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Best of the post-Tolkki era, but still flawed - 65%

PowerProg_Adam, June 26th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, earMUSIC

I will be the first to admit that I have always considered Stratovarius to be major pioneers of neoclassical influenced power metal. I fell in love with virtually every album of theirs almost immediately after hearing them. They all always had an over abundance of guitar hooks, flashy solos, intricate keyboard parts, soaring vocals, and extremely memorable choruses. Their only snag before Timo Tolkki departed I felt was their self titled album. I don't necessarily hate all of it, but it was definitely an attempt to try something different. After Tolkki left I still stood by the band and continued to check out all of their releases, but each album seemed to be missing something. Each has their fair share of enjoyable tracks and everyone seems to be hailing Mattias as a superior guitarist to Tolkki and that Nemesis is the best album they've ever recorded, but I guess I just don't see what everybody else is seeing. Although I must admit I enjoy most out of their past three albums there are a lot of aspects to it that I can't overlook.

First of all I feel as though the album doesn't flow properly, as in the track listing could probably be better rearranged. It takes me 4 or 5 tracks before I finally get to some I thoroughly enjoy. Tracks like Unbreakable to me are missing what gained the band critical acclaim to begin with. The main guitar riffs, like many throughout their past three albums come off as being a lot more distorted, less memorable, and often less complex. Unbreakable's riffs are memorable, but to me in a very stripped down way that I feel abandons a lot of their neoclassical roots. Their first video of the album, Halcyon Days, also has moments where I begin to question the direction the band is taking. The keyboard intro is extremely industrial sounding at times and is very lacking in composition as many of Jens' other incredible passages of the past and there are a couple other songs I can say this about as well. The most positive part of the first part of the album has to do with Kotipelto's vocal lines. His voice still sounds rather strong in the recording, and any shred of what has made them enjoyable and memorable to me lies within his contributions.

There are still visions of greatness on this album though. Fantasy has a very nice and clean keyboard intro and one of the most memorable choruses of the album. However I still feel that a lot of the guitar work is very simplistic. Castles in the Air suffers from a similar fate. The chorus is quite nice, but I still feel the guitar is quite lacking. By far the strongest track on the album is Dragons. It is one of the few tracks where it appears like they are even the same band that created albums as great as Episode, Visions, and Destiny. There are a lot of layers to the vocals of the chorus and the song all around just has a really happy and positive vibe. Their ballads have always been one of their strong suits to me and If the Story is Over doesn't disappoint either, very clean and emotional sounding and placed quite nicely towards the end of the album.

It has taken me a while to figure out what it is I haven't liked about each of the past three albums, and its not completely on the shoulders of Mattias's guitar playing, a lot of it is on his songwriting ability. I've come to find that the songs I've like the least were written by him. He just doesn't seem to have the ability to write memorable hooks like Tolkki did, which was what drew me to them in the first place. My favorite tracks over their recent albums have ironically all be written by Jens. He understands the composition of what makes the band great and sticks to writing songs that fit that mold, yet seems to write the least amount of their material. Another thing that many don't seem to notice about Nemesis is the lack of their classic lineup rhythm section for the first time in years. Jorg Michael is an incredible drummer and is always produced amazingly. The same could be said for Jari's bass parts from their classic albums. Lorri and Rolf, although competent musicians seem to be lacking something that the classic lineup once had, or it may just be that there is a noticeable lack of crispness in the drum and bass production.

I will admit that Nemesis is the best album they have come up with since Tolkki's departure, but it is missing many of the elements that helped make them who they are. It has slightly less filler than Polaris and Elysium, but still definitely has its fair share. Most of all it is missing clean guitar hooks in my opinion, but I am starting to believe that a lot of people like this album so much because it is considerably less neoclassical and stripped down and gritty power metal. Although it is by no means the worst thing they ever done I feel that it doesn't deserve to be mentioned alongside Episode through Infinite or even Dreamspace as being the best album they've ever recorded

Victorious Power Metal - 95%

Gespenster, July 14th, 2013

If one is looking for an example of a strong power metal record, then "Nemesis" is an album to go to thanks to Finnish group Stratovarius. This quintet formed in 1985 in Helsinki and since then they released an enormous surplus of records over the years. On top of that, they also became one of the most popular melodic power metal bands in the scene. Their newest addition to their large discography would be this record, "Nemesis", their fourteenth full-length record released in 2013. After such a long history, Stratovarius proves to be a band at the top of their game.

