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For once, Stratovarius manages to come up with a suitable followup to an album with this album. Episode was a really good release that made a complete turnaround from the travesty before (I'm running out of words to decribe that mess). I think I've gotten far enough into the discography to stop discussing the root albums, so I'll just get on with it. Visions is basically trademark, capitalized European Power Metal at its simplest, most explicable form. Everything you'd expect is here: the upbeat guitar riffs, the (almost desperately) catchy choruses, keyboard orchestration, soaring, Kiske-like vocals, ect. I don't just bow down to Stratovarius or any band that just settles for the mean, however, so naturally I expect a bit more.
First of all, let me just say that the production is excellent. This is perhaps one of the best mixes I've ever heard, especially for 1997. Everything is perfectly clear and every instrument is given a lift by it. The biggest improvements are in the keyboard and synthesizer tones, which have taken a huge leap forward. In the past, Stratovarius was often plagued with poppy keyboard intrusions in perfectly decent, forceful metal songs. That's no problem here, which Black Diamond quickly demonstrates in its song-carrying synth parts. The bass also seems to be getting more attention than ever before, because it is used more and and its actually audible for once.
Obviously, that facet of Visions is not anything I find fault with, thankfully. No, the real problem here is the amount of songs that completely fail to move me or stick in my memory, a problem that would just get worse on Destiny. Visions too often uses cliched power metal staples, opting to not bring any new ideas to the table like Dreamspace or even Episode did. There are so many songs that sound too alike, using 4/4, repetitive drumming, and Helloween sing-along choruses. The end result is more of an hour-long of samey songs than a varied piece of work. Sure, it's coherent, but at what cost? My interest, that's what. I find that my apathy climaxes during the ridiculously overlong title track, an obvious attempt to go "epic" that utterly fails. More pointless tracks are the obligatory instrumental Holy Light and payoff-free ballad, Coming Home.
The album is not free from rewarding tracks, though. Opener Black Diamond is a refreshing, modern power-piece, and a love song that isn't a ballad (gasp)! The most creative song here is the quasi-ballad, Before the Winter. This one has a rather wondrous, beautiful feel, complemented by Kotipelto's brilliant vocal performance. Another reason why this song is so good is the fact that it doesn't try to stick some nonconforming chorus in the middle of it. Best of the album, for sure. The last somewhat standout track here is Abyss of Your Eyes, with a Queensryche-like lead riff and an intersting pre-chorus. Unfortunately, that's about it; the second half of Visions, like the second half of so many other Stratovarius albums, is devoid of memorable or necessary tracks.
In the end, Visions is yet another Stratovarius album that just isn't enough. Maybe if it had a few more good songs, maybe if it was heavier during the non artsy ones, maybe if it was shorter...Well, that's a lot of maybes, and by now you should see what this album's problem is; very vividly, I hope. Unfortunately, Visions is actually a step higher than most of Stratovarius's albums past this, as this was the start of a rapid descent into mediocrity. Now, this album isn't really that bad, and although I can't reccomend like I can some of the others (Elements Pt. 1, Polaris), I'll say that it may be worth checking out if you're into the genre. I still can't see what others see in these 90's Strato albums, but maybe you will. I'll stick to the more consistent stuff.