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Holy fuck, man, weren't these guys playing shitty groove rock or something the last time we heard from them? You wouldn't know it at all from this album! The loss of front-man Timo Tolkki proved to be the perfect antidote for the growing musical cancer upon Stratovarius' collective minds, as Polaris is just a super-solid album in all respects, the sound of a completely rejuvenated, reborn band. Armed with a new guitarist in Fist in Fetus axeman Matias Kuplainen, the band seems ready to take on the world once again with a sound that is both old and new.
The songwriting on here is very good on all fronts, with input from every band member rather than just that fucking hack Tolkki. Gee, isn't that an innovative idea? A band working together to craft albums instead of just letting one asshole do all the work? It's positively inconceivable! These songs are all energetic, dynamic and completely electrified with the old school Stratospirit, except now it seems like they have a bit more breadth with which to work, without the increasingly stagnant and lifeless guitar playing and production from Tolkki to bog them down. They all sound lively, kicking like a newborn child fresh out of the womb, with pristine melodies and smooth, sticky hooks to match. Folks, this is Power Metal played like it should be, and with the collective input from all of the band members, this album sounds like it came straight from the heart.
There is really no flat-out bad song on this album, with even the weaker ones still being quite endearing and entertaining to listen to. "Deep Unknown" is a great opener, with its huge chorus and diving musical accomplishments, and it's followed up with some highly progressive tracks from this bunch in "Falling Star," which is midpaced and more atmospheric than most Stratovarius songs, and "King of Nothing," which is a frigid, almost industrially tinged track with Koltipelto's clear wails breaking the ice like a metallic sledghammer. "Blind" is more traditional, with a great hook (although the acoustic intro part is very interesting for them, sounding like something off a Viking metal album before it explodes into the speedy guitars), and "Winter Skies" is my pick for best on here, with its soaring chorus and absolutely heartbreaking melodies - maybe the best song they've ever done.
"Forever is Today" and "Higher We Go" are fast, happy and catchy numbers that won't fail to please in the least, and then "Somehow Precious" is a ballad that doesn't stick out too much, but certainly doesn't offend at all. The "Emancipation" suite starts off a bit iffy, sounding a little close to "Babylon" off of the Episode album, but by the second part, you will be as entranced by it as I was. "When Mountains Fall" is another ballad, closing the album in a more moody, mellow way than you would expect, sounding sort of like "Forever," but still possessing its own flavor. Very sweet little song. The lyrics on here, from what I can discern, have completely ditched the whole sunshine n' rainbows thing the last few albums had going on in favor of a more storytelling approach, with some morals and motivational twists for good measure.
Overall, Polaris is a worthwhile experience, sounding like both a brand new band and a triumphant return in the same powerful stroke. I don't think this album is quite the best we'll get from this new lineup, though, as it does sound a bit like the band was just testing the waters and trying out their new sound. Me, I think the best is to come, with the band's next album having the potential to really revolutionize the Power Metal scene in a way it much needs, but really, this is good enough for now. With every single note sounding totally revitalized, completely wholesome and always like the band is thanking God that Timo Tolkki is gone, Polaris is a worthy purchase that you should not miss if you like Power Metal at all.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com