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After producing three albums very much worth listening to, highly influenced by Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads, Timo Tolkki decided to make some changes in Stratovarius' sound. He hired Kotipelto on vocals in order to be only playing guitars and he also hired Jens Johannson on keyboards, since he wanted to be Yngwie Malmsteen. Thus, he needed to take as much as possible from him, including his former keyboardist. Then, after the release of "Fourth Dimension", he fired Tuomo Lassila and replaced him with Jörg Michael. So, if what he got was a dream-team, why did I give the album such a low rating? Wait a minute, this album was supposed to be a power metal masterpiece, but honestly this is not even their own masterpiece. In general terms, the album is plainly average flower metal with five long-length, slow-paced songs/ballads, something that other listeners pretend to justify with the "it's progressive metal" argument, but this argument and many others are the ones that killed creativity in metal up to the point of turning Helloween into a self-parody (i.e., they started to play flower metal). The whole album pretends to be something more than Malmsteen's "Fire and Ice", but even the slow-paced songs of said album have much more heaviness than the album at hand, and it also has a peaceful atmosphere which is reminiscent of Crimson Glory's "Transcendence".
The intro of "Father Time" (i.e., the clock's tic-toc), was very promising for me. I thought that this was the intro of a crazy song like Savatage's "24 Hours Ago", but the promise collapsed when the intro-riff started the song. Then you have the standard flower metal sound therein, including the fast double-bass drums that sound as if they were played by a machine instead of Jörg Michael (they even sound terrible in the mix), guitars that lack the crunchy distortion that they had in earlier releases, guitar riffs which are just a repetitive copy-paste of the riffs played in Judas' "Freewheel Burning" and slaves to the terrible drumming (i.e., their rhythm was paired with the crappy drumming), and Kotipelto's clean, high-pitched vocals which actually were an issue for the whole album. Thus, this sounds like another set of Sonata Arctica songs.
"Will the Sun Rise?" and "Speed of Light" followed the aforementioned formula. However, the first song is even more watered-down than the opening track, although in a speedish piece. The intro riffs are not even something outstanding; think of a lower-paced version of Gravestone's "Masters of the Earth" and the rest of the song is again about guitars following a terrible speedish rhythm.
On the other hand, "Speed of Light" is one of their most popular songs. It is a little bit faster than the two aforementioned songs, and more promising for the album, but the issue here is that the keyboards ruin everything good about the song. Is it really necessary to introduce keyboards in the bridges of the songs, as well as in the guitar solo? Also, the guitar solo is not that good: they could use a more neoclassical oriented solo, rather than a standard fast solo. I mean, why not try something in Rhoad's style rather than attempting Malmsteen's guitar-keyboards dueling technique?
Then you have the slow-paced songs that sound very similar, though at least some moments of "Babylon" are acceptable. However, the rest of the songs seem to be taken from a Disney movie soundtrack or something similar. If you heard "Winter" from their previous release, you'll have an idea of how those songs sound. They are like an eternal winter because of their slow-paced rhythm, because they are mainly keyboard-driven, and because of the depressive winter atmosphere. They are able to explode Kotipelto's nasal pop-sounding vocals, which, like many other vocalists of this genre, were more designed for pop-ballads rather than heavy metal music. Anyway, bear in mind that this comment was not intended to insult him or any other similar vocalists. It's just that it's very different to use a singer with battle-cry vocals, like Jeff Scott Soto or Rob Rock, whose vocals fit more in epic power metal cuts, rather than Kotipelto who changes all the sense of the songs.
Another issue with these songs, is that they are too long. Maybe it would not be an issue when you are able to exploit all the instruments therein, but this is not the case, since they repeat the rhythm many times during the song. Actually, good examples of this instrumental explosion are "Fright Night" from the debut album and "Dreamspace". But these songs do not have interesting drumming rhythm changes, nor lengthy solos different from the guitar solo wankery of this and many other albums of the band. Honestly, I expected more. They did not introduce intense riffs or something able to get me to stick to the speakers.
Finally the title-song is a really not interesting instrumental prelude to "Speed of Light", which, honestly, does not have anything to do with said song. It's just an atmospheric keyboard driven low-paced typical prelude, so far removed in terms of quality from other instrumental preludes, such as "Fire Dance". On the other hand "Stratosphere" in musical terms is O.K., but keyboards ruin it. Guitars are really great (this was a shining moment of guitar playing) but their ambition of being Yngwie Malmsteen ruins everything good in the song, since they used annoying keyboards in order to bring in another guitar keyboard duel. Honestly, Tolkki is not a talented guy for these kind of compositions, even when Johannson helps him with it. I mean, Malmsteen has a good composition sense that Tolkki tries to copy, but he is not that good at it.
