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There seems to be a trend of rerecording material to introduce a new vocalist or other band member in power metal circles, at least insofar as a number of prominent bands who are following the lead of Iced Earth who have done this several times since the mid 1990s. Stratovarius marks their induction into this mode of ice breaking by revisiting some recent territory that is, admittedly of a fairly wide mix of stylistic directions within latter day Timo Tolkki works and present practices. Young drumming talent Rolf Pilve already has a large number of projects under his belt, and his past work with Dreamtale definitely makes him an appropriate choice given the commonality of style, but his approach is definitely distinct from that of Jorg's, and tends to come off as even more strictly structured and not quite as arena-oriented in it's production quality.
Naturally there is a lot more different going on here than just a brand new drummer after 16 years of the same talent behind the kit, and it culminates in yet another stylistic shift in songwriting on this single's new song "Unbreakable". The elaborate progressive grooves and impressive technical lead fits have been scaled back in favor of a straight rocker that is somewhat similar to older numbers like "Eagleheart" and "Hunting High And Low" in its simplicity, but also slower at first (it picks up later) and denser in atmosphere, seeming to take a few symphonic and epic cues from Nightwish. The feel is definitely much heavier than even the chunkier riffs heard on "Elysium", and the keyboards take on a bit more prominence in melodic contour as the guitars and bass unite with the drums to provide a massive crushing groove to carry the softer timbres at the top of the arrangement, which is super catchy and largely free of the wild upper ranged vocal gymnastics that Kotipelto tends to indulge in frequently.
The rerecording of past material tends mostly to be an affair in rehashing the same territory with maybe a slight play on atmospherics by playing up a more modern guitar and drum sound. The highlights are actually the material of the early 2000s, as the heavier and clearer interpretation of the "Infinite" cruiser "Freedom" profits much from the upgrade. This song was always catchy enough to rival older speeders like "Legions" and "Black Diamond", but the super-posh production of the album it was on and the over-representation of dry balladry surrounding it always detracted some of the enjoyment factor. "Why Are We Here" actually comes off more like the vintage 80s Malmsteen homage that it was trying to be more than 10 years ago given the stronger keyboard presence and lighter bass sound, not to mention that Kotipelto's voice has far greater clarity due to a much better mixing and production job.
This is fodder for hardcore fans of Stratovarius alone, it has little appeal to anyone who has their past 5 albums and is planning on picking up a copy of "Nemesis". Everything is adequate and the new material sound very promising, but unlike other albums where rerecording older songs usually comes with a completely different interpretation, these remakes come off more like remasters. But for anyone doubting whether anyone could fill Jorg Michael's shoes, the answer found on here is a resounding yes.
With the release of Stratovarius's latest single, they've definitely gone in a new, unexpected direction. Gone is the lighthearted, meandering and progressive sound of Polaris and the slightly darker but still meandering sound of Elysium. Unbreakable is heavier, more straightforward, and more memorable, and really shows how the band has surpassed itself more and more as time goes on.
If I had to compare it to any previous single, I would definitely say it's comparable to Maniac Dance. Both songs don't feature keyboards much except for the intriguing intro, and are heavy-hitting compared to others such as I Walk To My Own Song or SOS. But where Maniac Dance marked the tensions and disintegration of the band, Unbreakable marks the unity and harmony of the new band and the new drummer Rolf Pilve.
Pilve himself has a more clear-cut pattern to his drumming than Michael did, and with the release of Nemesis we can explore it further and see if this will be good or bad for future releases. But as far as this song goes, he and Matias really take their time to shine, notably on the solo and the part right after.
As for the other four, they're interesting choices to put on the EP. "The Game Never Ends" was split from the bottom up; all the instrumentation that wasn't so noticeable before is now clarified and brought closer to the front (although still underneath everything else).
The biggest and most audible change has to be to "Freedom". A big problem I had with about 70% of Jari Kainulainen's work with Stratovarius is not actually being able to hear Jari Kainulainen. This remastery fixes that problem right up and now I know for a fact that there was a bassist in this song. Hopefully this means we'll get to hear more of Porra in the album, which is always a good thing.
All that aside, this is definitely heralding a strong release on Strat's part and I'm excited to hear the rest of the album!