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Tolkki, Matos and Kusch working together. For a melodic power metal fan, the previous sentence would trigger unsettling (by the least) fits of euphoria, since these three gentlemen are firmly placed as legends within the genre, regarded as an influence by many musicians and are generally considered to be very solid songwriters/players. Especially Matos, who simply refuses to give up writing interesting stuff, even when it comes to his (unfortunately) underrated solo albums.
When I knew Tolkki was forming some kind of supergroup, my initial feeling was that of doubt. Not that he would in fact have the balls for it, but that he would finally lay down the ego and the overwhelming Stratovarius-ness in his playing in order to let the other musicians' output to be a part of the final product. Midway through this album's mixing process (If I recall it well enough); the man said something in the lines of “Matos is a really good musician and he has some cool ideas”, which prompted me to think “Finally, damn it!”… What a silly thing hope is.
This album feels like it was released 15 years too late and is one of the most lazy and formulaic metal CDs I’ve ever heard. I couldn't believe how generic some of the stuff here was. Simply put, this is a slightly more progressive Stratovarius featuring Andre Matos circa “Angels Cry”. They could’ve done something different, showing the world how these creative musicians were capable of something more daring and fresh instead of just sitting down in the studio, turning off their individual talents and writing rehashed Stratovarius stuff over and over again, with the only difference between songs being some acoustic guitars here and there and lengthier, vaguely progressive parts that pop out of nowhere and disappear without leaving any impression on the listener.
Right from the start, “Fields of Avalon” is a forewarning of the cliché maelstrom that is about to take place inside your CD player. Total “Fourth Dimension”-worship, the song begins, rushes its way to the inevitably catchy chorus, runs around its own tail for a while and then ends. Matos sings in a full high-tenor voice here which, for the first time in years – and this is coming from someone who enjoys some of his more inventive moments – annoys the living shit out of me. It is way too exaggerated, and it happens way too many times. And you better get used to it, because he sticks with that mix of Kotipelto and a castrated Dickinson for pretty much the rest of the album, only rarely going for something punchier or attempting to put some soul or personality into it. In a way, Andre’s performance can be overall compared to the album’s; over-the-top and catchy for those who like it, but annoying and sterile at the same time. Again, it lacks personality and punch.
Tolkki, as many of us have expected, is forever trapped into some kind songwriting void on which his recurring writer’s block doesn’t let him create anything different from Stratovarius’ B-sides and recycled ideas. His riffing style is the same, his soloing is the same. One may argue that this is his mark, and I agree, but every musician needs to CHANGE some stuff sometimes in order to stay relevant. I’m all for an artist having a particular style, but how bad can it be to SPICE THINGS UP a little bit? Would it hurt to throw in some different influences? But I’m sorry. We’re talking about good ol’ Timo here, so we all might as well suck it.
What’s that? You’re talking about Uli Kusch? Sorry, but he seems to working somewhere else and that hack from Sonata Arctica (I mean the drummer! They former keyboardist’s here) has been called, because god damn this stuff is uninventive. Nevermind the passive, predictable basslines either. My god, what is up with bassists these days? What happened to guys who used to listen to Geddy Lee and Victor Wooten when they were younger? Oh, they’re in much better bands nowadays, sorry about that. Sorry Jari, you're a veteran and all, but this is a dead, lazy performance.
I’ve come to a simple, relatively well-known conclusion: fans enjoy being deceived, and are easily so for that matter. Many live in the same limbo Tolkki does. “Hey, another Tolkki album! Surely something fresh is coming up!”. Being a fan is a bitch.
This is a terrible album and you should only listen to it if you happen to have a raging hard-on for bad Stratovarius songs complemented by brain-dead songwriting. Too bad Mr.Tolkki is not the only one who does.
Hightlights: Check out “Elysium” for recent examples of Stratovarius’ highlights.