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Now we all know about Stratovarius's problems in the past few years so I won't go into it. But I will talk about some of the problems I had with Tolkki's style. Tolkki played it way too safe, and while he enjoys fast paced metal mixed with slower progressive/ neoclassical stuff just as much as the next symphonic metal guy he just wasn't that good at it. He is decent, better than other bands and especially improving in the symphonic element in the Infinity - Elements era. The album Stratovarius was a complete flop and in my opinion showed the end of Tolkki's creativeness and good song writing. At first I wasn't sure what to think of Stratovarius without Tolkki, I mean sure their last album (written by Tolkki) was terrible, but with him Stratovarius had written some of my favorite metal material of all time. Fortunately his replacement is not only proficient, he's fricking insane! Matias Kupianen is one of the greatest guitar players of all time and he is a far superior guitar player and songwriter that Tolkki.
Now I know that this album plays it a little safe, but it his Matias's debut album with Stratovarius and I'm sure he just wanted to make sure it was good and well thought of, and it certainly is. The highlights of this album are: Deep Unknown, Winter Skies and Higher We Go. Deep Unknown is a fast paced yet progressive metal song that really shows off the new direction Stratovarius is heading in and I absolutely love it. Higher We Go is another fast paced metal song more in keeping with songs like Hunting High and Low. It's fast, fun and catchy and an instant hit with a really good chorus. Winter Skies is in my opinion Stratovarius's best ballad yet, it has a very cool feel to it with that new style present in this album and a really cool piano solo.
Now because it's a two part-er and probably what most people are going to notice first when looking on the back of the CD I am forced to mention the Emancipation Suite. I personally don't really dig these songs, the second one is better than the first, but in general these two are just boring. Very slow and methodical with no points of real interest. They're obviously supposed to be like the classic Mother Gaia, but they're just no where near as good. Blind on the other hand is a completely different story, the combination of baroque era neoclassical style mixed with metal is really cool and makes this song fun to listen too from start to finish with a really catchy chorus to boot.
So how is this band without it's songwriter that wrote every single album before this one? Better than ever before. Matias Kupianen is a true musical genius and I can't wait to hear Stratovarius's next releases and I hope that they are even better than this one.