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I would think that an album as critically acclaimed by the band's fans would turn out to be quite something. Unfortunately, this album didn't even come close to that. In fact was one of the most banal albums of the Tolkki era.
There's definitely good moments. "The Kiss of Judas" is a splendid opener for this album, and ideally would be the centerpiece of this album - dark riffs, powerful drumming, and quasi-religious lyrics. "Legions" is another energetic song, and although more fanservice than anything, it's got a great buildup with nice balances between the guitar and keyboard, and leads to the beautiful chorus of this song.
"Paradise" isn't very interesting musically, but definitely is thematically and lyrically. It's a look into the future if anything, apt for this album in particular. The lyrics and the theme of nature dying sounds like this song could be on the future Infinite instead of Visions, although the lack of the symphonic and lighthearted (almost) element of Infinite makes this song more focused on the negative aspects of it all. The ending has a lot in common with the general sound of what would be Sonata Arctica's first two albums as well.
A lot of the songs start out good, but get progressively more vapid and lose their aim over the course of time. The best example of this would be Visions (Southern Cross), with a captivating intro and memorable, driving guitar melodies throughout. It starts losing its luster about three minutes in, however, as this song stops driving itself and starts dragging on. Three more minutes later it tries to regain some glory, but then again starts falling into the pits of disinterest. Of the many 9-minute-plus songs that Stratovarius has written, this is the only one to date that I have had to force myself to listen through in the end.
And then there's the low points. "Before the Winter" is probably the worst ballad Stratovarius has done. It's overly long, emotionless (not for lack of trying) and out of place with the songs before and after it. "Holy Light" is mediocre from the get-go, and only gets worse after two minutes when the only semi-driving section of the song ends.
Maybe it was just this aura of awesomeness built around it, but most of Visions was a disappointment and by far the worst album of the Episode-Destiny era.
Legends tend to be overblown, but often times they are also quite deserved. And though there is some stiff competition between this album’s predecessor and a few advocates of the one that came after (including myself), “Visions” is often pointed to as the pinnacle of all things Stratovarius. The most distinctive part of this particular chapter in Tolkki’s collection of melodic tales is the streamlined songwriting and formulaic pacing that has since became a standard of their signature sound, barring the recently releases after the aforementioned songwriter’s exodus. But more auspicious than the evident shift towards a standardized system of song creation is the potency of the lot, which is all but a pure shot of adrenaline when compared to the hit or miss releases that followed the close of the 90s.
One thing that is important to keep in mind with any Stratovarius album is that the late 90s was more of a revival of an existing style with a few stylistic tweaks, and they were among the more typical models for the scene at that point. “Visions” can be seen as a gloriously pomp-infused revisiting of Helloween with a near equal adherence to Swedish 80s heavy metal and shred clichés in the mold of Europe and Yngwie Malmsteen, among others. The latter style is in full orthodox display in the mid-tempo, atmospheric opener “The Kiss Of Judas”, which can be likened to a number of Malmsteen songs from the late 80s and early 90s, most particularly “Making Love”. The guitar work is a bit more riff oriented and less indulgent on lead guitar gymnastics, but the general atmosphere is uncannily similar.
In many respects, the slower and radio-friendly starting song is a mere overture that is immediately eclipsed by what follows. The next several songs all but fully articulate every stylistic trapping that has mattered for this band since this album’s composition, particularly personified in fast paced drumming, signature riffs that reminisce on a number of early to mid 80s Judas Priest and Accept songs, high flying keyboard solos and rich atmospheres, high soaring operatic vocals and a surprisingly active bass display. “Black Diamond” is a bit more nostalgic and serious, “Legions” and “Forever Free” are a bit more triumphant and glorious, but the same formula rules all 3 and really rams the point home. “Before The Winter” is sort of a rest stop for those who couldn’t handle an all out 1-2-3 punch of speed, in some respects typifying the slower, Neo-classical yet simple sound that became “Mother Gaia”, but in a much less static manner. One of the stronger ballads Timo has put together, but still the weak link of the album.
The 2nd half of this album is where a few of the nuances that give classic Stratovarius some progression and variety manifest. Indeed, the Malmsteen parallels get blown up something massive in “Holy Light”, which bears a strong resemblance to a number of Yngwie instrumentals from 1990-1995. It’s as flashy as a violent thunderstorm, but the times where this thing can be hummed along with are few and far between. “The Abyss Of Your Eyes” steps back to the slower, heavier trudging Dio/Sabbath style of song that has been occasionally experimented with previously. “Paradise” takes the catchy concept of this band’s speed metal work and slows it down to a more rocking up-tempo number, not all that far removed from an “I Want Out” with a bit more keyboards. “Coming Home” is sort of a variation of the string quartet ballad “Forever” from the previous album, but reinterpreted into something more along the line of a Deep Purple ballad with a Sabbath sounding guitar attack. And to close off the endless wave of new classics is arguably Tolkki’s crowning musical achievement in “Visions (Southern Cross)”, an ambitious mixture of symphonic sounds, speed work and lyrical ponderings into the prophecies of Nostradamus, complete with a few direct quotations done by a guest narrator that’s a bit less overdramatic than the one Rhapsody (Of Fire) employed for the Emerald Sword Saga.
