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One can read plenty of comments about how this album was a drastic change and drop in form for Stratovarius. Gone are many of the Euro power metal tendencies, gone is the speed, gone is the neoclassical influence, and gone are the hooks. But if one would cast an ear back to the Elements albums, one can hear - particularly in the second of them - that Stratovarius had already lost a lot of their inspiration and quality even before the whole band went to shit and everybody totally fell out. Lumbering overlong songs like 'Alpha & Omega' and 'Awaken the Giant' are exactly what fans claim this album to be and in some cases listen like a worse version of 'Just Carry On' and 'Leave the Tribe'. Therefore, I refuse to pin the downfall of the power metal sound on Stratovarius and will simply be reviewing this album in the light of its general quality rather than as a particular fork in the band's discography.
Probably the most critical factor in deciding this album's success is what one thinks of the production. If you like drums and want to hear the bass all the time, you will probably leave happy, especially considering that there are plenty of verses without much accompaniment from Timo Tolkki's guitar. Both of those instruments are mixed very loud, the snare smacking through everything and other parts of the drumkit occasionally trying to interrupt Timo Kotipelto as he valiantly struggles to sing above the noise. The bass is not quite so disturbing, actually giving a nice emphasis to some of the slower parts of the album and allowing Jari Kainulainen to shine in a way that had never previously occurred. He doesn't make amazing use of that opportunity, though is solid enough. On the other hand, Jens Johansson and Timo Tolkki seem to have been on the losing end of all the in-band arguments, since the two of them are almost mixed out of the album at times, Tolkki getting a slightly dry guitar tone that mostly loses the battle with the rhythm instruments and Johansson being relegated to the background for the majority, almost as if his keyboards were an afterthought for the songs. In a phrase, did St. Anger have a good mix? Have you heard of the "loudness wars"? Here epitomized.
As for the actual contributions by those musicians, they aren't playing awfully and I might even say that some of the stylistic "darkness" harks a long way back to albums like Twilight Time or Dreamspace, although Tolkki is much less creative with riffs and Kotipelto is a clearly superior singer. Tolkki's issue here is that he doesn't create many excting riffs, except for the few moments where he combines with Johansson, such as the decent opening of 'Gypsy in Me'. Many of the riffs are slow and stomping, something like a hard rock and doom metal cross without the swagger of the former and the crushing emotion of the latter, meaning that the songs are relying on the power of the instruments to carry them along. Also, the overplaying of that type of riff renders the album monotonous in places, whereas the more upbeat numbers ('Gypsy in Me' and 'Fight!!!', in which one exclamation mark was enough) are fairly simple and toneless, though hint at something that would be later picked up to great effect on Nemesis. In part, this is because Johansson's keyboard lines start tending here towards the modern, which actually does something for the atmosphere on the likes of 'Fight!!!' and 'Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power)', while the guitar solos are high points too.
The songwriting, however, is another point on which Stratovarius falls down. Clearly the band's communication had broken down, but the songs just don't seem to have any band unity or intelligent structuring to make the good parts stick. As I have mentioned, there are far too many verses of approximately zero content, simply the same bassline and Jörg Michael's "waiting for something to happen" drumbeat, while the parts with riffs and Kotipelto's vocals at full power sound much better. Even then, there are parts that just had no thought put into them, like the totally random operatic section and terminally shit narrated outro thrown into 'Back to Madness' (which seems aptly named) or the incredibly overlong conclusion to 'Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power)', which initially impresses but then just annoys. I mean, I don't know, maybe the baby at the end of 'Back to Madness' had some creative input on those songs. There are a few decent songs, but the combined merits of 'Gypsy in Me', the nearly-epic closer 'United', and the surprisingly great ballad 'The Land of Ice and Snow' can't redress the balance of awkward or repetitive ideas elsewhere, nor are they empirically outstanding songs, just in the context of the album.
Whatever happened to Stratovarius during the middle of the '00s is history now, although we still have the mark of it in the album before the break-up, this "reunion" album, and the subsequent Tolkki-less Polaris, all of which have their own share of problems. As for Stratovarius, it's not awful but certainly far from great, plus having listened to it twice in a row I now have a headache.
It doesn't happen quite often that I agree with the popular opinion about an album on this side but as it is for "Stratovarius", I must agree with most of the critics in here. When I first heard the album, my impression was: What the hell was that? I was just stunned, but not in a positive or speechless way. If a band titles an album like this, I might imagine that represents the different stylistic ranges and styles of the band but though this album is quite diversified, this isn't the case at all here. Many thing are new, but not typical and this album has no congruity at all. The band gets completely off the trail and this doesn't even have anything of a possible compilation album. Every song is different, but everything is poorly developed, sounds quite random and has no true soul or uniqueness. The reason why I give a better rating to this album than the weak follow up "Polaris" is that this eponymous album is weak and silly but still surprising while the follow up is not even surprising and completely ordinary.
