have to ask the band to be sure, but it definitely feels like it. Elysium is a beautiful song and embraces the new Strato sound completely with lots of progressive sections and atmosphere built around Kotipelto's powerful vocal sections. All of the instruments get a chance to shine and it closes the album very strongly.

Overall, I'd say this album is the best the band have done since Destiny. If Polaris was at the same quality as Infinite/Elements, then this definitely raised the bar higher. Stratovarius have made themselves a legitimate contributor to the power metal scene once again and reclaimed their throne as the best Finnish power metal band. A whole new generation of fans are going to come out of this new Strato and I'm glad to see/hear it. Great job, Strato and keep up the beautiful songwriting!

A true comeback that tops Polaris in every way. - 95%

Deathaura, January 12th, 2011

I was thoroughly amazed when Stratovarius released Polaris. The first album with new contributing band members Lauri Porra and Matias Kupiainen proved that Stratovarius absolutely did not need Tolkki anymore, and that his songwriting and publicity shenanigans had grown tiresome over the last decade.

Consider Elysium an improvement over Polaris in every way.

Matias Kupiainen's abilities on the guitar are frighteningly good. His tone is superb and he just has an amazing command of his instrument. He is easily one of the best talents I have seen in recent years, and he's only 27 (as of the time this review is being written). He shreds tastefully and knows when to lay off the fretboard pyrotechnics, but won't hesitate to kick you in the teeth with a blistering solo.

Matias did the majority of musical and lyrical contributions to Elysium. He fits right at home with the band musically - it has that Stratovarius sound with a slightly progressive edge, something fresh and invigorating that the band has desperately needed for years. Songs like Under Flaming Skies and Infernal Maze are mostly done in the traditional Stratovarius format, but with a new presentation - Under Flaming Skies with its almost middle eastern flair (harmonic minor melodies, perhaps?), and Infernal Maze with its haunting, theatrical introduction before ripping into speedy double bass and meedly meedly. At the same time, however, neoclassical solo duels between the keyboard and guitar are still present. The song Event Horizon shows that Matias can easily match Tolkki's ability to shred melodically and keep up with Jens's fast fingers.

Lauri Porra continues to amaze me. His contribution, Lifetime In A Moment, adds some haunting choir work, with some simple yet beautiful vocal melodies. A chugging guitar riff over a slow pounding drum rhythm gives this song such a beautiful, somber atmosphere. Although in live performances, Lauri tears the shit out of his bass when he solos, we see none of that in his songwriting, which is one reason I'm so impressed with his work. He has a very restrained, simplistic yet complex approach to songwriting, and the result is just a fascinating work of art. His bass work on this album is interesting, and the fact that it's actually audible is a big plus.

Jorg Michael's drumming is as it's always been, though it's not nearly as straightforward and predictable as in the past. Jens still uses the classic Stratovarius lead synth patch and harpsichord effects, but for the first time we finally hear a new synth lead in the lovely ballad Move the Mountain. Written again by Matias, but not nearly as cheesy as When Mountains Fall, Timo Kotipelto gives possibly his best performance on the album here with some wonderful lyrics and amazing melodies over minimal acoustic guitar and piano work. It gradually builds into a gorgeous, dreamlike synth solo by Jens with the new patch and steadily falls back into a simple piano interlude before ending with a chorus that can only be described as heartfelt and magical.

Concerning Timo Kotipelto, although many fans have been worried about his voice over the last few years, Elysium proves he still has a lot left to give. While he may not have the power or range of his younger self, he still has a hell of a voice. He proves he can still keep up with the band on tracks like Darkest Hours and Event Horizon, but I think where he really shines is on the slower songs like Fairness Justified, Lifetime In A Moment, and of course Move the Mountain. The only flaw in his performance would be the high notes in the end of the title track, where it sounds as if he's almost struggling to sustain them and could fool one into thinking it's autotuned due to his tendency to scoop the notes in falsetto.

But the title track is where it all comes together and Matias cements his place in the band. The 18 minute monster, written over a course of 8 months by the young star, is where the band shines. Three six-minute movements come together to create the song, each part with its own beautiful moments. Each member of the band shows off a great amount of talent and skill here, even the bass. Restrained yet powerful at times, fast yet elegant in others, it's a wonderful song with everything the band has to offer - soothing acoustic passages, double bass choruses, lightning fast keyboard-guitar solos, and soaring vocals from Kotipelto. What more could you want from the pioneers of this style of power metal?

Elysium took what Polaris did and polished it into a musical diamond. The ballads are better, the fast songs are more intense, and the sound is just gorgeous. The band sounds tighter than on Polaris and this album proves it. I urge anyone who was turned off by Polaris's sound to give Elysium a listen. It's a solid album with much more cohesive songwriting and amazing musical talent. In my opinion, Elysium is already a contender for 2011 album of the year, even in January. It'll take a lot to beat this one.