To call this an essential purchase for any heavy/power metal fan would be an understatement. This is pure gold right from the glory days of the late 90s when metal was fast, melodic, and didn’t feel the need to cater to rock radio standards on every single solitary song. I still prefer the polish of “Destiny”, which some might argue goes a bit overboard on the longer songs in the same manner as Celesty’s “Legacy Of Hate”, but anyone who is already a hopeless addict to the mainline Helloween sound as typified in Gamma Ray, Freedom Call, and Rhapsody (Of Fire) will find familiar territory here, albeit presented in a somewhat more 80s fashion. But given that the 80s was when the spirit of metal shined the brightest, one might want to visit “Visions” before any of the other bands’ material if this style is a new endeavor for them.
It’s done. Here comes my last review for the last Stratovarius record that I haven’t analyzed yet and I’m finishing on a very high note as “Visons” is one of the best records this band has ever done even if it doesn’t beat the brilliant and underrated “Dreamspace”. But it’s easily the best album with Timo Kotipelto on the vocals. This album has a rather dark and epic atmosphere and a clear guiding line throughout the whole record.
The album kicks off with two amazing singles. Normally, the commercial Stratovarius songs turn out to be ordinary power metal shredding with a catchy chorus and I expected something very predictable and boring. But “The kiss of Judas” is a highly interesting single choice with a dominant pumping bass guitar, chilling acoustic guitars and a mystical and gripping atmosphere. The vocal performance is truly enjoyable and shows us that less is sometimes more. Kotipelto doesn’t sing too high pitched and exaggerated and gives more space to the instrumental section to develop a majestic and slightly eerie atmosphere. This is probably the best single the band has ever put out with the exception of the rare gem “Wings of tomorrow”. “Black diamond” isn’t much weaker and another great single that opens with a soft keyboard sound to develop a truly majestic atmosphere further in the song. There is a really interesting and progressive continuity between the two first tracks.
The band continues in that vein with many of their songs. “Before the winter” is a dreamy, floating and entirely chilling ballad of a very high quality. “Coming home” is the second ballad of the record and makes you want to fly away on a magic carpet. I wish the band would do more ballads of such a high quality and it feels absolutely chilling to listen to them. “The abyss of your eyes” also has a lot of atmosphere and reminds strongly of the style of the first two songs on this record. “Paradise” mixes the atmospheric and progressive side of the band with the usual power metal factor and some strong Iron Maiden influences. The track is a great mixture and reminds me a lot of “22 Acacia Avenue” at some points. In the end comes the best track of the record, the overwhelming masterpiece of diversity and atmosphere called “Visions (Southern Cross)” where the ending almost reminds of a classical symphony or a movie score. Together with “Elysium” and “Mother Gaia”, this song is probably the best epic track the band has ever done and it follows the slightly dark atmosphere of the album.
Even though there are two rather ordinary power metal tracks called “Forever free” and “Legions” that are energizing but not profound enough to ultimately convince and even though there is probably the weakest instrumental song of the band in here with “Holy light” that is quite diversified and progressive but soulless, aimless and without any clear line, atmosphere and magic, the other songs are easily strong enough to rate this album up. Both fans of standard power metal and progressive and atmospheric music should be satisfied with this little gem which is my second favourite record of the Finnish band.
The year is 1997 and the metal community is well-satisfied by the release of many great albums that keep the flame of heavy metal still burning. Following the tide, Stratovarius, the quintet from Finland, deliver another masterpiece, an exhibit of shocking power/speed metal called Visions. Up until now, I never doubted their abilities or their skill in song-writing and this release comes to prove that they are worthy to be on the pantheon of European power metal, right below Gamma Ray of course.
Starting by the excellent artwork of the cover which is quite appropriate for a power metal band, the omens are very good. Moving on, the band’s performing is tremendous and they seem to be in great form. Especially the drummer, Jorg Michael, the master of the kind, is at his very best moments and provides us with some extra dynamic drum playing. The rhythm section is, once again, very steady and tight and comes front very often. All these are supported by the crystal clear production, a strong plus for the album. And I dare you to point out one, just ONE flaw in the amazing voice of Timo Kotipelto. There’s no use in trying because there is none to be found! His singing is simply superb, his voice is so strong, so powerful and so melodic at the same time that leaves no room for doubt that he is one of the top metal singers, worthy apprentice of the Tate/Kiske tradition. As for Tolkki, he has turned into a complete guitar virtuoso, diverting his playing from fast and furious to melodic and complex with great ease. He is a true metalhead and this is clearly shown in his song-writing and the quality of everything he composes.