So the album at hand has many musical issues that in my opinion justify such a low rating. Although the album is full of talented musicians fulfilling their role, I think that songs could be improved in certain ways, which the following albums actually failed to do. I cannot give a better rate when the songs are just insipid, lacking heaviness and really long low-paced numbers justified by the progressive metal label. Maybe they needed to take notes from Queensryche or Crimson Glory in order to make heavier and more beautiful compositions, rather than making an abuse of cheesy musical styles.
This rate also comes because they are part of the bands that ruined the epicness and bravery of power metal, making place for flower metal. Power metal can have some beautiful moments as mentioned above, but when you do not have RIFFS (like Virgin Steele or Queensryche), everything loses its sense, and what you have are power metal fakes. Really, almost all the album is skippable.
Stratovarius are one of those bands, that are either loved or loathed. There's usually no middle ground about this, but I actually do. When I started to get into power metal, these Finns were one of those bands, that always left me kind of cold.
First, Timo Kotipelto's voice is, at its uniqueness, a tough element to get into (he's here for the second time with Stratovarius). His high-pitched vocals (at their highest, he goes over to falsetto singing), with not so big a range, and quite shoddy English is surely a big obstacle to get over. He does handle his position well, because he is easily recognizable and still possesses a good voice for this kind of music. He was always the toughest bit of the band for me to get into them, but nowadays I respect his deeds, even though he might at times remind listener of Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween).
Secondly, positive-sounding melodies were another huge obstacle for me to get into. Okay, Helloween did it for me, as well as Gamma Ray, so why not these fellas? The reason was guitarist Timo Tolkki's fancy for baroque music and incorporating it to the band's sound made me lose most of my interest for them. Guitar virtuosos Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie J. Malmsteen must be influences for Mr. Tolkki. Well, with time I've managed to get into these baroque and buoyant elements, performed together with keyboard wizard Jens Johansson (ex- Yngwie J. Malmsteen). There's now so typical guitar solo / synth solo duelling to be heard. The rhythm section is Jari Kainulainen on bass and Jörg Michael (Headhunter, ex- Running Wild, ex- Grave Digger, ex- Mekong Delta, ex- Rage, ex- Axel Rudi Pell etc. etc.) on drums.
This was the first album with no original members on the line-up. Still 'Episode' is more than the sum of those elements. 'Father Time' is a fast song with NWOBHM style riffage, and definitely not overtly happy-scented stuff (albeit its chorus and "ooh-ooh" parts are, in anthemic sounding way). 'Will the Sun Rise' is Malmsteen-ish classical metal piece. Epic 'Eternity' takes a turn towards darker feel with Sibelius choir, catchy melodies, some orchestral and soundtrack-ish bits, and slower pace. Very Finnish sounding (read: melancholic as hell) instrumental title track (guitar, bass, synth) is a bit weird where it is. Another fast one, 'Speed of Light', is a typical Stratovarius song, that was to be heard on consequent albums, meaning lightning-fast playing and classical music influences. Mr. Kotipelto's 'Uncertainty' is more about heavy metal, featuring great bass-driven and Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) style guitar work on its verses, and if that's not enough, also one of the catchiest choruses ever written in history of metal music!
'Season of Change' begins the second half of the platter, and is the second of four longer songs on the album. Again, filled with Finnish melancholy, the songs builds up into an epic in a fantastic way, without a single irrelevant note on it. It features many a fine turn into unexpected places, one prime example being that eerie choir part. 'Stratosphere' is a neo-classical power metal meeting Finnish melancholy instrumental, showing the skills of the instrumentalists. 'Babylon', is without any surprise, very Mid-Eastern sounding song. Another heavy and long epic, this kind of stuff has been heard so many times before, and Stratovarius' take isn't among the better ones. It just does not get off, really, no matter how much guitar and synth soloists duel. 'Tomorrow', being a bloody typical positive power metal song, actually enlivens the album again. What a fine piece of energetic blasting, this one! And again, back to melancholic epic ones with 'Night Time Eclipse'... The song doesn't go into many places, but still it works better than 'Babylon' does. Somehow the "piano" melody reminds my of the movie "Halloween", hehe. 'Forever' is about string section, acoustic guitar and vocals, plus a flute! Or the other way around. A nice one, surely.