One of the elements of this record that makes it so enjoyable is the musicianship. It's showcased very well, starting with the vocal work. The singing has plenty of energy and might to it and it delivers some powerful notes throughout the album. Along with that, the guitars also do an excellent job in offering lots of great melodies with the vocals. They are played incredibly well without too much unneeded noodling, making way for a stellar and organized performance. The percussion work also fares well, sounding very explosive and possessing a very engaging speed along with the rest of the musicianship. "Nemesis" succeeds in displaying some rather outstanding instrumentation.

Next to the musicianship is some great production and electronic effects. The mixing makes the music sound crisp, but very resonant and atmospheric to the point where listeners can be sucked further into its grasp. In addition, the album also utilizes some melodic synthesizer, an example being from the introduction of the first track "Abandon". Like the singing and the guitars, they hurl soaring melodies at the audience for more atmosphere and drama. The majority of these really work, and they never feel out of place in the wake of the rest of the album's metallic flight. Overall, the production and synthesizer really function well in here.

"Nemesis" is an album made up of fantasy-like melodic power metal that is written out and executed tremendously. Every single track in this album has so much energy and memorability to it, that it's hard not to be compelled by it. This all comes from how epic, massive, and theatrical the music is, as signified by the gigantic album artwork. The most recommended of these songs include the opener, "Abandon", and then the second track and the record's first single "Unbreakable". Both showcase how potent and invigorating the melodic music can be in this album, possibly holding the most memorability as well. In regards to that, this release also has a ton of gripping moments in its track list that vacuums listeners further into its grasp without showing off or losing focus. Structured strongly and wondrously performed, the melodic power metal that this album has to offer is simply great.

All in all, "Nemesis" is a powerful metal record that is very well-crafted and very well-performed. The musicianship is stellar, alongside the production work, and the music itself is purely packed with grand melodies and vigor, and it all adds up to a great release. As stated earlier, if you are in search of a solid example of an excellent power metal album, this is something to try out. It's highly recommended for followers of the genre and newcomers to it as well, and it comes to show that Stratovarius is a band that is highly praised for a reason.

Originally posted on: http://metaljerky.blogspot.com/

Scorching the ethereal skies yet again. - 88%

hells_unicorn, May 27th, 2013

The exodus of longtime drummer Jörg Michael from the Stratovarius fold marked a major shift in the band's musical paradigm, culminating in a lot more than a rather impressive farewell live album in "Under Flaming Winter Skies". Indeed, the eventual follow up EP "Unbreakable" showcased a greater degree of experimentation than the fancy and marginally progressive "Polaris" and "Elysium" with newly recruited axe slinger Matias Kupiainen providing a heavier and wilder guitar style than what former band leader Timo Tolkki ever brought to the table, and provided a logical preface to the eventual 14th album "Nemesis". This is an album that takes a rather different course, and thus could logically be treated as a beginning of a new era for the band that is distinct from the last couple albums should it prove to be a trend in future output.

The manner in which this album becomes a stylistic departure is not quite as blatant as the band completely shifting to a different metal sub-genre, but more in the level of detailing and the density of the atmospheric character of the whole, and it proves to be quite overt in this respect. Echoes of former glory can be heard on "Abandon", "Unbreakable" and "Dragons" where the same essential upbeat character that typified the band's early 2000s single releases such as "Hunting High And Low" and "Eagleheart" are still in view, yet these songs have been dressed up with a greater variety of keyboard timbres and ambiences, to the point of sounding mechanized and quasi-industrial at times. This is helped along further by a guitar assault that, while not quite as frenetic as what was heard on "Polaris", is definitely quite elaborate and willing to go beyond the usual series of palm muted power chords.