"Maniac dance" is one of the better songs. It sounds quite modern, poppy and cheesy but is at least aggressive and catchy. The final band anthem "United" seems a little bit forced but it has its moments.
The rest can be divided in two different classes. There are boring or weird songs on the record. A really boring one is the absolutely lame "Fight!!!". The might put as many exclamation points as they want, the song is still a dumb disappointment. "Just carry on" in fact carries on with this uninspired boredom. "Gypsy in me" is ordinary power metal and simply rushes past me as well as "Leave the tribe".
Now, there are the weird tracks. "Back to madness" is a song that seems to be composed of three or four different songs that have been cut off and randomly put together. Dramatic opera parts, boring power metal parts, dark and pseudo atmospheric narration parts and finally strange spoken word passages by a baby can be found on this track and nothing fits together but maybe that was the goal of a song talking about madness. At least, it is the most progressive and interesting song on this record and merits to be listened attentively several times. Though, it is still not a very good song but at least somewhat impressive. "Götterdämmerung" seems interesting because of its samples and historical approach and starts promising with an atmospheric introduction but the song gets lost in its horrible and repeating chorus and you don't even hear the samples that are buried by the "Zenith of power" passages. Even Iron Maiden's "The angel and the gambler" is less boring and more original. This ambitious track is an epic failure. "The land of ice and snow" wants to be an epic ballad interlude in the key of a "Celestial dream" but it is filled with strange pathos and quite boring.
The album is different and has somewhat original attempts but there is not a single really well done song on the whole album. The fresh and modern opener "Maniac dance", the epic anthem "United" and the bizarre potpourri of "Back to madness" are worth listening to for very open minded fans but the rest is an epic fail or simply boring scum. What were those guys thinking by recording this stuff? I am not surprised that this piece of inconsistent weirdo broke this band definitely apart.
Now, what kind of rating should one give to such an album? At least, I am able to listen to it from the beginning to the end without being entirely bored and some tracks gained further attention because of their bizarre structures or some catchy passages and that's a positive point. The good can't finally save the negative here as there are many random passages without any emotions or atmosphere. This album isn't good and is finally a huge misunderstanding but still more interesting than ordinary traditional power metal in the key of "Burning Point", "Freedom Call" or overloaded annoying stuff like "Rhapsody of Fire" or "Blind Guardian".
Upon its inception, in the midst of some serious drama behind the scenes, the oddly self-titled 11th offering out of Stratovarius was panned as a complete flop. Most of this owed to its heavily disorganized nature, though the downplaying of the band’s strengths and the inclusion of a groovier, modern sounding character can also be blamed. At that time in late 2005, I concurred with the general sentiment of the masses, and left it to collect dust for about 5 years. Since then, I’ve come to a slight change of heart on just how bad it actually is, though my concurrent objections to the change in musical direction heard on here remains basically the same.
If 2005 can be marked by an apparent slackness amongst Power Metal veterans, this album pretty well underscores it more blatantly than most. But while Gamma Ray and Freedom Call were solely in deficit in the songwriting department, Timo and company have compounded the issue by messing up in the mixing/production category. Much like the latest flop out of Metallica “Death Magnetic”, the drum sound on here is thin and hollow, leaning more towards the popping snare and overloud cymbal sound normally attributed to grunge bands. The riffing has taken a hit as well, but the real tragedy on here is how heavily downplayed the keyboards and chorus sections are. Jens literally may as well not be in the band anymore on 75% of this, and when he is present, all of the Neo-baroque and flashy parts have been completely cut out.
For any who have been following this band since the 90s, there has been a gradual decline in the elaborateness of Tolkki’s riff work and a disproportionate amount of attention paid to his solo work. But while “Infinity” and the two “Elements” albums were over-simplified in the riff department and overblown in the keyboard soloing and bass/drum emphasis, here all of that has fallen away as well and what is left is a tinny shell of hypnotic half-riffs and cliché melodies with a side helping of comical themes. The opener “Maniac Dance” is the worst offender in this department, and comes off as a less sloppy version of some reject from Metallica’s “Reload” era, but this annoying tendency towards bareness and vapidity dominates the next two songs as well.
