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Deemed as prototypical rather than a masterpiece, Stratovarius' debut efficiently introduced a new concept which was polished in further albums. Its dark sound, which is reminiscent of everything that sounds like 80's traditional metal, provides a scary atmosphere perfectly described by the cover of the album. Moreover, the technical abilities of Timo Tolkki make this album enjoyable, since the listener has a good variety of progressive and speed metal stuff in which its possible to find guitar soloing techniques and shredding inspired by Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen, and neoclassical metal riffs mainly used by Scandinavian bands, such as Silver Mountain.
The album shows an amateurish band that started a long search for a definitive sound, but their technical skills offset said amateurism, and their elaborated compositions made of this album a very promising debut. Rather than being plainly a progressive metal album, the album also features some neoclassical power metal stuff which was carefully alternated so that the listener is not castigated by an unstoppable charge of slow and mid-paced songs. As a way of example, the album opens with the fast, aggressive and catchy "Future Shock", which in some way recalls the tempos and riffs of the Motörhead song "Ace of Spades". Then, the tricky proggy number "False Messiah" insanely shifts its frenetic neoclassical intro into a more peaceful song whose memorable chorus is somehow similar to the one featured in the Sweet Cheater song "The Curse". Thereafter, the album follows a similar pattern which is broken by the instrumental prelude "Fire Dance" (that heralded the speedish "Witch Hunt") and the nice acoustic outro "Goodbye" which sounds like a slower version of Black Sabbath's instrumental "Orchid".
Even though Tolkki is not exactly the greatest vocalist, his vocals match the epic atmosphere of the album. It is incredible the way in which he evokes in the listener feelings of stress, insanity and power. All these virtues compensate his lack of talent, and fortunately they did not affect the quality of the songs when all is said and done. Regardless of the lack of a decent production work, the album overcame the demanding requirements of a subgenre that experimented a boom in Europe during the second half of the 80's. Given the fact that many fanatics of the band started to listen the mid 90's stuff, they would not find the magic inside this album. Therefore, is highly recommended for those who love the 80's power metal stuff.
Perhaps Stratovarius's debut album comes as something of a surprise, particularly since I don't envisage this being very popular when it was released back in 1989, most people finding it by backwards searching rather than original knowledge. For all that 90s Stratovarius tended to push fast and complex power metal, 'Fright Night' is on some levels a mile away from that sound and knocking on its door at other moments. The way I understand this album is that it's a bit like a demo for a band that was still waiting to happen, because there's no way in hell that Timo Tolkki was supposed to be the singer for this kind of project, whatever he may have thought of his own abilities. It comes close to Candlemass's 'Ancient Dreams' demo, which also laid down some fantastic ideas and included Leif Edling's rudimentary vocals as markers for a future performance. That demo similarly left a gap between the band's ambition and their current state, so 'Fright Night' is a "warm-up album" in my mind.
The first thought that usually comes to mind with demos is the production quality and 'Fright Night' does contend with this problem. The issue with the production and mixing quality is that, like with some other older cheaply recorded albums, the different instruments don't totally gel together and leave a lot of gaps in the sound, so that we're dealing with a lack of power for much of the album. The drums are a bit quiet and weak, the bass is easily audible yet definitely percussive, while the rhythm guitar stays thin unless it's joined by melodies or leads, which is thankfully often. There are also some dated-sounding effects, especially from the keyboards, that don't quite get away with their own cheesiness and tackiness; the title track, for example, attempts the same kind of midnight atmospherics as Mercyful Fate's 'The Oath' and it appears that the band had neither the budget nor the necessary sense of drama to pull it off. The sound effect at the end of 'Future Shock', however, gains a point for being amusing: I think it's supposed to be a nuclear or atomic explosion, but it sounds more like a handgun misfiring.
That said, there are plenty of things to get excited about on their own merits, even if the recording is showing its age nowadays. The main attraction must be Tolkki's guitar playing, which is an odd mixture of the virtuoso and the imitator. His leads and melodies are top-drawer for the most part, showing his ability to shred in full-on adrenaline mode in the opening of 'Black Night', to create catchy hooks in 'Witch-Hunt', and to gently elevate the chorus of 'Future Shock' with a light melodic weave. The solos are almost all delicious and toe the fine line between technical skill and aural satisfaction, meaning that there are no massive Dream Theater instrumental breaks or guitar project indulgence, just pure heavy metal thunder and lightning. However, Tolkki's riff work leaves a little to be desired, borrowing heavily from Helloween's original template and thinking of little in songs like 'Night Screamer' that builds on the work of any number of bands influenced by Iron Maiden and wishing to play faster. The other curious thing about his guitar work on 'Fright Night' is the surprisingly solid rhythm tone that he uses. It's wide and heavy, in the sense that it struggles to make the palm-muted riffs really take off and fly at faster speeds, although that drawback is tempered by many slower and deliberately forceful riffs, such as the flatter hard rock/Judas Priest style of the main riff in 'Darkness'. These simpler riffs are sometimes effective, but probably need a tone and production close to what Savatage had in the mid-80s, since the effect aimed for is somewhat close.