There are ten songs in Visions and each one is superb on its own style. From the opener The Kiss of Judas to the closing, ten-minute epic, self-titled, with the brilliant lyrics referring to the prophecies of Nostradamus, the metal feeling fills the air as the riffs and drumming cause metal shockwaves, blasting your head to pieces. From the first bass and drum intro you know this not everyday power metal, as the album kicks-off brilliantly with one of the best tracks. The steady, solid riff of The Kiss of Judas takes over as his betrayal is revealed. The exquisite guitar of Tolkki meets its rival on the beautiful keyboards of Stratovarius’ undervalued member, Jens Johansson. His playing throughout the whole album gives a special color to the compositions like the final touch on a painting.
The two songs that follow-up, Black Diamond and Forever Free are a pair of killers! They have fast, charging yet melodic guitars and inspired solos, particularly the duel between the guitar and keyboards on the first is great! The drums, as expected, are extremely strong, after all Michael is a guarantee behind the drum kit. All in all, these two tracks are power metal at its best.
Before the Winter is the first ballad of Visions. It enters with a melodic, serene part and Kotipelto’s enchanting vocals and it features many changes in mood. It is quite nice though it is no match for Tears of Ice. Such is the other ballad, titled Coming Home. It resembles in terms of feeling and atmosphere, a bit more powerful than Before the Winter. These ballads might sound like cheese but they aren’t, surely!
Legions is, in my opinion, the best song of the album by far. It has a devastating guitar riff and killing drum rhythm that don’t slow down their speed not for a second. It is a pure speed metal track, dedicated to their legions of fans all around. It will excite you and you’ll feel the urge to start endless headbanging to its tunes.
Just like in every album, they have an instrumental in here, Holy Light. It is very interesting and intriguing, though it could have been a little shorter in duration, thus keeping its interest and preventing it from becoming just a bit dull. The song that differs from the rest is The Abyss of Your Eyes. It’s quite slower and more atmospheric, but doesn’t fall back. It is still, heavy and stolid, very energetic at some parts.
If I hadn’t known, I would swear that track Nr. 8 called Paradise is the album’s single. It is the shortest one, approximately four and a half minutes, and it’s got a very simple and catchy rhythm, claiming more of a power than a speed metal feeling. The chorus is very singable and the song is one of the most demanded ones at their gigs. You’ll get into it immediately.
Last but not least we have Visions(Southern Cross), as foretold, a ten-minute epic, based on the omens and prophecies of Nostradamus. Despite its big duration, it passes very pleasantly, due to its many clever breaks and narrating parts. It is a majestic song that leaves you with a sense of awe once it has ended. Simply brilliant!
In conclusion, Visions is a great album, maybe not their best, Dreamspace claims this title, but definitely among their top moments and it surely demands both your money and attention. Obtain it by any means possible!
For me, Stratovarius was the band that encapsulated power metal in all its degrees. With an early heavy metal background, they highly developed their sound throughout the years, and earned a status that none of their countrymen will ever reach.
As a devoted Stratovarius fan, I see Visions as the band’s greatest musical achievement. This was the album that absolutely combined every element that they used in previous works. In contrast with Episode, which was also brilliant, yet very lengthy and had some fillers, Visions has a solid, self-effacing power metal structure, which extracts the whole melodic essence of the genre, and doesn’t include any leftover, so every song is worth to listen. Timo Kotipelto’s voice has the exact high-pitch that gave a unique personality to the band, although it also became one of the facts that made them get trapped in diverse (And cruel) stereotypes, which have sadly given modern power metal a bad name. If we add the extensive use of keyboards, which weren’t a fundamental piece of their music in the past, the cheesy fragments that a few songs carry, the “happy” moments, and many other facts surrounding the album, some can give a much lower score to Visions. Nevertheless, none of the aforementioned features should persuade anyone from listening to this (Sometimes) underrated work, because, as a matter of fact, the sound that they adopted since Kotipelto took control of the vocals, was the one that influenced innumerable bands all around the world, which blatantly imitated everything they did, and used the same formula over and over again until they burned out the genre.
Visions is not your typical sugary, squared power metal release, which is catchy and funny to listen just for a couple of times, and then is archived somewhere in your CD collection after its 15 minutes of glory have ceased. In the contrary, the creativity falls elegantly over the whole album and reminds you of successful releases such as Angels Cry, from Angra, albeit the song structure is not so complex, but more straight-ahead. Kotipelto’s voice is quite similar to that of Andre Matos, but it doesn’t drive your nerves to any boiling point, so that’s a good thing. The 80% of the album sails over speedy waters and relatively neo-classical touches, and the instrumental “Holy light” is responsible for revealing the Malmsteen-flavored riffing with extreme detail. Without being a guitar virtuoso, Timo Tolkki can showcase his own stunning guitar passages, and every time he shreds, I can only see magic coming out of his fingers.