Once the trinity of boredom concludes and “Back To Madness” begins, the hollow shell of popping drums and banal riffs is replaced with a half-hearted attempt at returning to the longwinded, plodding character of “Elements Pt. 2”, and largely succeeds. While said song and “Gotterdammerung” are both mildly entertaining and show the guitar making something of a return to form, they drag on for a long time and don’t really develop a heck of a lot. The song placed in between then “Gypsy In Me” attempts to channel the up-tempo, rocking fun of “Hunting High And Low”, but doesn’t quite go the distance and is mired by an anti-climactic chorus, though it does bring the keyboards in for a decent solo.
The best two songs found on here creep in towards the end, as the prospects of an old fashioned speed metal assault have obviously evaporated. “The Land Of Ice And Snow” takes the simple route of the serene ballad in the same respect that “Forever” and “A Drop In The Ocean” did, only here the thematic material develops a bit and the song reaches a climax where a restful ballad changes to a down tempo military march with heavy guitars stomping the path. “United” sees Timo and company resorting to yet another homage to the “Heaven And Hell” or “Holy Diver” format (the latter is a bit more fitting as a point of comparison) and takes a few thematic ideas from the “Destiny” classic and closing song “Anthem Of The World”. Essentially, that slow paced, signature bass line always strikes a chord, whether it’s Hammerfall or Sabaton bending it to their respective interpretations and it works just as well here.
Unfortunately, in spite of not being quite the nails on a chalkboard album that I remembered it being 5 years ago, this is not what could be called an essential purchase. It’s a confused, troubled, and rushed release that switches up between being listenable and being annoying. For the core Stratovarius fan or the power metal bargain hunter, I could maybe rationalize blowing $5 on this. It’s a rare honor to not only have your worst album bear your band’s own name, but also to have it be your last collaboration with a set of musicians that you’ve worked with for over 10 years. Timo Tolkki definitely leads a charmed life.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on December 14, 2010.
Stratovarius were having a rough time in 2003 and 2004 after having dramatic issues with each other which was followed by several events. The main one was Timo Tolkki becoming mentally unstable and was sent to a mental hospital as a result. After he recovered from his issues as well as getting back together with the other band members, they recorded another album but turned out to be a complete failure. Not even Tolkki likes this album as stated in an interview two years later.
Sadly, not a single song on this album can be considered good and the only one that comes close to decent is The Land of Ice and Snow, which is actually a ballad! It may sound crazy but it's the closest to being listenable on this catastrophic album. The rest of the songs are either an earsore or plain boring.
Contrary to what some might say, Timo Koltipelto is a great vocalist and shows this in most of the albums he's been in. Although he does a decent job at singing most of the time, he does have a few moments where there's minor pauses in between words. The only real lowlight is in Maniac Dance where the sound production of the vocals is a complete mess. His singing in the rest of the sings is tolerable but nothing special.
The fast rocking tunes Stratovarius made such as Speed of Light and Legions are non-existent here. It's all slow to mid-tempo songs and although versatility is a good thing, we all know Stratovarius really shine with their fast songs. Even if you ignore the fact that none of the songs are as fast as one would desire, there are still a lot of flaws with the riffs and solos. Tolkki clearly threw his writing skills out of the window. The majority of the riffs are very basic and unimaginative and may be heard on previous albums. The worst riffs are Maniac Dance and Fight for the painfully bad writing.
The solos are nowhere near as good as in Stratovarius' classics. The solos are either really messy like in Maniac Dance and Back to Madness or bland as hell such as the ones in Just Carry On and United. The worst is Maniac Dance's incredibly dumb solo where it can't seem to make up its mind on the pitching and on top of that, it makes a stupid "WAAAAAH, waaaaaah, WAAAAAH, waaaaaah" at the end of it which hardly makes any sense.
The bass performance is another weak factor. For someone who's done a fine job as a bassist in the band since Dreamspace (but left after this travesty), this is appalling and a major step back from the previous works. The worst of the bass is in Maniac Dance where Jari seems to have completely messed up the tuning after the guitar solo ends. The rest of the bass performance is utterly forgetful.
The drumming has some terrible moments. Most of the time Jorg Michael sounds like he's bashing the drums and makes the listener wonder why he didn't think carefully about the snare drum settings. Good examples of bad snare drum hitting can be found in Back to Madness, Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power) and United. While it's not as painful as St. Anger's trash cans, it's still inadequate.
Jens Johansson isn't a bad keyboardist but he used a wretched model to play for the recording sessions. There are terrible and unnecessary sound effects played such as Fight's space noises and Maniac Dance's Atari-like intro. When not creating stupid noises, Jens still does a poor job for the album by playing badly-pitched pieces as you can hear in the solo for United and the intro for Gypsy in Me. Gypsy in Me also contains a terrible keyboard solo that's completely out of the place in the whole song.
