without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
When one thinks of an album that is typical of its time, it usually follows the assertion that the album is either mediocre, or otherwise falls just a tad short of being spectacular. This built-in bias against late comers to a scene is not without a degree of merit since the prime movers are usually the ones taking risks with their songwriting. However, by the time 2002 rolled in, the most renowned pioneer of Finland's booming melodic power metal scene, namely Stratovarius, were in a state of musical decline, owing in large part to Timo Tolkki's less than inventive songwriting on Infinite, which marked a largely steady period of decline until his eventual exodus from the band. In all too typical fashion, an outfit came in to pick up the slack, and contrary to popular opinion, the band's name was not Sonata Arctica, a band that had already shown heavy stylistic divergence from Tolkki's crew on their 1999 debut.
Thus enters a formidable player into the scene in Thunderstone, a band that is primarily comprised of long time metal veterans fresh out of the progressive and thrash scenes, all coming at just the right time to hit the climactic tidal wave set off by Stratovarius several years prior. As noted earlier, the approach of this band is a bit more orthodox and sticks more closely to the stylistic trappings of Episode and Visions than anything else. Nevertheless, there is a noticeable divergence to overall execution within the familiar stylistic template, most of it culminating in the vocal character of Pasi Rantanen. In contrast to Koltipelto and Kakko, his somewhat gravely and high tinged voice has more of an iconic 80s heavy metal feel to it, more along the lines of former Malmsteen and later Axel Rudi Pell associated vocalist Jeff Scott Soto and the latter band's current front man Johnny Gioeli.
The points of contrast naturally don't begin and end with the singer, but most of the other differing aspects of Thunderstone's sound are a bit more subtle, particularly to an ear that is unfamiliar with what metal sounded like prior to the rise of Grunge. When dealing with the ballad material on here such as the serene and woeful piano-driven ballad "Weak" and it's folksy acoustic counterpart "Spread My Wings", the result is a bit closer in sound and character to something that could have actually come out of the 1986-1988 period. Even heavier sounding down tempo rockers like "World's Cry" almost want to align itself with the likes of Dokken and Leatherwolf than directly compete with most of Timo Tolkki's signature ballads from the late 90s, though the melodic tinge definitely points to a direct Stratovarius worship. A lot of it can be chalked up to a more retro sounding production, though guitarist Nino Laurenne's attention to detail in the riff department being a bit more acute, perhaps owing to his thrash background, definitely adds to the contrast.
When dealing with the rest of the elements in play here, it does get a bit easier to see why Thunderstone got saddled with the Stratovarius clone label, as they tend to excel in similar areas. As with signature celebrations of melody and speed in "Father Time" and "Legions", this band just lays down the glory on a select handful of songs that typify what was so great about the time period, with "Like Father, Like Son" and "Let The Demons Free" being the tip of the frenzied ice berg. All the usual trimmings of shredding guitar and keyboard solos, gobs of double bass work on the drums and a lot of climactic high wails in the vocal department are indulged to their fullest extent, yet it all comes out at the other end with a very catchy and addictive song that somehow manages to be a bit less campy than most. There is also a long-winded, semi-ballad epic along for the ride in "Will To Power" that manages to hit all the right buttons, and comes off as a bit more sophisticated and leaning towards a late 80s Queensryche sound than anything Tolkki ever put out either before or after his departure from Stratovarius.
While not a terribly common phenomenon, this highly impressive and engaging self-titled debut disproves the old rule that old dogs can't learn new tricks. Admittedly, the newness of this album isn't so much a matter of style as it is to the attitude and approach that goes into the already established elements in play. This is a band that comes off as being hungry and anxious to claw its way to the top of the fold, and insofar as their chief inspiration Stratovarius is concerned, they climbed a good distance in a very short time. With maybe the exception of Twilightning's fantastic debut and the astounding concept album that was Dreamtale's sophomore effort, this is the most impressive early offering out of a band in this style for its time. Quite an accomplishment considering the amount of competition in their own nation alone.
From Finland comes yet another fantastic act– Thunderstone. This energetic progressive band (although they don’t like being labelled as power or progressive; they don’t want to be “Strato-clones!”) really delivers an outstanding display of capability in musicality as well as a fine ability to write (and to rock!). This is not surprising; unlike many newborn metal bands, Thunderstone’s members are a bit older, having been floating around in Metal Land for a number of years doing different line-ups. Finally, these five members have somehow come together to create something truly worth listening to. Their debut album as Thunderstone, “Let the Demons Free,” is reminiscent of the noteworthy Sonata Arctica– a comparison that the members of Thunderstone would probably resent. Well, it’s just to give you an idea of what they sound like– but they have a truly unique sound worth exploring.