As things unfold, it is clear that the entry of drummer Rolf Pilve into the fray has had its fair share of effect on the overall sound of the band. In contrast to a number of bands where the replacement drummer tends to mimic the style of his predecessor, the newest and youngest face in the band has done a good bit to distance himself from Stratovarius' longtime kit maestro. His sound is a bit more precision and detail based (rather than Jörg Michael's power approach) and results in a number of differing outcomes, be it an occasionally thrashing yet plain approach on "Stand My Ground" or a very versatile, multifaceted set of beats on the heavily progressive "Out Of The Fog". While Pilve's exploits tend to revolve in underground circles, he has a wide array of experience playing in both melodic death and progressive metal outfits, and the two implicit extremes of simplicity and complexity that go with these 2 very different approach definitely shows, often times within the same song.

Nevertheless, amid all the heavily experimental and hard-edged metal there is still a fairly noticeable semblance of Stratovarius even before the period of drama that came about circa 2004. Perhaps the greatest example is that of "Fantasy" which has a very plain rocking character that wouldn't have been out of character for a slower offering on "Visions" or "Destiny", though the keyboard sounds are still a bit avant-garde at times. In fact, the vocal character of Timo Koltipelto proves to be the greatest level of familiarity and tends to shine the brightest on the less showy parts of the album. It's actually a bit ironic in that this album takes just about every step imaginable to avoid sounding like the continual 80s revivalism that tended to typify their career in the 90s and early 2000s, and yet the vocal production itself still lends to that reverb-heavy character that synthesizes that distant, arena-like vocal presence that was a staple of an 80s metal band.

The near unanimous praise of this album thus far is not unexpected, as it manages to find itself in the unique position of being slightly closer to the band's older works while still being a noticeable step forward in the band's overall evolution. Despite the heavy amount of auditory experimentation and quirky effects, this is an album built out of catchy songwriting and solid riff work that will have an appeal to the high period fans of Stratovarius (1994-1998) that was lacking to a certain extent on the last two albums. It's not so much a complete break with the established orthodoxy that tends to define power metal, but it definitely takes a fair share of liberty in applying the various doctrines that have crept their way into the European model since the days of late 80s Helloween.

Best of the Tolkki-less efforts - 96%

slayrrr666, April 13th, 2013

The fourteenth offering from Finnish power metal heroes Stratovarius, “Nemesis” could very well be the crowning opus of their recent output and is certainly on par with their glory days in the mid-90s and is surely the strongest of the post-Tolkki albums the group’s released under their newfound style of energetic yet melodic power metal.

The first half of the album is assuredly the albums best, with a collection of strong, diverse tracks that are rather enjoyable. Opener ‘Abandon’ swirls together with back-and-forth melodic jabs, technically-frenetic drumming, rolling grooves and Timo Koltipelto’s soaring vocals in creating a rocking opener that sounds as warm and uplifting as any lead-off track from their past and makes an instant winner. The next track, appropriate first single ‘Unbreakable’ is a rather fine up-tempo yet more melodic track with some exceptional vocal melodies and a rather rocking pace that showcases the band’s newfound melodic power metal style really nicely rather than the classy symphonic approach of the past. Next track, ‘Stand My Ground’ is a little weak as the band reverts to the uninspired melodic metal they played in Tolkki’s last years, and despite the grand choruses and potentially intriguing riff-work along the solo section, it feels a bit boring. This is thankfully rectified by the next two tracks, album highlights ‘Halcyon Days’ and ‘Fantasy.’ ‘Halcyon’ is the band’s fastest work on the whole album with an awe-inspiring intro that thrashes away with joyful abandon throughout which creates a really epic feeling and is their most traditional/old-school symphonic power metal-ish song on the whole album. ‘Fantasy’, meanwhile, is a melodic mid-tempo rager that thankfully never strays into the ballad medium the way it starts but gets into a quicker tempo when the band’s backing vocals kick in to create another winner in this new-found melodic power metal style.