As for song production, I don’t have anything to complain about, except that sometimes the drums have an almost fake and “artificial” sound that I particularly get to dislike, but after I listen to power metal gems such as “Legions”, which has a wonderful catchy melody, plus an aggressive bass screeching that steals the show, I finally forget about the drumming issues. Apart from that, everything is absolutely audible and very close to flawlessness. Songs like “The Kiss of Judas” and “Forever Free” extraordinarily enlighten the pupils and delight our ears with the smart verses that come out of Tolkki’s mind. He’s never been the best songwriter in the world, but his assertive, straight-forward style neatly describes all of the moods that the album offers. He can capture the melancholic and cold atmospheres of songs like “Before the Winter” or “Coming Home”, and make you feel as if you’re actually walking below a frosty Finnish winter breeze, with the glowing snowflakes falling over your whole body. There are some medieval influences, as well, but they’re just scattered in generous doses, and don’t interfere with the orientation that Visions has. “Black Diamond” is another fine example of how a good power metal song needs to be crafted in order to become a worthy highlight. It includes attractive keyboard solos and although some riffs sound quite similar to “Forever Free”, this one (Black Diamond) is much more melodic and it doesn’t include the heavy elements of the other.
“Kiss of Judas” (The album opener) is something very different and innovative. This hard rock-oriented song, with slight power metal attempts can shock anyone who has a different picture of Stratovarius. No, it’s not all about speed, ladies and gentlemen, and this is the best proof of how the band can successfully explore new boundaries for our pleasure. As you enjoy the evil atmospheres of this piece, it’s hard not to sing along ”The night awaits… The act of confidence… The kiss of Judas, I feel the lips on my cheek, the Kiss of Judas… Haunts me once again!”. This track quickly became a fan favourite thanks to its mystifying style.
While epic tracks such as the semi-ballad “The Abyss of your eyes” and “Visions (Southern Cross)”, carry more exotic elements that shift the album’s speedy momentum to more developed and progressive highways, the former cannot be really considered as a ballad, despite of its slow tempo. It really shines by its own because of the clean acoustic guitar cameos that precede to a polished performance by Kotipelto. There are even some shy symphonic elements on it. Nevertheless, the undisputable titanic song of the record (Which is also the last one) is “Visions (Southern Cross)”, which begins with the familiar keyboard arrangements that make the band’s sound so recognizable (And include the typical “Aaaaaahhh” camouflaged voices). This is followed by Tolkki’s unmistakable friendly shredding, and then, everything pops out into a power metal melody that lasts for about two and a half minutes. A sudden progressive breakdown infiltrates with its medieval gothic ambience full of memorable incantation-like choirs, which move away the band from being confused with symphonic power metal bands such as Rhapsody of Fire or Hammerfall. There’s also a male voice that vividly closes the song, and drives the album to an ultimate climax, so the track’s ten minutes of life is more than justified. The band members unfold their techniques with utter amazement, as well.
A minor, yet noticeable issue is Kotipelto’s average English pronunciation. By the time Visions was released, he still didn’t control the language as he should, but thankfully, his blistering vocals cover almost every mistake or mispronunciation that he can unintentionally make.
There will never be another band like Stratovarius. I’ve considered them as Finland’s most representative act ever, because they did it all, and even pushed the limits. Their immortal legacy left us some of the best ground-breaking releases in history. With the exception of their hugely disappointing self-titled (And last) work, Timo Tolkki and company managed to find a way to reinvent their music all the time, without ripping themselves off. If you don’t digest the ballads in this release, you can subtract a few points to the score. If you do, then you will really appreciate Visions for what it is: An inspiring power metal monster very close to perfection. This was the first album of the band that reached to my hands some years ago, and opened the gates that allowed me to discover the majesty that their music symbolizes.
Being introduced to this band by their later efforts, you can imagine how unimpressed I was once I voyaged further into the realms of metal and discovered how...banal...those songs really were in the end. I later came upon the bands older works, after hearing how influential and amazing they used to be, and that lead to me getting this album recently. It's actually a very good power metal album, and Stratovarius set the bar for the scene way back when this was first released in 1997. Filled with the energetic falsettos of Timo Koltipelto, the magnificent guitarwork of Timo Tolkki, the manic double bass drumming of the masterful Jorg Michael, the bass wizardry of Jari Kainulainen and the great melodic keyboards of Jens Johansson, this album is a musical utopia of great ideas!
The production is crisp and not very heavy guitar-wise, but I'm not complaining, as the sound is very intricate and detailed, allowing you to hear many small keyboard melodies or lenghthly guitar solos perfectly. I can't say Koltipelto is my favorite vocalist in the power metal world, but he's certainly very talented, and he sounds better here then he does today, for sure. This choruses really stick out, soaring and energetic as hell. It might turn some people off, but these choruses have always been sort of a guilty pleasure of mine in metal songs.