The other instrumentalists are arguably there for very different reasons and have less individual moments, though are not limited to merely supporting roles. The drums are useful tools for providing Tolkki with platforms for licks and trade-offs, while the opening of 'False Messiah' has a short solo spot for guitar, bass, and drums. Keyboards are also present at times and fill the sound a little more, yet don't do much for the songs, as the levels are a bit messed up. Tolkki's vocals, while clearly not the final product, can still carry a tune and sometimes are pretty fun when he's ranting through 'Witch-Hunt' or crooning softly at the back of 'Darkness'.
As far as the songs go, it's the fun ones that fare better, with the explosive and catchy 'Black Night' and 'Witch-Hunt' my personal picks. Oddly enough, these are the ones that remind of other bands: 'Black Night' has a certain 'Highway Star' feel to it in the after chorus section, then 'Witch-Hunt' comes weirdly close to Overkill's 'Feel the Fire' in its snappy delivery, plus there's a riff that reminds me of 'Hammerhead'. 'Future Shock' is perhaps the most solidly-written song on here, while the title track and 'Darkness' have their moments, though both are overlong. The mid-paced likes of 'False Messiah' and 'Night Screamer' really need more character and stronger performances to carry them through, which makes me wonder (somewhat fruitlessly, since I know it won't happen) what the modern Stratovarius line-up could do with these songs. Really, for most Stratovarius fans this is going to be a curiosity more than a necessary listen, since it doesn't bear much resemblance to the later work of the band and is a weaker attempt at the classic 90s style. Nevertheless, there's some fun to be had and the solos are wicked.
This first and not very well known album by Stratovarius has not yet the diversity, uniqueness and catchiness of the second and third effort and sounds especially quite different from what one might now from the actual works of what has become one of the most important and well known European power metal bands.
Many songs on this first record are quite straight and have not always something to do with power metal. "Black night" for example reminds a lot of Iron Maiden's "Aces high", it has almost the same main riff and only has a less catchy chorus and a more dynamical drumming and a chaotic ending. "Witch hunt" goes in the same direction and reminds rather of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest in their early years than of power metal bands that were popular at the time of the release. This song is not that original, but it sounds different from the usual stuff of the band and is enjoyable.
Most of the songs have this heavier approach but remind a lot of what would come from this band on the next albums because of slightly progressive keyboard passages and high speed guitar solo passages. The well thought and diversified "False messiah" as well as "Night screamer" would have fit on the following record for example and surprise with catchy bass tones, a tight drumming and the typical playful guitar riffs by Timo Tolkki. I must admit that I am missing that kind of straight forward energy in the shorter songs of the band nowadays that is present in the opener "Future shock" for example. This raw energy is underlined by the production that doesn't really deserve its name and let this album sound like a demo recording if you don't get your hands on a re-mastered edition. But this makes somewhat the charm of this later on quite polished band.
It's only in the second half that the band sounds like an actual power metal band. The brilliant epic title track reminds of a mixture of Helloween and Dio with an opening sequence inspired by Alice Cooper. The song is much diversified and the raw and very audible bass gives a unique heaviness to the track that is in contrast with the atmospheric and somewhat smooth chorus. "Darkness" focuses even more on the atmosphere and has a very dreamy and floating approach where Timo Tolkki shows what a great and underrated singer he is.
The band finally shows its big potential on this first strike that is a charming and convincing record because it is heavier, edgier and straighter than what you might expect from the band. The power metal vibes are only present in the two epic and promising longer tracks; the other songs have rather a heavy or speed metal approach and make this record an interesting experience. It's sure that the band hasn't yet found its very own style and the song writing is not yet as brilliant as on the following outputs, but this record is truly energizing and different from the other stuff of the band. Those who find the band too cheesy, commercial or predictable nowadays should check out the first three albums of this group and may be surprised while the usual fans of the band won't be disappointed with that album anyway.