The second half starts off just as strong but quickly falters, not due to the quality of the material but rather the fact that there's not the diversity among the tracks as the first half. The songs are just as good, but too many of them are stylistically similar to each other rather than the more wide-spread collection of songs that came before. That is hard to realize, though, as it starts off strong with ‘Out of the Fog,’ a rocking mid-tempo offering that sees the band really turning this more relaxed melodic power metal style into their own with a frenetic drum pattern, some inspired riff-work and those soaring vocals they’ve honed to perfection over the years. These elements create a rather impressive and overall strong track that ranks with the albums’ best works and gives the album three strong tracks in a row. It starts to turn around with ‘Castles in the Air,’ which is an even-more relaxed song and almost feels as though it could be a ballad but is a bit too fast-paced. When the band’s backing vocals during the chorus kick in, they give off a more epic feel than most ballads and the greater degree of electronic instrumentation used being another large clue, this doesn’t change the song being overall impressive if a little lacking compared to what came before it due to the more relaxed pace. Two more similar relaxing, laid-back songs follow, with ‘Dragons’ being the better of the two by the grandiose imagery of the riff-work coming off as slightly more impressive and it’s solo a lot more imposing with the backing vocals giving it a majestic vibe that’s not found elsewhere on the album and creates an overall strong track. The true ballad ‘If the Story is Over’ is the same story heard over and over in the genre’s ballads, so if you’re into that kind of song it’s quite enjoyable while for those into the more rocking tunes, it’ll feel quite lame and cheesy with its use of strings, laid-back pace and feelings of sentimentality. Thankfully, the title track closes things out with an impressive return to the more rocking vibe of the rest of the album and has a strong, up-tempo vibe that gives off an epic feel eerily similar to that of their old material and ends the album on a strong note.

There’s not a whole lot to dislike with this release, as it’s consistent, well-written with numerous strong hooks, leads and riffs, and contains a strong production job that gives everyone a great performance while maintaining the closest sound and feel yet to the classy power metal of their preceding albums. About the only flaw to be found within the work is the keyboards which are kept low and never really given a chance to shine as that keeps the band from reaching the symphonic grandiosity they performed, yet this also serves well with their more relaxed approach recently and definitely has some good points about it as the guitars shimmering is consistently enjoyable, the drumming is forceful without overpowering everything and the vocals shine exactly as they did at their brightest peak in the past. While not quite at the level of their best works, this is still one of their better records and is clearly the best thing they’ve done without Timo Tolkki in the group, and ranks among the years’ top overall albums in the genre so far.

Their new Halcyon Days - 99%

Alberich04, March 3rd, 2013

Wow. It was not too long ago when Stratovarius seemed to have seen its end just after the main songwriter and troubled mastermind, Timo Tolkki, decided to call it quits to pursue his own musical journey away from the band mates with whom he had his own days of grace.

Five years later and after having released the rather insipid, though necessary Polaris and the notable and more progressive Elysium (in addition to have to deal with the lost of long time drummer Jörg Michael), the band, now commanded by Timo Kotipelto, has found the way to deliver not only their finest effort since Tolkki left, but also the most varied and impressive album in the entire history of the band.

What’s to be found in Nemesis is nothing but every single one of the band members plus ex- Sonata Arctica’s guitarist Jani Liimatainen shining bright as the beautiful cover artwork could suggest they would. All of the songs here sound fresh and inspired, with new drummer Rolf Pilve showing from the first moment how he’s more than capable of filling Michael’s huge boots. The extremely young guy’s not only talented, he’s a way more technical drummer than his predecessor living legend ever proved to be, too. Bassist Lauri Porra delivers a nothing short of spectacular performance with his aggressive playing style pumping clear as daring throughout the whole album. Keyboard wizard Jens Johansson surprises with a much wider assortment of sounds than he had us used to with several elements coming from trance to jazz fusion genres while guitarist Matias Kupiainen’s heavy, yet melodic and progressive edge welcomes the listener to recognize him as a guitar genius and brilliant songwriter. Even traditional singer Timo Kotipelto twists his voice to add brand new emotions to the collection of themes, holding on to an spectacular collection of low to mid-range tones and effects that confirm how he has become a more mature and interesting singer nowadays, avoiding hitting the very high tones that once turned impossible when the Elements Pt. I album was released, with songs like “Find Your Own Voice” and “Learning to Fly” being obviously harmful for him.

From the very instant freedom anthem “Abandon” kicks in the album is one highlight followed by another equally enjoyable track, with the mentioned song being a winner due to its heavy opening riffing and glorious choruses that portrait renovated Kotipelto sounding great and comfortable. The particularly complex guitar-keyboard duel doesn’t fail to amaze.