A fair amount of tracks suffer from random pieces of music thrown in together. Some of the intros are so bad that shortening them would have improved the songs they are introducing. Maniac Dance could have easily dropped the idiotic Atari sound effects while Back to Madness' violin and keyboard part is just filler and doesn't create any tension. None of the intros are well structured and don't show any strong characteristics.
Looking outside the intros, several songs suffer from randomness and pointless sections such as Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power), United and most of all, Back to Madness. Back to Madness has the biggest issues with randomness and pointless sections with a male opera singer interrupting the song half-way and the ending throwing out nonsense with random shouting, a silly narration and a young girl talking gibberish to the microphone to conclude the song.
Leaving the Tribe and The Land of Ice and Snow aren't as bad as the other songs but the main issue for the former song is how dull and generic it is. There's hardly any energy to it and offers nothing new to the Stratovarius catalogue. As for The Land of Ice and Snow, this is the album's ballad and surprisingly the most listenable one out of the lot but it's pulled down by a different accent coming out from nowhere when Koltipelto reads the line "Where Koskenkorva flows" as well as the whole band needlessly playing for a few lines all of sudden.
The lyrics in general are very poor. Several songs are based on Tolkki's recent troubles with his life prior to the recording sessions. Some of these lyrics are laughably bad such as the choruses for Maniac Dance and Fight. The former makes no sense whatsoever and makes you wonder what Tolkki was thinking when he wrote the lines. As for Fight, the lyrics are horribly cliché and while power metal lyrics are ridiculous and cheesy most of the time, the majority of songs have no originality whatsoever.
In conclusion, Stratovarius' self-titled album is an atrocity. While some songs are barely listenable, it doesn't compensate the fact that the whole band hardly played their own part right. There are unnecessary and out of place segments thrown in, some songs are longer than necessary and the lyrics are pathetic. This was Stratovarius' low point of their career. Fortunately, they got better from this after Timo Tolkki left to focus on his then-new band Revolution Renaissance. Despite being the leader of the band for over 20 years, it was for the better.
Stratovarius were always a respectable band, as even their weakest albums (Elements pt. 1, for example) still packed catchy choruses and an overall serious sensibility for melody and songwriting. But not this album. This is their so-called 'reunion' album, less than two years after Elements pt. 1 and 2. It's barely even a reunion album, since the band wasn't even split up for that long after all of the bullshit drama going on between them (from what I hear, they pissed on eachother and got in fights on stage, Tolkki felt the compelling desire to hire two bodyguards, etc etc etc). It all sounds ridiculous to me, but hey, they had a new album, right? The fans can rejoice, and all is well again, eh?
Stratovarius went and dug their own graves with this one, as this is just about the most tepid, droning, boring pile of shit the band ever recorded. Instead of taking the safe route, they decided to do something new and go for a darker sound. Change is never a bad thing, but when you take a tried-and-true power metal style of soaring choruses, rapid-fire double bass drumming, and winding, neoclassically tinged solos, and turn it into a mess of groovy, monotonous riffs and forgettable "hooks", with some of the lamest and most ridiculous choruses ever, then it's safe to say that you've gone and shot yourself in the foot. Stratovarius is indeed a darker album than it's predecessors, if your definition of "dark" involves such terms as "plodding" or "slow." But aside from the lyrics (more on those later), this is still primarily a power metal album, and it still reeks of the same light, catchy fluffiness we always knew from Stratovarius.
This is barely even a metal album at times, leaning more toward some kind of hard rock-ish mess with the oddly simplistic, grooving rhythms and choruses, and the rather 'open' feeling of the production. That wouldn't be so bad if the band was writing good songs, but the fact of the matter is, Stratovarius don't seem to have in them the ability to write a compelling, interesting, or original song anymore. Let us take a brief glance at the song "Back to Madness" for the grossest and most obtuse example of this. The song still vaguely sounds like the Stratovarius we all know, albeit slower and with much less keyboard presence, and everything is peachy. The lyrics are even pretty cool, until out of nowhere, the song just drops out into a male opera singer, who proceeds to drill into our poor, unsuspecting brains for at least a minute, until the song goes back to the same monotony as before. There isn't even any clever buildup to the aforementioned dropout; it just happens. I'd really love to know what the band was thinking when they recorded this song, because it's such a confusing, amateurish display of fuckery that it makes my head spin, especially coming from such an established, veteran band.