As for standouts...that's the problem with this disc, there's a lack of them. Opener "Kiss of Judas" is midpaced and heavy, reminding me of Edguy's "Tears of a Mandrake" which came a few years down the line, and it's a cool song, very dark and not typical of the Stratovarius I was familiar with. "Black Diamond" is one of the signature Stratovarius songs, with an amazing keyboard melody stuck toward the end, and a soaring, glorious power metal chorus that will make a fan of the genre want to pump their fist and sing along. And every other song that follows is certainly good, but they don't seem to diffrentiate from eachother that much. Stratovarius has fit themselves snugly into a mold here, and while the songs are good, none of them seem to stick out from eachother. We've got the high energy rockers like "Forever Free", "Legions" (cool keyboard parts here too), and "Paradise", and the ballads "Coming Home" and "Before the Winter", plus an instrumental with "Holy Light" and one other Kiss of Judas-esque song in "The Abyss Of Your Eyes", but they're all just...standard for the band. They sound a lot alike, actually, and since they sound fine and are well played, I won't detract too many points, but this is definetly not a good thing.
But there is one last gem here, one last miracle from the band's goldmine of ideas, and it's the title track. A power metal masterpiece all on it's own, with heavier sections and softer acoustic parts all blended into one, several time changes, and more. I love the heavenly choir toward the end of the song, and the whole thing just bleeds epic. Worth the price of the disc alone, I'd say, and certainly one of my favorite Stratovarius songs as of now.
Stratovarius had created a very polished, mature, and catchy album of melodic power metal with this album, and it stands as a remarkable feat in their career. Despite the flaw of having a few too many songs here that are interchangable with eachother, I can say this is a really solid outing. There are no really bad songs and no clinkers, just a group of very catchy and melodic power metal crackers that stood the test of time, especially compared to the dreck they're putting out now. Recommended to power metal fans.
edit: fixed dumb mistake
First of all, let me start off by saying that I hate the term “Flower Metal.” I never use it, and if any band could be considered “Flower Metal,” Stratovarius would definitely NOT be it. This CD is simply a better-than-average European Power Metal release.
‘Visions’ was my first Stratovarius release It is a decent album, but it does lack in several ways. Let me start of by listing some of the good qualities of this album, and there are plenty.
Production is a big plus here. Songs like ‘Black Diamond’ wouldn’t sound anywhere near as good with a shitty production. There is a nice sound to the guitar, and the vocals are also perfectly mixed in, so no complaints from me. Drums never tend to drown out the voice, and keyboards (sometimes gentler, sometimes faster) are also always mixed in very well.
Timo Tolkki’s voice on this album is also a great bonus. As for most power metal bands, the vocals are a great focus. And Tolkki CAN sing, very well. Maybe he doesn’t compare with legends like Dickinson, but Tolkki’s voice is definitely also great, and especially fits in nicely with Stratovarius’s style of music.
My major complaint on this album is the huge shifts in song style. There is nothing wrong with adding style variety to an album; in fact, I support it highly. But there is something about it here that really bothers me. The changes here are too fast. One moment the music is very fast, with definite speed metal roots, and then suddenly, a second later, it jumps into a ballad? Perhaps it’s just me, but the tracklist could’ve been rearranged a bit for a better listening experience.
A lot of the songs are also mediocre. True, while there is no one BAD song on here, many of them are nothing special and you’ll find yourself skipping them when they come on. Tracks like ‘The Kiss Of Judas’ and ‘Black Diamond’ are power metal works of art. But that’s about it. The remaining 8 tracks are a little ehh.
The album slowly grew on me after a time, but never to the point of being amazing. It’s a decent CD worth getting eventually, but if you’re looking for some great power metal to try out, I’d recommend getting something like ‘Hellfire Club’ from Edguy first, or perhaps some Blind Guardian (‘A Night At The Opera or Nightfall In Middle-Earth’ recommended.) Then there’s also Helloween: you can never go wrong with any of the ‘Keepers.’ Save Stratovarius for later.
As OSheaman mentioned, this is *arguably* Strat's finest hour right here...arguably where everything comes together for the band and arguably where Timo Tolkii peaks as a songwriter and pens down his most memorable and cohesive set of songs yet. Here we see the band at the summit of their musical growth, putting the final pieces in place to make the image complete and taking an already original and developed sound and pushing it even further to reach new amazing heights of distinction, personality and recognizability (one ugly-ass motherfucker of a word right there, but I looked it up and it exists). This is, you could say, *THE* Stratovarius album of them all - the one most of us know their sound by; the one with the largest amount of widely regarded "classics" on it, as well as being a general favorite among hardcore fans.
The progression made from 'Episode' here is that there is less reliance on guitar riffs and thus more on melody. The keyboards have taken a bigger role in the band's sound and are now used for much more than just soloing and a few effects here and there; for example, "Black Diamond" has that baroque-styled harpsichord play we all know and love, and that is basically the main riff of the song. Not that the guitar riffs are totally gone or anything - they are still scattered about and when this album delivers them, usually they flat-out completely kick ass. Especially with this awesome new, improved and heavier guitar tone - perfectly meaty and crunchy, without being excessively distorted and therefore avoiding to sacrifice any of that precious melody we hold so dearly. As OSheaman also mentioned, this album marks where Stratovarius attained just the right chemistry between members, as well as just the right production; to this day, one that still holds and is just about the exact same. Each band individual here is worthy of noting, but the top award has to go to vocalist Timo Kotipelto, here belting out the finest performance of his entire career. Such a beautiful voice, so much soaring emotion, such a powerful delivery and such an accent (teehee;-)). All this make for what is Strat's most mature work to its date and at the same time the most *accessible* too, due to everything and everyone clicking better together than ever (check out THAT four-word sequence!), instantly making every sort of sense, to anyone's ears. Truly a listening pleasure.