“Unbreakable” is a catchy modern song driven by a beautiful keyboard melody and the best single the band has released since “Hunting High and Low”, with the addictive guitar break being a highlight of the album by itself.

Contemporary delights “Stand My Ground” and “Halcyon Days” keep the bar high, the former one with its almost industrial feeling, hostile verses -amazingly performed by Timo- and neoclassical soloing while the second one being an instant classic, different from anything the band had done before and beautifully accomplished, with Porra and Jens shining as Kotipelto sings better than ever, sounding gloomy at first and bright when the majestic chorus explodes.

Feel good rocker “Fantasy” resembles Stratovarius’ catchiest moments to date with some tremendously cheesy lyrics that do not overshadow the great vibe it transmits. The epic “Out of the Fog” written by both Kotipelto and Liimatainen, the elegant as sophisticated “Castles in the Air” and the paused and heavy “One Must Fall” with its beautiful bridge and keyboard solo are all gems to be listened to once and again in order to discover the whole set of details they are adorned with.

Semi-acoustic gorgeous ballad “If the Story is Over” and classic melodic title track “Nemesis” close the album with both emotion and magnificence.

This is an album any fan of metal should be proud to own that shows a band in a healthy state and working as a team to get something they thought lost once…and they nailed it. Well done, Strato…well done.

An Exciting Offering from the Finnish Veterans - 90%

ibthecrusher, March 2nd, 2013

At A Glance

I’m going to be honest, it’s been a few years since I’ve popped a Stratovarius album in, so some of the changes I’ve noticed may have been happening gradually, but let me just say:

This is a much, much more modern sounding band than what I’m used to.

Not to say it isn't signature Stratovarius (because it totally is), but there are some definite changes to the rhythm guitar tone, and how much electronic and pop influence has made its way into the backing tracks and keyboards. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing, and the shred is still oh-so-alive in this band. Neoclassical fanboys, as well fans of the genre as a whole will definitely be satisfied.

The Details

Dramatic keyboards and some intense riffs hail in Abandon and abruptly hang back for the-like it or not-iconic, high wail of Timo’s voice. The drums are pounding and the overall package gets pretty intense for power metal.

Unbreakable and Stand My Ground also reveal some major groove influence on Stratovarius. Distorted voices, chugging riffs and a more hollow, solid-state rhythm guitar sound give the overall textures a little more bite, and really brings out the stunning lead work (not that this is anything new for these neoclassical veterans). Stand My Ground has one of my favorite solos on the album.

Halcyon Days is the first track where I’m not a fan of what this bold, new Stratovarius has to offer. While the sophisticated instrumentation and operatic singing is still there, it at times sounds like a bit of a perversion-almost the sort of mistake we know Kamelot for making. The sort with too much mixing going on, a backing track that sounds too-techno, vocal effects that are too heavy… I can’t say that I completely dislike the song, though. Stratovarius have a charm to them that makes the electronica sort of work. And if Timo doesn’t grab you in that one, he really shines on the gleaming, yet oh-so-cheesy followup, Fantasy.

Out of the Fog is power metal to the max, with some serious melodic attack and blistering solo work from Matias and catchy keys courtesy of Jens. Castles in the Air follows it up, and presents us with some major vocal chord showboating.

Dragon threatens at first to be another mistake like Halcyon Days, but it quickly proves to be classic Stratovarius, despite the techno-keys lurking in the background.

One Must Fall may be the only other track that doesn’t really impress me. Now, there’s some great passages in this song (particularly the slow keyboard solo that starts at 3:12), but as a whole, it doesn’t really hold up. It is a slower song, to be fair, but it’s not quite ballad status like the next piece, If the Story is Over-which I can’t help but love, despite being generic in every way.

The titular track, Nemesis, is an excellent way to end any album. It effectively incorporates, within its structure, various elements from throughout the entire disc (including the dreaded techno-keys, but they get a pass on this one for being well utilized). At times it also proves to be the heaviest track on the album thus far. An endearing song-I believe Stratovarius saved the best for last.

Overall Impression

Now, while it may sound like I’m making this album out to be neigh-flawless, it is a bit of a chore to get into. Stratovarius is one of those bands that’s infamous for rubbing you the wrong way until you really give them a try, but I think, in this case, it’s definitely worth it.