The album feels quite front-loaded, as the first 7 songs are goodies, as is 'Tomorrow'. Other songs are listenable, definitely no skipping needed, but this is patchy. Soundwise there is no problem. This sounds clear, but also punchy. Of course 15 year gap can be heard, mostly because lower tones are scarce. The album was recorded by Timo Tolkki with producer guru TT Oksala, and mixed with another known metal man Mikko Karmila. Plus for using real choirs (Sibelius Choir and Pop/Jazz Conservatory Choir) and strings (Sibelius Strings Orchestra). The lyrics are mostly about living, from personal points of view. Time itself is the focal point, sometimes depicted with in fantasy setting (e.g. 'Eternity'). Sometimes, they are okay, some other times they feel lame. Beautiful cover art is pretty simple in its painting quality, but when compared with computer generated stuff, this wins hands down.
This Stratovarius episode is filled with some fantastic metal music. That's easy to notice, because I heard the album for the first time in 2011, and still it hits the nail on its head! If you want some classic European power metal meet melancholic heavy metal, then get your hands on this one, no matter if it has a few less excellent pieces on it.
(Originally written for ArchaicMetallurgy.com)
While the sentiments of Stratovarius’ early and later career is the subject of much debate in the metal world, the band’s middle era, which occurred at what was arguably the lowest point in history for melodic metal, is mostly agreed to be their high point. While the time that Timo Tolkki spent at the microphone was marked by a dark and heavily 80s oriented take on metal that seemed equally as informed by Candlemass and Black Sabbath as by Helloween, the mid 90s saw things moving towards what is now generally recognized as the typical Finnish melodic sound, ergo the one that everybody from Kiuas to Ari Koivunen has been borrowing from in varying degrees. As with all transitions from one era to the next, remnants of the older style tend to endure for an album or two, and such was the case with the first album with Koltipelto taking over the microphone, but afterward things were pretty well set in line for a new, albeit still familiar direction.
“Episode” holds a particularly special place in my collection as it holds some of the best individual songs ever put forth by Timo Tolkki. Among the earliest songs to ever grace my ears as a newcomer to power metal in the late 90s was the unforgettable hybrid of Helloween styled speed metal and Malmsteen inspired Neo-classical melodic material “Tomorrow”, which enjoys regular time on my playlists after more than a decade of repeated plays. Since this album they’ve self-plagiarized this approach to songwriting several times, and a few songs off the first and last Revolution Renaissance album and also Tolkki’s newest project Symfonia have also followed suit. Likewise, the more riff happy and aggressive variants on this approach the manifest in the godly “Father Time” and the blinding shred fest “Speed Of Light” set the standard that would later be fulfilled on “Visions” and “Destiny”.
But as with any great Stratovarius album, all the quality is not confined to the fast songs, and there are plenty of classics to go around. In fact, this is probably the most down tempo album of any put out by this outfit since their formative days, drawing heavily from slower songs put out by Sabbath and Dio during the late 80s and early 90s, and also to a lesser extent the low pounding, Middle Eastern influences of Malmsteen’s recent work on “The Seventh Sign” in the case of the thunderous “Babylon”. The riff work is a bit archaic and simplistic, but the atmosphere and the precision based wails of Koltipelto meld perfectly and turn “Eternity” and “Season Of Change” into a glory fest of heaviness and catchiness that walks a line between the epic sounds of Sabbath’s “Tyr” with the darkness of “Dehumanizer”. The only thing that would make these songs even better is if they’d brought in Tony Martin to do a couple vocal guest slots alongside Koltipelto.
I could go on endlessly about how great and versatile is, but frankly the album speaks for itself and is best experienced firsthand, in its entirety. From the triumphant introduction that is “Father Time”, through all the mid tempo beasts, speed metal intrigues, and occasional instrumental displays of chops and melody, all the way to the nostalgic string quartet ballad “Forever” (which is a type and shadow of the band’s signature power ballad “Coming Home” on the next album), there is little on here to be complained about unless one has a built in allergy to old styled metal. This isn’t quite the zenith of the band’s career, but it can be considered a part of a collective high point that endured throughout the 90s, which was an era marked by a huge decline in good old fashioned, fun loving heavy metal. Granted, the lyrical content is much more serious and philosophical, almost like an attempt to merge Malmsteen’s occasional fits of intellectuality with Dream Theater’s somewhat overly intellectual ventures. Chalk it up to a good, and indeed, noble contradiction that eventually resulted in a complete renaissance of the style.