The musicianship here isn't anything to complain about, but it's nothing that redeems the sins Stratovarius have committed either. Timo Koltipelto's vocals are at the forefront of the mix, and he doesn't utilize his infamous high notes at all, going more for a somber midrange. His vocals here don't bother me much, although I don't like how he extends a note and just holds it there on the "epic" songs here. It surely fits the heavier, grooving riffs, but it doesn't sound good at all. Speaking of heavier riffs, Timo Tolkki's guitar has also been pushed to the forefront, and while there are some interesting ideas in "Maniac Dance", I can't remember any other cool solos or riffs or anything, from any other song here. He plays heavier, but it's just too simple, too elementary. As a result, the keyboards have been pushed back, and don't even show up in most of the songs for very long at all. If not for how dull the music was, I would count this as a plus. The drums and bass fulfill their purpose, but except for the fact that the drums are too loud, I don't have any quips with them.
Lyrics are a sticky point. Most of the lyrics on this album were written by Timo Tolkki, who, if you know the band's history, had been having quite the rough time before this album came out. "Maniac Dance", "Back to Madness", and "Leave the Tribe" all focus on his problems and life struggles, and I can't say they're very well written or enjoyable. I mean, come on! "Do the maniac dance"? I never did like lyrics that expressed personal troubles so bluntly, but this just takes a bad thing and makes it worse. The remainder of the songs hold the prize for having just about the most generic, uninspired lyrical puke ever vomited upon this earth. I hope Stratovarius didn't think they were the first band to write a song with a title containing the words 'Carry On', and their 'Oops-we-ran-out-of-ideas' rendition of the Nazi regime in "Gotterdammerung" is nothing if not pretentious and idiotic, just another 'Oh, Hitler was so terrible and powerful' rant that we've seen a thousand times from a thousand better bands.
In all reality, this album isn't mind-numbingly terrible or anything. It's not the kind of thing that you'd want to run screaming from, and I've certainly heard worse departures of sound from other bands (Nocturnal Rites, for instance). It's just really fucking boring, is what it is. Half of the songs here aren't that bad at all, but just suffer from a certain lack of enthusiasm and liveliness that Stratovarius always had on their older albums. This is the work of a tired, weather-torn band, a band that has aged, and not for the better. None of the songs here are exciting, and I'll have to point out "Gotterdammerung (Zenith of Power)" and "Leave the Tribe" as especially sleep-inducing, with boring, basic riffs and bland choruses that don't soar or fly at all. The former doesn't need to be 7 minutes long, either, especially not with such an awful chorus, and the latter is probably the worst song the band has ever written in their entire career. Several songs here are far too long for their own good, and it really cripples the album even more. It all just comes back to the lackluster songwriting prowess the band is sporting these days, and that's the worst thing about this album---Stratovarius just doesn't know how to make good music anymore. All we can do is sigh, shake our heads, and then move on to listen to better music instead.
Did it ever happen to you to wake up, go to (work/school/bordello/hell) and come back home to find that your mother-in-law screwed everything in your place just 'cause she felt it was the time and the place to do it ???
Let's get it straight: Not only were we used to some kind of particular genre with Stratovarius, but they were pillars and pioneers of the genre. Melodic Power Metal with blistering double-bass speed, guitar solos, majestic keyboards, soaring vocals and chugging bass ?
Just after Stratovarius's fans woke up from the "Tolkki-fucks-the-machine-up" nightmare, we went to work and tried to get the new album. We were DEFINITELY hoping to hear something from the Golden Days, ya know, Visions-like shit. But ooooooh fuck no, Tolkki couldn't allow this.
What happened with Stratovarius is in many ways what happened with Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax in the early 1990's. Let's slow everything down to the speed of a tortoise, forget a couple of solos, no more high screams or ball-breaking cries of despair. Hell, the first single "Maniac Dance" is great, but it sounds, in many aspects, like "Enter Sandman" !!!! WHAT..... THE..... F*** ?!?!?!?! It gets worse (well, not worse..... less interesting) as the CD goes on. "Fight!" is the closest you'll get to classic Stratovarius, "The Land Of Ice And Snow" is a forgettable, boring ballad about Finland (I guess, given the title). And the other songs are, generally, more of the same kind of slow Heavy Metal.
There are some good songs to hear in a show, though. "Maniac Dance" is a demoniac headbanger live, "The Land Of Ice And Snow" is a nice cooldown song, but it gets long. "United" is also a great sing-along.
So yeah, really, I missed the train for this one. I'll get back on the next album !!!!
They say that everything that is old always becomes new again. Cyclical in nature, the style of modern metal is beginning to take on more than just the glammed-out visuals of the eighties (albeit it in a much darker form), but now we see Stratovarius, a band more often associated with progressive metal doing an awful imitation of the Sunset Strip sound in “Maniac Dance.” Frontman Timo Kotipelto vocalizes over a completely sleaze metal riff as he were hanging out at the Cathouse with Riki and Taime for one drink too many. It escapes the imagination as to why the band would choose this decidedly retro-sounding cut to be the album’s lead-off track. More likely than not, the group are looking for commercial acceptance in the waiting arms of American audiences, but this track would be best considered to be a good example of a Dr. Feelgood-era Crue b-side at best. Really, gentlemen. Who do you think that you’re fooling with this one?
