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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!