After the rather calm and progressive first strike with the new singer Timo Kotipelto, the enjoyable "Fourth Dimension", Stratovarius follow the path and go even further on this release. There are in fact only two kinds of tracks on the record. There are mostly calm epic songs on the record with a length between five and eight minutes if they are not instrumental or close the album and there are a couple of faceless power metal songs that we have all heard in a quite similar way before and that don't impress any more.
The first kind of style is best described with "Uncertainty", "Babylon" and "Eternity", probably the best songs of the record. The first one is a slow and epic song that is maybe slightly darker than the other ones in the beginning. We have a pumping bass guitar and harmonious acoustic guitars in the verses and some decent choirs in the chorus. The usual electric guitar solo by Timo Tolkki and a highly melodic vocal performance by Timo Kotipelto are off course as well included. "Babylon" adds a few Persian and Arabian folk elements to the structure with an interesting keyboard work and background choirs that make this track stand out from the others. "Eternity" follows the same structure as the "Uncertainty" and concentrates on some additional smooth piano melodies. The other epic tracks and instrumental songs repeat the patterns of those three best songs and get quite predictable. "Season of change" has an interesting symphonic middle part but is overall too long and rather boring. "Night time eclipse" is a very chilling epic that reminds slightly of the style of "Dreamspace" but can't ultimately mess up with the songs from that album. "Episode" and "Stratosphere" are enjoyable but not outstanding instrumental tracks. The closing track "Forever" and the Japanese bonus track "When the night meets the day" are as well calm and smooth and feel epic without having epic running times. While the first mentioned songs are really impressive and enjoyable, I feel that the structure was too much copied on this album and though they give a certain style and flow to the album, one gets at some point saturated and isn't that open any more for that kind of pieces.
On the other hand, we have mostly ordinary power metal songs. "Father Time" is the best one out of them and though it is the fastest one, it is still smooth and fits to the rest of the album so that we can almost talk about it as a transitional song between the two styles present on the record. It is also the catchiest track to find here. "Will the sun rise?" doesn't offer anything special as well as the overrated "Speed of light" and the climax of power metal unoriginality "Tomorrow" so that we have three fillers for the masses of sped up melodic metal on the record that only disturb the flow of the record. The songs are neither original, nor emotional or catchy and the band has shown us in the past that they can easily do better.
In the end, I pretty much admire the record for its calm epic tracks even if there are too many faceless versions of them on here. The album isn't a true highlight of the band's discography but they have also done much worse. If you feel for some beautiful moments of tranquility, I highly recommend you this album, if you are looking for either a truly original or truly traditional power metal album, the band has done other records that I might suggest with my reviews.
Stratovarius are subject to a lot of clashing opinions in the metal scene, but if there's one thing that just can't be denied, it's the majesty of their middle streak from The Fourth Dimension to Destiny. All of these albums had extreme high points, hitting a creative zenith that the Power Metal scene has struggled to eclipse (and mostly failed) ever since. It's a lot like Virgin Steele's mid-period, actually, with every album having vastly different strengths and doing different things well, and if you asked me which one of these four albums was the best, I would definitely point you to this one.
Episode is a masterful construction of stunning variety and shimmering Power Metal gold, and the surprising thing about it is just how hard it is to get into. Most Power Metal is relatively catchy and easy to like, even the heavier and more pugilistic stuff, so it's quite an oddity to find something this esoteric and layered that doesn't cross over into the Prog realm. Oh, sure, Kamelot started doing that a few years after this, but this came from a time when most European Power Metal bands were just focusing on shallow hooks and catchy speed metal riffs, and it really stands out from that perspective. This album has much more depth than you'd expect, with some songs being fast speed-blazers and some of them being heavy, doomy stompers, with a few ballads thrown in between.