“Stratovarius” is without a doubt a move to commercialize the band. On certain occasions it works in the band’s favor. “Fight”, being equal parts Scorpions and Europe, comes off as a solid track. Nothing extraordinary, mind you. Older metal fans have heard this type of metal done before, but that’s just fine and overall, Strato do a fair job with their bubblegum Euro shtick. It is when the more progressive nature of the ensemble comes across in songs such as the anthemic “Carry On” that followers of the band will begin to get really excited.
Echoes of Queensryche are touched upon in the music on sporadic occasions. “Back To Madness” carries a similar prog rock bent as Q experimented with during the “Mindcrime/Empire” era. It’s an influence that lies beneath the surface for the most part, as the band infuse an operatic break in the middle part of the track that serves to maximize the dramatic effect imparted during the song’s coda.
As the album progresses, it actually improves. When Stratovarius stick with what they do best, they enjoy an impressive amount of success. “Gypsy In Me” is a strong, middle-of-the-road metal cut, while things really get interesting with Gotterdammerung (Zenith Of Power), a song that finds Strato doing what they do best – balancing power and melody with precision and style and in doing so, they come off as being tough yet tuneful.
At the end of the day, this record will please many long time followers of the band, and although the first track is decidedly out of place on the record, it will likely garner the band a few new listeners as well. Stratovarius may be moving toward more of a rock sound on the whole, but the end result is commendable, proving why the band is one of the most respected groups to hail from Europe amongst metal circles today.
Stratovarius has come to be a bit of a joke. What with all the drama and publicity and sheer ridiculousness, it seemed like they'd never have time to record another album. However, as it tunrs out, they did. Unfortunately, the media reports are more interesting than this album.
Stratovarius' 1989 debut, Fright Night sounded more like a faster Candlemass than the power metal icons they are today. By their third, Dreamspace, they were playing a deliciously riff-laden style of power metal in the style of Gamma Ray or older Blind Guardian. Around Visions or Destiny, the keyboards started to take over, and their past two (Elements I and II) were a horrid mess of epic Rhapsody style keyboarding.
Fortunately, we don't have another one of those. This self-titled album cuts back on the keyboards for the most part, and relies a bit more on Tolkki's great guitar skills. Say what you want about him, but Tolkki can play the guitar. Kotipelto can sing too. Unfortunately, neither seem to know just what their good at, what with Kotipelto trying to hit notes far out of his reach, and Tolkki stuck playing chords through much more than it's worth.
We start this album with Maniac Dance, the single. It's a generic Stratovarius single track. It's fast and keyboard laden with a fun catchy chorus and memorable verses...wait, what?! Unexpectedly, this is a midtempo, almost thrashy song. Much of it isn't half bad either, though the chorus is pretty bland.
After this, we have two rather good songs, Fight! and Just Carry On. Both are uptempo Stratovarius classics in the vein of S.O.S. or Forever Free. Flying choruses, driving beats, this is what the Stratovarius fans want. These two are definitely the best two on the album, along with track 5, Gypsy in Me, a similar song, without being quite as good.
Tracks 4 and 6, cannot be said the same about. These are Back to Madness and Gotterdamnerung. Both are around seven minutes, which is about twice as long as they have any right at being. Back to Madness is a longass plodding ballad with this really stupid part where a MALE opera singer steps in. It's the perfect example of a song that just doesn't work. Gotterdamnerung is a bit better, as there's a faster part that sounds kind of like Fight!. However, the rest is wasted on both an overly long intro, an overly long intro, and that horrible, horrible chorus. ZINEETH OF POOOOOOWEEEEEER...ZINEETH OF POOOOOOWEEEEEER. Trust me, it's bad. If you guys are going to repeat the song title, at least learn how to pronounce it.
The next two songs are The Land of Ice and Snow and Leave The Tribe. Two slow plodding songs that you will immediately forget entirely. The former is somewhat atmospheric, but nothing really saves either. The album ends with yet another plodding epic, United, which isn't all bad, and has some pretty neat parts, and a pretty good chorus (expecially compared to some of the other bastadizations we have here).
Overall, this is no triumphant return. We have three good songs, two passable ones, and four lame, plodding, over-pretentious songs. Hopefully they'll fix these problems for the next one, as it could end up quite good. Sadly, it seems more probable that this band is going to stay just as washed up, if not more so, over the next few albums, untill they finally fall apart for good.