Featuring some powerful vocal passages and thunderous guitars, Stratovarius manage to “modernize” their sound without too many growing pains. Nemesis is simply epic: an almost monumental collection of songs that I believe will stand out, even in a catalog this vast.

Adapted from a review originally by Forged: Western New York Metalzine.

There's something in the air - 90%

Empyreal, March 1st, 2013

Ever since the departure of long-standing guitarist and long-standing whackjob Timo Tolkki, Finnish metallers Stratovarius have been putting out more ambitious and darker works with each album. Their last album Elysium was really great, although it really didn’t differentiate much from the preceding Polaris. With Nemesis they’ve really stepped up to the plate and delivered probably their most ambitious album since the storied Episode - this is a work of prestige, with varied songwriting and influences.

The big theme on here seems to be reaching out and seizing power, a sort of “be all you can be” sentiment. This is an album about strength and finding new horizons. And the songwriting on here is similarly ambitious. Whereas the last album relied on simple, driving basslines, crystalline, repetitive melodies and big choruses, this one is much more dynamic, with every song bringing something new to the table, from diving progressive metal-isms in one song, to Pagan’s Mind-esque electronic passages in the next and big, epic riffs in another. This really doesn’t even sound like the same band as albums like Episode, because, frankly, it isn’t – the only remaining members from those days are Timo Koltipelto on vocals and Jens Johanssen on keyboards. New guy on the block Matias Kuipiainen has decided that this is his moment in the spotlight, as he has penned a bunch of these songs, and his guitarwork is more prominent than ever now – heavy, acrobatic and nimble work, with a rich ear for melodies. In fact, he’s pretty much eclipsed the rest of the band, songwriting-wise.

So really, this is a whole new, sleek Stratovarius; a sort of improved model of the old rusty one. Every song is heavy, loud and ambitious, and frankly, the downside to this whole thing is that there are too many different sounds between each song. The variety is nice, but the album kind of sounds like a cobble of single songs put together rather than a full album, without individual songs having anything to really do with one another.

But on the strengths of the songs alone, yeah, this is really well done. Opener “Abandon” is an all-guns-blazing speedster with triumphant choirs and cool lyrics to boot, a sort of ode to wandering the world, no strings attached. An awesome, kick-ass way to open the album. Pop single “Unbreakable” defies convention and introduces some pretty heavy-assed riffs at its climax, and the daunting “Stand My Ground” is one of their darkest songs yet. The blistering “Halcyon Days” with its electronic fluttering in the bridge and its bizarre chorus is probably the most original song on this thing, and it’s also got one of the stickiest, most addictive hooks on the whole album, too.

But really the centerpieces come after that, with “Fantasy” being the most uplifting song they’ve written in years – this is just a great tune, with some mesmeric synth hooks leading into a calm, soothing verse and a real firecracker of a chorus. For a long time in the early years of the previous decade, the Tolkki-led Stratovarius attempted songs like this through higher-pitched vocals and lyrics with more rainbows and eagles in them, but “Fantasy” is the genuine article when it comes to uplifting, high-spirit power metal. The key is in its simple presentation and soaring melodies – no extra fluff needed. This song is so good that it could cheer you up on any bad day, no matter what. A sort of definitive song as to what Stratovarius is all about.

“Out of the Fog,” with its staccato riffing and blitzkrieg-fueled high pitched chorus, is the most atypical Stratovarius song on here, as it sounds almost like a Dragonforce tune, minus the two minutes of insane soloing. But you get all the diving, weaving vocal lines and the intense tempo changes of that infamous band, only done up with a much more dramatic mood and textured vocal performance. This is a song about a soldier going off to war, and the epic lyrics really do a good job at setting the mood. Other tunes like the oppressive, mystical “Castles in the Air” and the epic “One Must Fall” rock out with cool vocal lines and big riffing, with the usual Stratovarius sense of wintry, opaque melodiousness. The title track is a complex tune with a slowly building verse that explodes into a great chorus – this song is standoffish, fiery and probably the one that will need the most time to grow on you, as it also isn’t a very typical Stratovarius tune. But it closes the album out on a really energized note that I always enjoy.