The songwriting is just ace, unfolding with multiple listens into the calculated, kingly masterpiece that it is. "Father Time" opens with a clock ticking (imagine that!), and then it rips its own guts out into a myriad of fast riffing and a chorus so high-pitched that it might attract dogs to your window if you play it loud enough. "Will the Sun Rise?" is the best fast song on here, with a huge, complex chorus with a better riff and a nice build-up - Koltipelto has this awesome inflection when he's singing this sort of stuff; his vocal melodies were really unmatched in Power Metal back then. I don't think anyone else has quite captured this art of making verse and pre-choruses sound so damn good, not in the way he does. "Speed of Light" has a cool chorus, but it's honestly not as remarkable as the first two speedsters preceding it. "Tomorrow" is also cool, with a triumphant chorus and a lead-in melody that was so cool that Sonata Arctica stole it for "San Sebastian." "Stratosphere" is their best instrumental, with lots of depth and time changes, going from speedy and trilling to slow and atmospheric.
Stratovarius does atmosphere really well here, with a thick production and a sort of mystical aura around a lot of the songs here that makes them sound like they came from the lost city of Atlantis, or some equally mysterious land. It's very cool, and the band would never again utilize it to the same level as they do here. Just listen to the eerie build-up of "Seasons of Change," for example, with its subtle melodies and delicate keyboards, exploding into a haunting mid-paced number in its last minutes. Or how about the towering "Babylon," with its Egyptian flavored melodies and long, elaborate leads. "Night Time Eclipse" rules, too, stacking up melodies and riffs like an entrepreneur (or just an expert at the game Monopoly, whichever), and generally being as atmospheric and regal as Power Metal can get. "Forever" is the best ballad the band ever wrote, pristine and soft, not going on too long and being genuinely heartfelt. Even the bonus track "When the Night Meets the Day" is good!
So this album rules, with a lot of innovation that the genre hadn't seen since the glory days of Queensryche and Crimson Glory in the 80s and a songwriting talent great enough to shatter a supernova. This is Stratovarius' best album by far, with even the weaker songs having merit to them and generally being extremely well written. They wouldn't have that luxury in the future as their sound streamlined into a more smooth, generic Power Metal groove, but that's another review. Episode is just superlative, and you should get it if you have any interest in Power Metal at all.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
I love power metal; you have classic bands like Helloween and Jag Panzer, and more modern ones like Kamelot, Human Fortress, or Angra. Now, I also happen to not hate flower metal (endless bass drums, synth ladden, high pitched vocals...you know) completely--Hell, I even like Rhapsody (of fire), but maybe it's because it was one of the first bands I listened, so it kinda got me into metal where I was young, and I can't hate it for that reason. Now, there's Stratovarius. I'm not gonna go into that whole "lawl flower metal r sissy gay" arguments that some detractors use, I'll try my best to explain why this album, band, and 'genre', sucks so much.
"Episode" starts with a very acclaimed song called "Father Time", which starts with an actually, pretty damn good riff. But then the drums kick in, and they're the standard bass drum ahoy beats that plague flower metal; but that's actually standable. I mean, at an instrumental level, this album is not bad, Tolkki is a pretty good guitarist, and has some really cool shred solos at times. The drums, even though they just do the same thing over the course of the album, are ok, at least at a structural level. But the greatest problem is fucking Timo Kotipelto's voice; I can stand that fellow, it's like a nasal, high pitched voice, and it's worse when he hits high notes, because even though he DOES hit them, it sounds so annoying, if you want to use falsetto wails, try to sound like Geoff Tate, and put some goddamn vibratos on your voice. Kotipelto doesn't use them at all, so his voice sounds nasal and sterile, summarizing--Boring and annoying.
The other problem is that, even though most songs have *some* decent riffs, they are reserved for the intros or bridges, and below the verses there's a (this is also a flower metal standard) chord-root note-palm mute 'riff', which is just that, taking a chord, and tremolo the root note with palm muting. This doesn't do anything, since the bass drum is already doing 16th notes, and the one that gives a 'melody' to the bass drum is uh...the bass guitar! So I don't know why the fuck do they play that way, since we know Tolkki is not exactly a newbie guitarist. When it's not the root notes on their own, they're just whole bar chords, and that's boring, specially when the whole song is done that way.
There are 12 tracks in here, and NONE of them manages to be good during it's entirety. "Will the Sun Rise" has a really annoying chorus, and the guitar solo is just shred, but there is no substance to it--No Yngwie epic-like melodies, no slow and beautiful passages like Petrucci, and they're not incredibly over-the-top full of sweeps and random tappings like Michael Romeo. There's "Eternity", which may well be the best song in here, since it doesn't have anything that makes the rest of the album annoying, even Kotipelto manages to not get on my nerves. The intro to "Eternity" sounds pretty epic, like a heavy soundtrack to 'Pirates of the Caribbean' or something. It has riffs, and the chorus is pretty fucking catchy, I wonder why the whole album isn't this way, with riffs, catchy choruses, and exploiting Kotipelto's voice in a good way.