Ok haha, very cute....stop hiding Ashton, the jig is up! Oh, but sadly this jokeis NO joke! You know, power metal is a strange animal in that the album can and will do ONLY one of two things and that is either, perform a musical castration of the listener rendering him powerless to hit the STOP button....or....it'll be kinda, sorta, not really that good but not that bad. Those are the only two things that ever happen, and if you can guess by the score above, guess which one happened to me?!
This album, wow am i using that term, is in a word....horrendous. It just goes to show ya that drugs & alcohol aren't always positive influences in music and they may morph you into a talentless, blithering hack. This is what has happened to the boys in Stratovarisucks. They've been around for some time, released some OK material and all of a sudden they drop off.....and then like a John Edwards "miracle" (You said your mother wore blue shoes? Oh dear sweet baby jesus, he's right!) they come back from the dead. Wow, what could a marginally talented band have to say after a short leave of seemingly blissful absence. DO THE FUCKING MANIAC DANCE! No ladies and gentlemen, i kid you not....please, 'DO' the maniac dance if you could please. The riffs, they're juvenile, poppish and univentive. All the characteristics of a comeback album being headed by a total fucking wreck of human being. The drumming has, get this shit, DIGRESSED from the past Strato albums into this bon jovi esque "hard-radio rock" percussion that may produce an epileptic fit if listened to for too long. The bass just finds itself trying to keep up with everyone else, and believe me it's hard to keep up with people who don't know what they're doing.
To dissect every song would be useless here, i'm just here to forewarn those who are die-hard fans. I'm trying to stop a visit to the hospital to see grandpa, or at least whats left of him after being pricked, prodded, tubed for 10 plus years. My point being, it isn't going to be the same grandpa who used to slip you fifty bucks for mouthing off to your incompetant grandmother. Just stay the fuck away from this garabage. You want to talk about artistic merit? I think barnyard animal porn has more thought behind it than this piece of shit. And i find it even more humorous that THIS is the album they saw fit the title after the fucking bands name, wise wise move boys. Way to leave a nasty taste in your fans mouths.
Right, I'm not going to bore you with another rendition of the story behind this album. Essentially, Tolkki was an arsehole, everyone quit, Tolkki realised he'd been an arsehole (I hope), they all realised they need each other more than they originally thought, and they were back together. Phew.
Anyway, for a 'comeback' album of sorts, this one is quite surprising. You would expect a safe, more-of-the-same release. Elements Part III, in other words. This album is not Elements Part III. The changes to the established sound are, as I say, rather surprising. The album doesn't feel like a Power Metal album, or at least does not feel like a Stratovarius-type album. The band seems to be consciously steering away from some of the more fruity excesses of Power Metal. Sometimes this works to great effect, at other times I was left scratching my head.
- There is very little use of double bass drumming. This is slightly disappointing, but hopefully few people will make the mistake of assuming the lack of double bass equates to bad drumming, something Jorg Michael is incapable of. This at least means there no verses that are just singing and constant pedal pounding (yes, of course I'm looking your way here, Rhapsody).
- Jens Johansson's contribution on this offering, as OSheaman has pointed out, is minimal - he will occasionally throw in an inspired solo or lead part, but for the most he is in the background, gently nudging things along. This is probably the biggest change to the sound, which of course leads to...
- ...a much greater guitar presence. There are actually audible riffs on this album, a bit of a Strato rarity in the last few years. This, coupled with the toned-down keys and double bass, gives the album an almost hard-rock feel at times.
- Again in keeping with the non-Power Metal vibe is the performance of Timo Kotipelto - he does not, at a single moment I can recall, go ball-squelchingly high. Unfortunately this serves to highlight that his midrange is not one of the best in the genre - he is no Daniel Heiman when it comes to the more-toned down stuff. It’s rarely a huge problem, but I'll outline later why the band seems to have shot themselves in the foot a little on this one.
- The bass? Jani is his usual self; he's just there, doing his job, steady and unspectacular.
Right, onto the songs. I won't be doing an extensive breakdown of each song, but I'll go through them quickly. You see, there are actually no bad songs on this album. Not one. But Jesus if there aren't some major stumbles along the way in some of them, which I'll be only to happy to point out.
1 - Maniac Dance. A real hard rocker, with a riff to really shake your head to. The lyrics are pretty tiresome, about how Tolkki had some problems but he conquered them 'cause he's cool as fuck. Whatever, it's a great opening track.
2 - Fight!!! Worst title ever!!! This is a really up-tempo track, feels a lot more Power Metal than the opener. Love the chorus, good solo, needs more double bass.