It took me some time before this album eventually grew on me but when it finally grew, it did it hugely and I really like the first steps of the band. It's surely not yet a masterpiece of an album, it is eventually quite short and some songs might not be better than good fillers, but it is a different experience compared to the later works and worth a few tries.
Everyone has to have a beginning-one of the biggest names in power metal made theirs with this humble little debut. Despite the general simplicity of "Fright night," it's a solid album, though it would probably only be enjoyed by Stratovarius fans ad those interested in early power metal.
At this time, Stratovarius only consisted of three and a half members (the half was the sometimes-used keyboardist, Antti Ikoenen). Tuomo Lassila (drums), Jykri Lentonen (bass) and Timo Tolkki (vocals and guitar) made up the rather thing, though still rockin' sound. I have a feeling that the somewhat muted sound was due to production as opposed to the performance, as all the guys definitely weren't without merit. Tolkki's awesome riffs and solos still reigned, while his vocals, for the most part, were surprisingly strong (despite an occasionally strained sound and a couple of cracks here and there). There are a lot of cleverly written drum lines, though percussion wasn't so prominent at that time. Keyboards existed merely in the background, as at this time Stratovarius wasn't so progressive.
Lyrically, "Fright Night" is uncomplicated, in some places not entirely making sense-though thankfully, it's easy to understand what was trying to be communicated. The ideas are good, some of which recur throughout the band's ensuing albums. However, there are references to witches for instance, and other things which do not appear in other work. The dark feeling is not only musically, but lyrically-there are countless references to darkness and night, which is the thing that unites all the songs.
The music is, as I said, darker and more power. There are many time and melody changes, as well as more musical interludes and longer introductions. Anyone who complains about Strato-anthems should pick up this album: there aren't any.
Starting off the album is "Future Shock," a great song discussing the vision of a nuclear holocaust. Stratovarius still plays around themes of this sort, though it's been expanded. Track two, "False Messiah," is one of my favorites. Like the previous song, the topic is still carried through in later works. With a 1:25-long intro, "False Messiah" contains some nice time changes and a unique chorus... there's something oddly delicate about it. "Black Night" is fast and heavy with some notable guitar work from Tolkki, and again, a great chorus. "Night Screamer" and the title track also contribute to making the album worth owning. "Fright Night" contains two totally opposite instrumentals-the heavy "Fire Dance" and "Goodbye." The latter showcases Tolkki's talent, proving he's capable of more than just heavy riffing.
"Fright Night," though a bit understated, is a solid and very diverse album. I don't feel enough attention is paid to Stratovarius' early work, so here I am, spreading the word.
It's too bad that these songs aren't on Stratovarius's setlist anymore, because some of these songs would absolutely SLAY live, especially with Kotipelto's vocals.
By Stratovarius's obscenely high standards, of course, these songs aren't that great. As an actual album, however, this is good stuff. The best part is the guitar work, as even in the early days we still had Mr. Timo Tolkki to be the heart and soul of the band. Tolkki's influences are as easy to read as a picture book in this first album--a Black Sabbath foundation with Megadeth-style riffage and Iron Maiden melodies and soloing (and the occasional Yngwie-trademark fast-as-fuck solos), with a little bit of Judas Priest sprinkled on top. In other words, he has taken the best parts of the best bands in metal and mixed them together into one ass-kicking guitar player. There are a few wrinkles in the overall guitar sound, and it takes another album or two before Timo irons it out and creates a style that is 100% original and completely his own. In the meantime, however, the riffage is strong and furious, with extremely fast solos and opening chord progressions that simply kick the shit out of you before the actual song even begins.
The other instruments are pretty good, too, although they need some work before they become key parts of the band. The bass work is very solid, although it can barely be heard at times and often stays too close to the drum, preventing it from emerging as a seperate instrument. The drum is furious, and Tuomo is obviously very talented; however, you can tell even here that his style conflicts with the guitars and the songs as a whole. Tuomo's drumming is very aggressive and thrash-oriented, with him often mirroring the rhythm patters of the guitars and therefore drowning the other instruments out. Not only that, but he gets a lot of short little solos--a lot more than are neccessary, or even ideal, for the songs. And yes, the vocals are terrible. Timo is not a vocalist by any stretch of the imagination, and Stratovarius's vocal parts are some of the most difficult of any band I have ever heard--definitely something that should be left to someone who knows what they're doing (Kotipelto).
Overall, though, the sound is a rudimentary version of perfection, and that's not bad at all for a debut album. If you bought some of the later Stratovarius material made during the era of the Fab Five, then don't expect the same thing in their first three albums. It's still worth a purchase, though, if only for Timo's excellent guitar work.