"Speed of Light" is pretty good too, but it has that non-stop bass drumming, though it's compensated by some cool shreddy licks here and there. But it seems that Kotipelto forgot the "how to not suck" style of "Eternity". However, besides the cool main riff, there's nothing more to it. "Season of Change" would be a cool ballad if it weren't so overlong, and it's vocal melody sounds a lot like "Suite Sister Mary" from Queensryche. And talking about Queensryche, this album has that problem which I believe no album should have, the fact that if I'm hearing it I have the sudden urge to listen to something else that sounds similar, but that sucks far the fuck less.
Then again, most songs on this album sound the same, either they're short and fast flower metal songs, or cheesy and overlong ballads. "Forever" is a short ballad, and it could've have been AWESOME, it could have been great, fucking godly, in a Metal Church "In Harm's Way" form. But sadly, they decide that they should just keep it that way, they don't want to scare anyone, do they? The vocal melody is fucking awesome, but then, the whole music is just that--With a synth and an acoustic guitar, and you're just waiting for the song to move faster and explote in a fucking godly riff with the drums really goddamn loud...But that moment never comes, and Kotipelto's voice fades away, and this is the last fucking track, the last chance that this album had of being great, and they wasted it.
Nice job, Strat, you managed to give power metal a bad name; taking everything that made Helloween so cool, and completely sterilizing it until there's nothing good remaining. This is why people say that all power metal is "LAWL PUSSY SISSY SHIT", if you want some good melodic power metal, try Kamelot, or even Rhapsody, at least they keep you entertained with the orchestral arrangements, and they're catchy. But don't listen to this, say 'nono yuck' and run away. If somebody in the street offers it to you for free, get away, it's gonna give you herpes.
This is another important album in the evolution of Stratovarius, and works logically as a stepping stone between what came before and after. The band's musical evolution won't be complete until the following album, but still, in my opinion this ends up as their overall best work due to having the strongest song integrity, as well as being the ONLY Stratovarius album entirely devoid of a single total loser track.
The first thing noticeable right off the bat when comparing this to the previous album is the production - major improvement here. The guitars and particularly the drums sound much tighter, cleaner and crisper and there has clearly been more time and/or budget spent on the mixing of instruments to form a much better, more coherent whole. This is melodic power metal we're talking about here, as opposed to raw atmospheric BM, so it's all for the good. Damn, if it's one thing that has always been good about Stratovarius (well, since this album) - something you will NEVER see me complain about in any of my upcoming reviews of their works - it's the production; Timo Tolkii himself has an absolutely PERFECT ear for handling this. Even on 'Elements Pt.1' with all the orchestrations and whatnot; even if the songwriting and arrangements didn't always work out so well, at least everything had exactly the correct SOUND to it. So, of course, props to that Mikko guy for mixing everything just right too.
The second thing is the stronger musicianship shown, by recruiting two new members on board: Jens Johansson on keyboards and Jörg Michael on drums, completing what will later be known as their "classic" line-up, and there is notable change from this. Jens Johansson is given more space than that of the previous dude, and while he is not as essential to the band's sound as on the next album, there is now a much greater deal of keyboard soloing to be found as Jens essentially functions as the second lead guitar here. Lots of dueling guitar/keyboard soloing everywhere, and Jens does a great job of complementing Timo Tolkii's complex lightning-fast, neo-classical shredding wizardry that is so much more than just derived from Mr. Fooking Fury or whatever you may wish to call him.
As for Jörg Michael; if you've heard him in any of his other bands, you should know what to expect here, as he is probably the most rock-solid, precise double-bass drummer in business and at the same time the most over-the-top and energetic one. This man can really do no wrong, and while his career highlight remains the album 'Black Hand Inn' with Running Wild, he gels in very well with this band too and this probably stands as the second greatest thing I've ever heard him star in anyway. He has a tendency of giving every band he joins a healthy speed boost (Saxon and Grave Digger both come to mind; I think his first effort with RW is a bit faster than what came before, too) and Stratovarius is no exception. At least three songs on here are faster than anything that appeared on the previous album (another evolutionary process for the band, one could say).