Now, before moving right on to song highlights, I thought I'd comment on that first paragraph a bit. See, I say this is *arguably* their best effort, while my real favorite of theirs is actually 'Episode', and I don't normally make a difference between a band's "best" album and my "favorite" album from said band, since that stuff is all subjective. Perhaps "*potentially* their best album" would be a better description, because even with all the said positive stuff going for it, there are exactly three songs here that sorta corrupt things a bit. First off, the two ballads: "Before the Winter" and "Coming Home" - certainly not bad and oh yes, they have their moments (especially that "Wanted Dead or Alive"-esque opening guitar bit of "Before the Winter"), but they're both so AWFULLY dragged out and therefore just a bit boring. "Before" has this particularly annoying drum beat to it; just way too simple and straightforward to work well in song this slow, ending up sounding repetitive as Hell, while "Coming" is clearly trying to recreate the amazing "Forever" on the previous album, and is clearly failing at that. Finally, the instrumental "Holy Light" is rather disappointing following the über-solid "Stratovarius" and "Stratosphere" - the fast soloing just seems less inspired; blander, and the usual lighter part in the middle isn't anywhere near as interesting as it should be, as it's essentially an interlude for the sake of being an interlude. No amazing songwriting evolution here, if that's what you're looking for.
But fortunately, there is the rest of the album. "The Kiss of Judas" is my all-time favorite Stratovarius song and just has to be some sort of modern classic of heavy metal, because this is so fresh, original, memorable, catchy and generally AWESOME at the same time that I can't help but to think of it as one. There's still a little bit of Queensrÿche left in Stratovarius's sound here, and it sure comes through in that fucking BRILLIANT verse, being reminiscent of that of "I Don't Believe in Love". This is by the way your typical Stratovarius "semi-acoustic guitar" verse that we already heard about three times on 'Episode' and will hear in a number of future songs to come ("S.O.S."; "Rebel"; "Hunting High & Low"...sounds just about the exact same every time), except not done quite as well there. Be sure not to overlook that guitar riff right after the excellent mega-groove bass intro, because it's a little buried behind all the choir effects (that are excellent too) - as I said, there are plenty of totally cool riffs on here besides the already stellar platter of power metal.
As most of you know, "Black Diamond" is Stratovarius's own "Run to the Hills", "Eletric Eye" or "I Want Out" - no need to go into detail, really. It's classic; it's sing-along; it's all ownage. "Forever Free" and "Legions" (awesome double-bass post-chorus slowdown bit in this one!) both feature amazing heavy opening riffs and are standard fare Strat - as I said, the formula has just been perfected here and is to be endlessly copied for years to come, by Stratovarius themselves and also by other bands. Semi-balladic "The Abyss of your Eyes" features more of that "Queensrÿche with keyboards and different production" stuff in the vein of the opener; "Paradise" is a total barrel of fun and a little more happy-Helloween-esque "bouncy" than what is usual for Stratovarius, totally ripping of the intro section of Maiden's "22 Acacia Avenue"; and finally, the ten-minute title track is perhaps not as much as an epic as it is two songs clashed together with an interlude in between - but hey, if the riffs are there, and kicking this much ass...
Even with 'Episode' being an overall better album in my opinion, I'd say this is probably the one to start with, being more accessible and therefore serving better as an introduction to the band. More keyboards may not be in everyone's interest, but in defense of them, I have to say that they are after all a large part in what took this band to the next level and made them sound even less like other bands, back in the day when generic bands like the silly Twilightning or the awful Gaia Epicus didn't come out every week. Obviously, Stratovarius's influence on modern power metal is absolutely unquestionable and because this very album can be attributed to a whole lot of that, being their "breakthrough" release and all; in my book, definitely it has to be awarded with an extra couple of points (seriously, I was long considering giving this 84%, but changed my mind).
Do check back for the next album too, but I'd say pretty much stop after that, unless you're absolutely dying to hear the same old stuff over and over again, or don't mind paying full price for half a decent album. Oh well, but in 1997 Stratovarius still ruled for sure; faster than light, higher than the sky.
I know that maybe the good times of this band are far away but instead of complain fan should remember the good tunes these guys brought us some years ago. Since the addition of Kotipelto to their line up in the Fourth Dimension album, Stratovarius was going up reaching their highest point between the Destiny and the Infinite albums. In my opinion Episode is their best, and Visions is good enough to start from where Episode left off. Stratovarius will be one of the best power metal bands in the world just for a couple of excellent albums they recorded… and Visions is one of these albums.
