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So here I am listening to a CD of previously unreleased Stratovarius songs from their classic period of the 90s. Then imagine my surprise when I reach for the CD cover and realise that in fact it is not Stratovarius, but actually Symfonia's debut release called 'In Paradisum'. But in all seriousness folks, Symfonia is ex-Stratovarius founder Timo Tolkki's newest metal project after the demise of Revolution Renaissance. Releasing 3 albums between 2008-2010, Revolution Renaissance never had the support from the fans (especially Stratovarius fans) and by the time of the third and final CD ('Trinity'), Tolkki had already pulled the plug on the band well before the actual release date of the album. It was unfortunate, particularly that the final disc was actually the best of the three.
This time round though, Tolkki (when forming Symfonia) has surrounded himself with a plethora of high profile musicians, namely vocalist Andre Matos (ex-Angra/ex-Shaman), keyboardist Mikko Harkin (ex-Sonata Arctica), bassist Jari Kainulainen (ex-Evergrey/ex-Stratovarius) and drummer Uli Kusch (ex-Masterplan/ex-Helloween). Going by the sound coming from Symfonia, it seems as though it doesn't matter who Tolkki has in his corner, he always returns to the sound of classic 90s Stratovarius. And this is the case with 'In Paradisum', the uncanny and almost exact resemblance to Stratovarius and the reason for the pun at the start of this review.
There are a few songs on the CD which do break away from the Stratovarius mould; however they don't come around till the second half of the album (with the exception of possibly "Santiago"). "Pilgrim Road" is a great song with interesting folk metal elements and a killer solo in the middle, while the bombastic and catchy "Rhapsody in Black" is one of the best tracks on the disc. Reminiscent to Edguy in parts, the track has an upbeat feel with pounding drum and bass lines. Andre Matos may be struggling at times now to reach the high notes (it can get rather cringe-worthy in parts throughout the album), but he delivers an excellent performance on "Rhapsody in Black".
Lastly, "Santiago" has a small similarity to Stratovarius, but for the majority the track is one of the best. The track has some powerful guitar riffs, with a sombre passage in the middle, but overall it's fast-paced, heavy and quite catchy.
The remaining seven tracks are very similar to Stratovarius, including the album opener "Fields of Avalon" and the following track "Come by the Hills". Both songs could have come straight from any Stratovarius CD, from 'Fourth Dimension' to 'Infinite'. With that being said, the two tracks are very good, with thundering double-bass blasts, furious power metal riffs mixed with a neo-classical prestige and soaring vocals for "Fields of Avalon", and mid-paced but upbeat and melodic chugging type riffs with choirs during the chorus for "Come by the Hills". "I Walk in Neon" is a very good song; however it sounds very much like a cross between Stratovarius songs "Eagleheart" and "Distant Skies", while "Forevermore" is another solid and speedy track with double-bass pounding and excellent guitar riffs, but again much like past Stratovarius songs.
I know there have been more references to Stratovarius than Symfonia in this review, but once you hear 'In Paradisum' for yourselves, you will understand where I and any other reviewers doing a write-up for this album are coming from and thus why Stratovarius is mentioned so many times. Don't get me wrong, this release is quite entertaining and powerful, and would definitely be something worth tracking down if you are a fan of European power/neo-classical metal; but ultimately it sounds too much like a Stratovarius copycat. Whether this was a deliberate act from Timo Tolkki remains to be seen, but you would think that to get out beneath Stratovarius' shadow, Tolkki needs to create something new and different from the band he was a part of for so many years. Don't forget, he did sign over everything to do with Stratovarius to the remaining members of that band, which means he has nothing to do with it anymore. So why record an album that is almost exactly like Stratovarius?
To Symfonia's credit, they all performed very well on 'In Paradisum' and it seems like this supergroup is working together well without a hitch.
Hopefully Symfonia can last longer than Revolution Renaissance and release discs with a sound that is more of their own evolution and less like Stratovarius. But for that to happen, the song-writing needs to be a team effort and not just Tolkki ruling the roost.
Originally written for www.themetalforge.com and www.metalcdratings.com