The songwriting here can be described as a little more straightforward and focused than a year ago, although the change here is more minor than that of the sound and performance. But that little pinch of Crimson Glory influence I thought was present earlier is now mostly gone and also the early Queensrÿche sounds are a little toned down now as well, due to the speed metal numbers being more prevalent this time around. Yes, by now they have forged a sound that is completely their own, and it is in domination here, but in the slower and more epic numbers like "Eternity" and (to a lesser extent) "Night Time Eclipse" there is still a bit of 'ryche riffage - this time sporting more of a "developed" 'Mindcrime'/'Empire' style rather than 'The Warning'/'Rage for Order' that 'Fourth Dimension' sounded like at times. There's perhaps a little less experimentation and thus more rocking out...no complete "what the fuck" moments like "030366", anyway.
"Father Time", "Will the Sun Rise?" and "Speed of Light" are simply amazing straight-up, riff-based melodic speed metal. Unlike future songs in similar vein, keyboards are only used here for soloing and the (very) occasional effect; otherwise this is pretty damn balls-out and ripping. The riffs in these three remind me a bit of Rage, albeit with far more impressive vocals. Timo Kotipelto has really improved over the last album where he was still finding himself in with the band's sound. Well on here he's being utilized to his absolute full potential, with his absolutely CRYSTAL clear voice rarely matched anywhere else in rock (Europe's Joey Tempest comes to mind, though). Power, conviction, soul, range, precision - all you could possibly look for in a vocalist, if you can only get by that accent (many can't, so beware). Just check out those verses in "Will the Sun Rise?", they are a highlight of the entire album by the way: "Throwing my dreams out of my mind, casting them into the sky-eeyyy!!"
The aforementioned "Speed of Light" is of special interest, because it stands as the blueprint for a LOT of future Stratovarius songs, of the fast variety. It may look a little basic and underdeveloped at just above three minutes, but even so it manages to lay down a lot of the foundations that we know our Black Diamonds, Rebels, Phoenixes etc. by. You have the typical solid speedy opening riff; the way the drums build it up and most importantly, the one thing that keeps appearing in nearly EVERY fast number (read carefully now): how the verse progresses from its first half to its second half. That *special* way the guitars, vocals and often drums all change slightly in melody, mood and/or just general delivery. It's a little hard to explain, but it's nothing *remarkable* in any sense that's unique for Stratovarius or anything - it's just how Stratovarius include this "verse progression" if you will in nearly every bloody song of theirs and somehow manage to make it sound almost EXACTLY the same every time. Even as the musical genius Tolkii may be, his creativity quite often lacks. Severely. On this album, at least he has not yet begun to directly borrow stuff from old songs - as for that, I'll point out a few examples in my upcoming reviews.
The really surprising song on here, and quite possibly the main highlight, is closing track "Forever" - the BALLAD, can you imagine! Stratovarius ballads have this nasty habit of being exceptionally boring, tedious, boring, drawn out, boring, filler-ish, boooooriiiiing and generally crappy, and while many of them have been trying to recapture the magic of this very song, equally many have failed. No wonder, because this is just one them once-in-a-career type of things. Holy fuck, I don't even know where to begin, but ok let's keep this simple: The main melody owns you. Kotipelto's singing owns you. The acoustics own you. The violins own you. That little part at 1.43 where the flute sneaks in and plays the main melody again (instead of the violin in the beginning) - Holy. Fucking. Shit. Oh, and it owns you as well. If this does not instantly send chills down your spine, something's just wrong with you. Also, at a mere 3.06 minutes the song is safely kept from being overlong. This song is just perfect on so many levels. The ultimate "chill-out" song, and pretty a landmark and a great accomplishment for music overall. It's that fucking good.
Other highlights include: the rest of it; the whole damn thing just about. And with great variety displayed for further increasing the staying power and just general quality of the package. "Uncertainty" is an underrated little gem from here, probably overlooked due to being a little different for Stratovarius. It's midpaced, and has a nice heavy and doomy(?!) opening riff and the build from bass, drums and vocals only, to that subtle yet powerful and atmospheric chorus with its excellent underlying riff base, is stellar. Instrumental "Stratosphere" is essentially the second coming of "Stratovarius" on the previous album, being very similar in overall style and structure (and features the exact same ending part) - it was excellent then, it is excellent now and is just about on par with the best of the fast stuff (tracks 1, 2 & 5). That calm keyboard middle bit with the slow and "bluesy" soloing is cheesy as hell and just screams "porno flick", but I still like it. Even the weakest track on here, the slow and Egyptian-styled (sounds boring already, doesn't it??) "Babylon" has that "And underneath the starlit sky..." calm bit at 3.44. Oh yes.