Overall Nemesis has stronger songs than Elysium, but it’s not as consistent thematically and doesn’t listen as a fluid whole as well, and so I’ll just rate them equally at the end of the day. This is a very, very well made album, and its only flaw is just how jarring it is when you listen to it all together, jumping around to so many different musical templates. I guess this is kind of a test-run for this brand new lineup, and they were really excited to get all these fresh ideas on the table, even at the cost of them all sounding good when put together. And I can respect that kind of creative zeal. With all of this ambition, all this epic scope, I think their next album will really be one to watch out for.

Unquestionably their best so far - 98%

SentineLEX, February 25th, 2013

I wasn't sure what to think of this going in. Having a "more modern" sound didn't sound like something Stratovarius had tried before, and the darker sounding songs they promised were certainly a departure from the lighthearted Polaris and reasonably positive Elysium. On the other hand, the band seemed to be growing closer together and was still showing signs of doing so, even with new drummer Rolf Pilve.

Before I heard this album, my favorite two were definitely Episode and Elements Pt. 1. Imagine my surprise when I found out that this album managed to put those two albums together, and then throw in a confident synergy we haven't heard from these guys in nearly 20 years. Along with the promised darker and more modern sounding music.

The later tracks in the album seem to contain loads of inspiration from previous works (especially Porra's and Johannsson's contributions) as well as calling back to the Tolkki era. "Fantasy" hearkens back to the catchy "Hunting High and Low" that almost feels like a guilty pleasure to listen to at times. "Dragons" has an atmosphere that exemplifies the high points of the self-titled Stratovarius album - the powerful drumming a la "Zenith of Power", the edgy guitar (and keyboard) of "Fight!!!", and the choral appeal of "United". The sole ballad, "If the Story is Over", seems to straddle the line between the previous Elysium album, and the lighter works on Infinite.

It's not to say that the whole album is a rehash of the Tolkki era or unoriginal - Matias carefully adds his progressive flair to most of the album, making it interesting and new but still with elements of the same old memorable Stratovarius sound. He's found the middle ground where he's confident enough to deliver his best (which was the missing factor of Polaris), but not overbearing to the point where the other four (three? if you don't count Pilve's drum lines) have barely a say in the content (which was the missing factor of Elements Pt. 2 and Stratovarius). Along with his contributions as the main composer of this album comes the synergy and spirit of this album, as everyone is happy where they are.

Lauri Porra comes back with another one of his seize-the-day songs and delivers "Fantasy", a song that simultaneously features some straightforward rock and lyrics that could make the soundtrack for Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Not one of the high points for me at first, but it definitely grew, and it was a welcome contrast from the first four edgy, progressive tracks of this album.

Jens is back to doing heavy mithril with "Castles in the AIr" and "Dragons". Although technically they have all the same elements as Matias's works, there's a noticeable difference reflecting their different backgrounds - Matias is from a grindcore band and some of his riffs and solos reflect this, while Jens is more keyboard-laden and the intro to "Dragons" has a hint of Jens's previous jazz-fusion solo albums.

Jani also shines on this album, working with Timo Kotipelto to deliver another strong heavy mithril song to this album in "Out of the Fog", as well as possibly the most eloquent and beautiful Stratovarius ballad to date, "If the Story is Over". Both reflect an almost symphonic quality to them that calls to Elements Pt. 1 and its heavily progressive orchestration, especially in the ballad.

Overall, this album succeeds because while it takes the best of Stratovarius before it, it doesn't actually compete with any album or strive to be better. There's no song above seven minutes on this album. There's no Elysium, Elements or Emancipation. It doesn't attempt to outmatch Episode or Destiny, it simply alludes to both of these albums and their styles, and continues with its own Nemesis atmosphere. All of this balance between old and new, balance between all of the different potential playstyles, while still bringing in a new offering to the table is what perfects this album.

Stratovarius is still on their way up, but it'll be hard to beat the bar they've set for themselves here. Then again, people said that about Episode before, and the band has managed to eclipse that album. Until then, Nemesis is and will be a must-have.

European power metal is not dead! - 96%

kluseba, February 8th, 2013

This is something I didn't expect!

