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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.