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Excrement, pt.1 - 23%

gasmask_colostomy, April 26th, 2018

If you don’t like power metal, you’re not going to like this. That’s the first thing to know if you’re wondering about the really quite terrible scores littered around under my own and this can certainly explain away some of the negativity for the album. The total power metal cliché attack of this release also makes me reconsider the reason why Stratovarius was such a gruff and unfloral album – it was probably a reaction to this one and its similarly ball-less follow-up, Elements pt.2. For my review of part 2, I said that there was only one thing worth listening to, which was ‘I Walk to My Own Song’ and really it is one of the band’s better mid-paced numbers. Here, however, I’m not quite sure which song I should be recommending to take away from the album. Unfortunately, they are all quite bad and sharing context only makes it worse.

When I say that you’ve got to like power metal to like this, I mean that you’ve got to own every Rhapsody of Fire release and you probably think that Helloween are sometimes a bit too serious. If you liked any of Nightwish’s post-Tarja albums, you’re also in with a shout of enjoying Elements. As far as this review goes, I’m none of the above, though I don’t object to Dark Passion Play, since there are lots of great musical ideas scattered around in a capacious running time and the singing is not too bad, if a bit poppy. The singing on this album is actually very poppy at times, such as during ‘Fantasia’, when Timo Kotipelto is caught narrating a children’s story with sickeningly hopeful lyrics like these:

Fantasia
Resides deep in your heart
Leave your worries far behind
Fantasia
Let the freedom ring the bell
Let us all unite
Borders made of hate are gone
Nations singing the song of peace
In Fantasia

To be fair, ‘Fantasia’ is based on The Neverending Story, but that’s a pretty muddled book anyway, even without the saturation of sugar into the hopeful themes – making it into a 10 minute song was never going to be a good idea.

That last comment is another clear indication of why Stratovarius were remorselessly fucked by the reception to Elements, since they went fully into the “epic song” idea and came out of it with three retarded pieces (as opposed to two on the preceding Infinite). ‘Fantasia’ is the lightest object that has ever been called ballast; quite how a song with only two verses and the chorus repeated three times can be that long without being funeral doom is beyond me. And, in fact, putting a 10 minute funeral doom song into the middle of Elements pt.1 would have made about as much sense as the frankly piss-poor structuring and flow of ideas shown on the epics. I’m including ‘Papillon’ as one of the epics even though it’s a seven minute power ballad, firstly due to the fact that all those crashing chords and high vocals are clearly supposed to be epic, but secondly because it lasts about as long as the last ice age though isn’t nearly as cool. Concerning the title track, it’s just a travesty because someone was clearly keen to use orchestral elements and choirs, but getting them to all sing “Elements………………………wind…………………fire…………………………water………………………earth” when nothing else is happening and then just keep going into five or six refrains at the end was an awful squandering of all those extra paychecks.

Usually, Stratovarius have some decent faster songs, though I’m afraid I don’t have good news on that score either. The only pieces under five minutes are ‘Stratofortress’ and ‘Eagleheart’, which is a surprisingly plain single on which Kotipelto pretty obviously goes out of tune in the pre-chorus (see Napalm_Satan’s review for the version with added invective). The former is not too bad, but the Finns had already milked that particular cow on songs like ‘Stratovarius’ and ‘Stratosphere’, from which we can notice a theme developing. Normally, I’d be very happy about the riffing and soloing of ‘Find Your Own Voice’, except that today I listened to Destiny and found that it’s a less convincing copy of ‘The Rebel’, while ‘Learning to Fly’ is overlong and thus doesn’t hit like it should. Crucially, even the ballads are disappointing and that’s an area where Stratovarius have often excelled. Most of them here are too overdone, larded up with symphonic fluff that just makes it all the more painful that Kotipelto isn’t reaching the heights the music demands.

All this means that fans of power metal might feel a little wan by the time they reach the final song of the release (the passable ballad ‘A Drop in the Ocean’), since they haven’t been given much metal, but more of a symphonic experience like the closing music of a film with thousands of extras to list in the credits. None of the musicians make much of a name for themselves, with Timo Tolkki doing nothing of note on rhythm guitar (at least, nothing he hadn’t done better before) and only adding a few interesting leads to the disorganized ‘Elements’. Stratovarius really crumbled very quickly after releasing Destiny and didn’t begin an upward trend until nearly a decade later. One may want to give kudos to the five-piece for throwing everything at Elements pt.1, but I would have preferred them to stick to the simpler and more exciting formula that made Infinite a pretty good listen. This is power metal that even power metal fans might not be able to stomach.