Holy mama this album is such a winner. This band actually used to be worth something; what in the fuck ever happened later?
This has to be one of the most underrated album of all time, but it is amazing and stunning. Stratovarius has always been a great band, but too bad they have to split up. Timo Tolkki's leads are so damn fast on this record. The production is excellent because you could hear every instrument clearly. Kotipelto's vocal performance is overwelming and makes the atmosphere within the music.
Let me now go through the tracks..."tick, tick, tick, tick" and then a great riff comes in and this could be Father Time and it is an excellent opener for this album. This so fucking exciting and Kotipelto's vocals in the chorus are amazing and reaches great range with it, and in the middle, comes in the beautiful guitar/keyboard solo. Nice opener. Will The Sun Rise shows that Kotipelto can scream like a little girl while he saying "Will the sun rise to the morning." This is a good and simple song. Then comes in my personal favorite, Eternity and oh my God. Eternity has this great pattern in the music and the mood is so fucking excellent. I love it when everyone scream "TIME HAD STOOD STILL" and comes in an exploding chorus. Brilliant song.
Episode comes in and it is a small and calm instrumental. It is a simple one that gives a small on the album. Speed Of Light is next and in this one Tolkki does shred at the speed of light and the keyboards in the beginning are great. Then we have Uncertainty, and it begins with an amazing guitar riff and then Kotipelto sings this song slowly and atmospherically. Sure it has a slow tempo, but it's great and wait until you hear the damn guitar solo, and man it is fucking wild. Season Of Change is my second favorite song on the record and it changes in the tempo. Gives you a feeling that you as if you are on this road and first you are walking slow and starts to speed up. There are no choruses in this one but the finishing part is excellent and the drum patterns sound great. Awesome track.
Now, we are in the last few tracks, Stratosphere is another instrumental where Tolkki shreds like crazy, and you should forget about Yngwie here. It is a wild instrumental, and it is indescribable. Babylon has this great Egyptian vibe and from this track Kotipelto got inspired to created Waiting For The Dawn in his solo career. Tomorrow sounds similar to Forever Free in the Vision album, and this is an awesome and happy song. The speed is great and Jen Johansson's keyboarding sounds so clear here and moving perfectly with the guitars. Night Time Eclpse is an interesting epic and the speed changes throughout the song. Finally, Forever is a short, beautiful ballad played by a violin and piano.
The album is certainly a masterpiece and there are no throw aways. This is essential for Power Metal heads. The album seems to be perfect in every single way. The band has worked hard on this record and the music is good. The lyrics are not about some cheesy dragons and hobbits, and they are about ancient Mythologies and Religion. You must get this album.
Stratovarius is moving ahead at full steam in this album, and they have created another set of ass-kicking Power Metal that takes absolutely no prisoners. The addition of master keyboardist Jens Johansson and Rage drummer Jörg Michael complete the all-star lineup that has taken this band to unimaginable heights.
As always, the guitar work is really solid and strong, with great riffs and even better solos. Johansson really shows his stuff with several amazing keyboard solos, and Michael's drumming combines with Jari Kairycjgnuhfjlainjienfjbdnofronfdkfso's (or whatever his last name is) excellent bass work to make a really solid foundation for the band. And, of course, Kotipelto's vocals kick ass. But that's a given.
Let's see. Five new classics are introduced in this album: Father Time, with its distinctive riff set and fantastic headbanging beat; Will the Sun Rise, featuring a great piece of guitar work and one of the coolest choruses ever in a Stratovarius album; Speed of Light, with Timo Tolkki's shit-kicking guitar solo (the live video of this is really sweet); Stratosphere, the lightning fast instrumental with guitar and keyboard going at speeds never before heard outside of a Yngwie album; and Forever, which has a fantastic combination of flute, acoustic guitar and a particularly haunting violin solo (I swear I don't play violin or anything) and is widely considered to be Stratovarius's best ballad ever.
The rest of the songs are excellent, as well. Notable in here is the very well-done Babylon, which includes some of the Egyptian influence that makes its way to Kotipelto's solo album and would probably be a Stratovarius classic if it weren't for the fact that epics have a hard time becoming a classic (with the very notable exception of Destiny). All of the stuff is great, and it's worth every cent.
Buy it now. Next!