While I really liked Stratovarius' previous and more progressive output "Elysium", the band was going through quite hard times including many line-up changes and even after the split with the main songwriter and charismatic guitarist Timo Tolkki, the band had to face several problems. Let's say that with the exception of "Elysium", the band had released four rather bad albums in a row before and I was sceptical about their new output. Their drummer Jörg Michael had to fight cancer and had to be replaced by Alex Landenburg for several concerts. When he was finally back on bord, he soon decided to call it quits and the band had to integrate once again a new member in their line-up. The young Rolf Pilve was chosen as new drummer and he does a quite good job on this first album he recorded with the Finnish power metal veterans without taking too much space.

What really surprised me is not the fact that the band managed to release a very strong record only two years after their last output. It's not the fact that the new band member was nearly perfectly integrated in a quite short time. It's not that this record sounds as if all these problems wouldn't have never had any significiant impact on Stratovarius at all. It's rather the fact that the band moved away from its softer and more progressive sounds and created an energizing and truly metal orientated record with gripping riffs, glorious choruses and loads of fresh ideas. In fact, the band pulls off its greatest record since "Visions" and even beats this power metal milestone. I would go as far to say that this record is clearly the band's second best release ever after the unbeatable "Dreamspace".

I was looking for filler material on this record but there isn't any. Instead, the band kicks of with one of their hardest songs ever which is the energizing "Abandon" that immediately grabs your attention. The sound is crystal clear, the atmosphere is dark, epic and heavy, the riffs are surprisingly fast and brutal and Timo Kotipelto delivers one of his best and most varied vocal performances. Majestic choirs add a truly epic touch to this stunning opener. The guitar solos are fast, melodic and have guts. I would say that this is the best opener the band has ever written to date as it really takes no prisoners and impressed me right from the start.

What follows next is the first single "Unbreakable" which is at least the best single since the famous "Hunting High And Low" thirteen years ago or "S.O.S." fifteen years ago. The song has warm but modern keyboard sounds but also energizing riffs and a catchy main melody as well as a chorus you won't forget anytime soon. This energizing song is an immediate classic and an inevitable live hymn for the concerts to come. While European power metal has been going through rather hard times in the last seven or eight years, this new year 2013 seems to mark a definite return to form for many bands. Together with Helloween's "Nabatea", Stratovarius probably put out the best single of that genre in one decade with "Unbreakable", maybe since Edguy's "King Of Fools" EP back in early 2004.

The great thing is that the band continues on such a high level. "Stand My Ground" starts with an almost industrial feeling and is another very metal orientated track with dark riffs and an almost cinematic atmosphere. The song is fast and anybody who still thinks Stratovarius can only be a soft flower metal band is proven wrong with this song. The more laid back chorus crowns this track with an epic and majestic feeling without sounding too cheesy or predictable. Great melodic guitar solos, a vividly pumping bass guitar and many original keyboard patterns make this song very diversified but it doesn't sound too overloaded to my positive surprise. This song has an almost sacral feeling and is another instant classic.

"Halycon Days" has once again a cinematic touch and is a quite dark and hard track. It's still surprising to hear this kind of music from Stratovarius but at this point anything seems to be possible. The track has atmospheric and almost melancholic verses while the fast paced chorus is incredibly positive and light-hearted. Timo Kotipelto sings like a young god once again. Guess what, this is another killer song.

The rest of the songs vary between very well done tracks and more than just solid anthems even though the first four songs remain my favourite ones. The band manages to mix light-hearted keyboard sounds with surprisingly heavy and sometimes almost thrash metal orientated riffs and epic choruses where the singer does the best work of his entire career so far. From slightly commcercial potential single hits such as the eighties' metal or rock anthem "Fantasy" over classic European power metal anthems that could have also hit the charts fifteen years ago like "Dragons" up to well executed and not too cheesy half ballads as "If The Story Is Over", the band offers anything a fan expects, anything a critical mind needs to get convinced and anything to surprise even those who have remained sceptical towards this band.

This is probably the best European power metal record in years. If you only care a little bit for this genre, than you have no choice but buying this gem. Stratovarius are back and this year finally seems to be a good year for power metal music.