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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