The Kiss of Judas is a strange way to start a Stratovarius album: mid paced tempo and no melodic main riff, but that doesn’t matters, is a strong song and one of the Strato-Classics. Maybe Black Diamond is one of the best songs from Visions and from the entire entire Stratovarius career; it follows the line from the Episode album because of the main keyboard melody, it’s like a baroque line, just as some parts in Episode, specially talking about Will the Sun Rise? Black Diamond is fast, with great solos, heavy, but the most important part is that is a mellow song, not like other power metal mellow songs; if you haven’t heard this band just listen to this song and you’ll give them a chance and you’ll want to know more about Strato. Forever Free is a good song, but nothing special, except for the catchy chorus, but that’s common in power metal songs. With Before the Winter these guys give us a break, a slow ballad, but I must say that it’s not one of their best, even though I recognize the work on they keyboards is great, creating an atmosphere that fits perfectly the song’s theme. Legions is one of the fastest songs I’ve heard from Strato, and this means of course super fast solos that only Johansson and Tolkki can deliver without becoming so ambitious, I mean, is natural for them play like that. The Abyss of Your Eyes follows the trend of The Kiss of Judas, but some clean guitars and vocal performance remembers me of Eternity from the Episode album. Good song. Holy Light is an instrumental track, fast and with amazing solos, but I rather prefer Stratosphere (that doesn’t means I don’t like Holy Light). Paradise is just another power metal song but good enough to rest from the speedy soloing and to prepare for Coming Home (a good ballad, better than Before the Winter), and the epic closing track Visions, which is pretty good and maybe the best song from the whole album (after Black Diamond of course, hahaha), just listen to this track and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Visions is one of the “must have” albums from Stratovarius, even if you’re not a die hard fan of them, but if you’re getting into power metal Stratovarius is a band you must hear and this release should be in your collection.
The second Stratovarius album to enter my collection – Visions. I wanted new Strato-material and, after deciding that I wanted to wait until I had enough money for both Elements, I pulled this one from the racks. I’m glad I did too because, while having Intermission was a step up from merely having shite quality mp3’s on my computer, I didn’t have a very good taste of Stratovarius’s early, classic sound. “Celestial Dream” and “Hunting High and Low” about covered it, sadly. But, behold salvation! Here comes Visions. Sit back.
We start with “The Kiss of Judas”, and already I like it. Timo Tolkki and Jens Johansson start off with a nice dual intro, whilst Tolkki chokes his guitar in a fashion that accents the keyboard and drums. Timo #2 – Kotipelto for those keeping score – shows off with his impressive vocals, although they seem somewhat dim in comparison to recent works with Strato, which could be due to the production back in ’97.However, he breaks into the chorus with strength.
After the second chorus, Timo treats us to an interesting guitar bit, followed by a solo on behalf of Johansson that is, unfortunately, weak in comparison to the guitar solo that proceeds it. Nice work Mr. Tolkki. Keeps us on our feet, that guy.
The alternating between single and multi-track vocals is a pleasant touch to this song, something that highlights the chorus passages nicely. I like this track, but the lead out seems a bit abrupt. Oh well. The song’s over. Next!
“Black Diamond” is a longstanding Strato-classic. And who can find a good reason to say otherwise? The intro is chock full of pure, wholesome keyboard-y goodness; the guitar and drums work so well off each other and Kotipelto’s vocals kick ass. Tolkki’s guitar work post-chorus is great too.
Ooh, I like this riff. It's 2:40 into the song, for those wondering just what I'm babbling about. Followed by yet another dry keyboard doodle, which is in turn followed by another orgasm of guitar shrieks. Soloing aside, Jens Johansson’s keyboarding in stunning - it fills in the background bravely, and very well. This is a volatile mix.
Perhaps this was an influential piece to Sonata Arctica. “Forever Free” definitely has Strato-contemporary written on it. I can just hear Tony Kakko taking Kotipelto’s place on this one.
I like this one. A lot. Whether it’s the guitar, keyboard, drumming or vocals, it’s something, or maybe it’s everything. A lot of high notes on Kotipelto’s part, a lot of heavy pummeling on Jörg Michael’s part, and overall good riffing on Tolkki’s part. I almost feel bad for not giving Jari Kainulainen more credit, but bass has never really stood out to me. Oh well, the band as a whole just kicks your ass.
This one is definitely a token power metal tune. If Kotipelto could hit even higher notes, one might confuse parts of this for Gamma Ray. Damn fine song. Let’s continue, shall we?
“Before The Winter” has a nice intro. A very nice one, in fact. Thinking on it, it’s probably one of the best Stratovarius intros. And Kotipelto’s soft crooning, which gradually picks up, is glorious. Oh wow, I like this one. I can’t understand some of his lyrics, but I like it. The music picks up around the chorus, then steps down to the original sound again… reminds me of later works like “Papillion”. Only “Papillion” has a change-of-chord midsection while “Winter” flows through.