Like Sonata Arctica (sorry– again!), Thunderstone has taken classic elements– love, power, the quest, standing alone, obsession, and of course death– and incorporated them into a unique and very enjoyable album. Unlike acts such as Rhapsody or Virgin Steele, Thunderstone has integrated these themes into a very progressive sound and into music which fits the times. For instance, the track “Virus” tells of a ...well, virus in the computer age. It discusses the inevitable collapse of power, information and communication and how we gaze at computers so innocently, placing them on a pedestal. (This is a really frank, intelligent and somewhat eerie song, displaying a thoughtfulness which goes beyond creating simply catchy music). However, if a more classical-sounding band had written this song, it would probably have been more mystical, or perhaps historical. My point is that Thunderstone has swept components we are used to in metal into the present, making all these concepts relevant again.
There are some really great, hard-hitting songs on this debut album- it begins with the title track, “Let the Demons Free,” whose chorus veers towards an anthem-like feeling, but without the outright cheesiness (there is time enough for that at the end...). The first time I heard this, it was stuck in my head for weeks, no kidding. It’s a fast, powerful song that’s infectious– in a good way. What a great message, too. I’ve already blabbed about the second track, “Virus.” Actually, the latter as well as the third song, “World’s Cry,” are quite similar in my mind. Not musically, but in theme. Both deal with the feeling of “Ok, so we’re screwing up our world: Now what?” Not that Thunderstone is really sending out political messages, only instigating and examining through music. “Me, my enemy,” is one of those tracks that’s “good,” but not overly impressive. I prefer the next three; “Will to Power,” “Weak,” and “Eyes of a Stranger” are somehow connected (if you listen to the album you’ll understand what I mean.). With “Will to Power,” we get a really lengthily progressive-sounding song, with time changes, sound effects... the works. It fades into “Weak,” which for some reason stands out to me. The lyrics are overly simple, however it’s appropriate for this melancholy and very honest little song. Before it can even fade out, “Eyes of a Stranger” comes in with a powerful, catchy riff (which sounds remarkably like “I Want Out,” but never mind that.).
I’ll get into that cheesiness thing I was referring to a moment ago. You’ve heard me praising the band, now I’ll complain a bit. For the most part, Thunderstone is really talented in terms of writing both lyrically and musically– however there are some places where the band is a tad thin. for instance, the final track, “Spread my Wings,” is the one and only ballad on the album. While still quite listenable, I have to be honest in saying that I’m thankful that it is the sole slow song. They have reverted to cliches– which are sometimes fun, appropriate and predicable in that nice, familiar way... but in this case I rather resent it; the rest of the album is really solid and original. Personally, I just think they can do better. Despite this, I sincerely recommend this album to any metal fan– especially to those who are into the progressive/ power scene.
Thunderstone are being marketed as the new Stratovarius babies, and it's impossible not to make comparisons to the latter band and Sonata Arctica. However, Thunderstone, are significantly different from those two. It's "heavier" than those two (Stratovarius sound like pop compared to this), and there's neither the annoying repetitiveness of Stratovarius nor the techno-mixing of Sonata Arctica. Vocalist Pasi Rantanen's sounds like a heavy metal singer and not like a whiny castrated boy typical to most power metal (Stratovarius' Timo Kotipelto!). He's good, sometimes even damn good, and his english is perfect unlike Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko who's
english is about as hard to understand as the Cannibal Corpse growling.
The sound of the band is excellent. Most songs are good, but only about four or five are great. 'Like Father, Like Son' is masterpiece, which is so ingenious that it's makes it into my top 5 power metal songs (populated with Children of Bodom and Sonata Arctica songs); there's the ultra-cool main riff which only appears two times (and that's why you never get bored of it), and Rantanen showing off his best talent - it never gets even slightly repetitive. 'Weak' is a heavy metal ballad which is great in it's shortness, 'Eyes of a Stranger' rocks hard, and the single song 'Virus' is not
that great but entertaining in a simple way. The rest of the track list consists of less catchy fast songs and numbing ballads like 'Spread My Wings'; funny that the only strong ballad on this CD is called 'Weak'.
I highly recommend to at least check out the great songs I mentioned.
Not a great album as a whole, but among the duller tracks you can find some ear-candy better than smarties or twix, and IMHO this beats most Stratovarius albums. I'd say the track 'Like Father, Like Son' alone is a reason to get this.