3 - Just Carry On. The first song that sounds identifiably Stratovarius (wait for the singing to start). Choir vocals and stuff. What this song is lacking is the Power Metal cliché everyone loves (or should love). The last 30 seconds of the song before it starts to fade is just the chorus being repeated, and I sat waiting for Timo to start shrieking it, and it just doesn't happen. A big opportunity missed.
4 - Back To Madness, our first ballad of the proceedings, ushered in by some string arrangements that give way to gentle acoustic pickings. The problem with this song is a serious "BUH???" moment in the middle. All of a sudden things give over to an opera singer wailing away in the background. For a full minute we're tortured by this guy before we get rescued by a good solo. Sanity is then restored and the song continues. Jeez, what were they thinking?
5 - Gypsy In Me. This one is more like Just Carry On, another song that you could more easily pick out as a Strato number. Jens plays a bigger part here. All in all another fine track.
6 - Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power). Yeah, another song about how the Nazis weren't very nice guys. This is the second song on the album to cut its own throat. Things are proceeding along nicely with a big evil (for Stratovarius) riff, and it’s shaping up nicely as an epic until the damn chorus. ZEEN-ITH OF POW-EEEEEER. Over and over and over again. Oh man, is that really the best they could do? There's a great solo section in this song, but it all keeps leading back to that damn chorus. Oh, and Hitler talks at the end. Well, it made me laugh.
7 - The Land of Ice and Snow. Too short! Too damn short! I was digging this little ballad that I assume is about Finland. Kotipelto's voice is just great here, and the keyboards are imitating this sad little wind instrument, but it just sort of...ends. Where's the bastard-size solo? Where? Another opportunity missed.
8 - Leave The Tribe. This fades in from The Land of Ice and Snow and continues the somewhat depressed vibe in a 'heavier' way. The chorus brightens things up a bit. I don't get the lyrics, but whatever, it’s another good song.
9 - United. This is the 'big anthem' of the album. The lyrics are pretty vile, about how it was destiny (rather than their bank managers) that brought the band back together, but it's a real crowd-pleaser in the making. The music is good enough to actually carry the cheap sentiment along. Put it this way, I'd love to be in the crowd when they play this one.
Conclusions: As I said earlier, there isn't a single outright bad song to be found here. If only it wasn't for the major fuck-ups in a couple of songs and a couple that could don't realise their potential, I'd be quite happily giving this record a 90.
Top songs: Maniac Dance, Just Carry On, United.
Stratovarius are back, and they're loud, heavy, and ready to kick some ass. The new s/t is undoubtedly their heaviest work yet, and the band is in top form after all the drama of 2004. I'm not going to go into all the drama of the band's recent turmoil. Requiem touches on that and it's all been discussed to death. Instead I'm going to focus on this excellent quasi-reunion album that easily qualifies as classic Stratovarius.
I said this album is the heaviest Stratovarius album, and I'm not kidding. We're talking Kiss of Judas-level intensity here. Except for the little keyboard ditties introducing some of the songs, just about everything on here is chock full of power chords and riffage. Of particular note is the drumming, which really stands out on this album. Michael is given gigantic leadins and great counter-rhythms to the guitar line and it really gives a professional feel to the album. Everyone else is in top form, especially Tolkki who has an increased presence on the album and uses it to load up with powerful riffage and awesome solos. The keyboards are quite minimal in the album; I think Jens gets a couple of melody lines under the guitar and a few intros but other than that he is a relatively minor presence in the album. As for Kotipelto, one gets the feeling that he is really trying to expand his abilities as a vocalist on the album. He plays with his inflection and tonal quality a lot to create different styles on different songs, which really helps add to the variety of the music on the album.
I have always maintained, and I will until my dying day, that the best part of Stratovarius is the amazing variety of songs they can pull off on any given album, and the s/t is no exception. From the hard rockish Maniac Dance to the full out assault of Fight!!! to the soothing ballad of Land of Ice and Snow to the powerful epic sounds of Götterdämmerung, Stratovarius has something for just about every major style of Power Metal. While you probably won't like every song on the album (unless you're a fanatic like me), you'll almost certainly like a few on here, and there are very few weaknesses to detract from the overall strength of the album.
There are a couple of "what the fuck" moments on here, most notably Back to Madness, which is easily the worst song on here and features, in what I hope is some sick practical joke by Tolkki, an unbelievably retarded pseudo-operatic part around the three minute mark that defies the traditional boundaries of the word "gay." Overall, however, this album is a triumphant success for Stratovarius and is definite proof that, even after all the shit that has torn them apart, they're still the kings.