A commonly used distorted vocal effect (“in the well” vocals) serves only to continue pushing the emotion into this one. Finally, a slow Strato-tune that doesn’t change chords in the end. This one stays constant, something I like. Not to say that I don’t absolutely love “Papillion”.
Oh, and a wonderful outro – the intro. Oh how I love it. The orchestration is fantastic… the keyboard-performed orchestration, that is.
“Legions”! What Strato-fan hasn’t heard (of) this track? Heavy riffing, soaring vocals and, yes, kick ass keyboarding. The three things that make a Stratovarius classic… classic. Brings “Hunting High And Low” to mind.
What I’ve noticed is that Stratovarius has this sound that absolutely no other band has touched on… well, almost no other band. Several Sonata Arctica songs follow the same guitar and keyboard sound, but Kakko’s vocals are too different from Kotipelto’s to really capture the Strato-sound. “Legions” is a great example of this. Play any moderately heavy song from Silence and then play this. Vocally, they’re quite different, but otherwise, who can tell which band wrote which tune? That’s the Finnish sound for you.
Anyway, the song is fantastic and deserves to be called a highlight, and it really is. How many people are going to press the
Visions marks what is probably Stratovarius's most popular album and arguably their best work. I personally prefer Destiny with the bonus track, but this album is without a shadow of a doubt classic Stratovarius material.
You can really here how the five band members have gotten their shit together and worked together to make a really solid sound. Jörg Michael's drumming leads the way for dead-on timing with all the band members, and the strong beat gives Timo Tolkki and Jens Johansson the chance to do what they do best: play damn good music. Timo Kotipelto's vocals are great as always, and the sound of the band is mature enough to handle some of the experimentation with different styles that goes on here. Overall, though, we have some very good things going on.
Five more classics are added in this album: The Kiss of Judas, which is Stratovarius's thrashiest, most riff-laden song; Black Diamond, arguably the most well-known Stratovarius classic featuring a soaring chorus and a baroque-style keyboard opening; Forever Free, the first of the many Stratovarius songs featuring opening riffs so cool that it is absolutely impossible to fuck up the song (unless, of course, you're In Flames); Legions, a tribute to Stratovarius's fans that features another set of can-do-no-wrong opening riffs; and Holy Light, a blazing fast instrumental comparable to Stratosphere and, later, Stratofortress.
Another must-own Stratovarius masterpiece. Buy it and keep going, because we hit the best stuff next.
While David seems to have gotten the characterisation of the facts down correctly, I do completely disagree with him on the relative worth of this album, and the good and the bad parts. First off, it's not all speed metal!
Sure, some of the songs are fast, but the whole album is really damn flowery. We start with "The Kiss of Judas", which is the best song on here, simply because it has the strongest riff base, with the most consistent rhythm guitar work. On a lot of the songs, the riffs tend to get lost behind the double-bass, the keyboards, or the endless lead guitar wankery - it's typical flower metal, in other words.
It's not as awfully horrifyingly bad as some other flower metal albums, but the fact is, there are only a few good songs on here. "Black Diamond" is pretty nice, one of the best of the overfast-but-not-speed-metal songs that tend to clutter late 90s "power" metal, especially from Italy and Finland. "Forever Free" is okay, and then we have two forgettable tracks - "Before the Winter" and "Legions of the Twilight". It's odd, but yes, the faster tracks do carry the album for the most part, as they are barely tolerable, as opposed to the ballads, which are just plain abysmal.
Speaking of abyss... "Abyss in Your Eyes", also pretty bad. "Holy Light" seems as though it were taking from a missing Yngwie album but with more keyboards and less direction. "Paradise" is kinda similar to Black Diamond. In fact, it's VERY similar to "Black Diamond" - as well as pretty much every other song of that category, but the main riff isn't quite as good.
What am I saying, they're both watered down "Freewheel Burning" or "Hell Bent for Leather" or whatnot where you can completely neglect the guitar as a rhythm instrument to provide riffage so you can focus on your oh-so-precious soloing.
Another ballad, "Coming Home", and then we have the closing track, which is somewhat decent, in that the heavier parts do tend to be memorable, but the lighter interludes do tend to lose my attention, and the song is in general overlong.
So what do we have here? An album with one nice midpaced number, the opener, that is held together by the riffs and has a very memorable chorus, maybe for the simple reason that it doesn't sound like typical flower metal. It seems as though it were a remnant from Kamelot's "Siege Perilous" or something. Some flower metal songs, including the above averege "Black Diamond". And some ballads.
Yep, this is your typical late-90s "power" metal album, with the exception again of the opening track, which really should be the type of thing they focus on, as opposed to noodly solos and ripping off Priest riffs and playing them over and over and over and over again, only to bury them in the mix anyway.
Okay, so where was I, oh yes I was gonna listen to Walls of Jericho to cleanse myself!