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Melodic, intense and emotive. - 90%

Empyreal, January 27th, 2011

Second album for these venerable Finns after the exodus of resident crackpot Timo Tolkki. Their last one, Polaris, was a volleying, energetic return to form that basically proved to the world that they didn’t need Tolkki at all to pump out good power metal. And their newest full length Elysium is simply an extension and progression of the ideas that album used.

With an epic sweep, Stratovarius produce some of their best songs in years. Really this is just Stratovarius doing what they do best, with their most consistent set of songs in a decade. The melodies are sweet and wistful, and the songs they’re worked into are hard-hitting and snappy as hell, not to mention addictive, too. I haven’t been able to stop playing this recently. Guitarist Matias Kupiainen deserves special mention here, as he wrote a bunch of the best songs on here, and as he is a new member, I think that’s an accomplishment to be lauded. Stunning work from the whole band, though.

The band’s blend of sweetened melodic power metal has not faltered here, but rather been touched up with slightly more intricate songwriting. There are fast songs here, like “Under Flaming Skies” and “Infernal Maze,” but where the band really shines is on the midpaced numbers, which they frankly have never done better. Tracks like opener “Darkest Hours,” “Lifetime in a Moment” and the excellent “Fairness Justified” are some of the strongest on here with their huge, emotive vocal performances and simple but effective guitar, bass and keyboard combinations – less is truly more in this scenario. “Event Horizon” is also one of the album’s standouts, with a blazing tempo, a firestorm of a chorus and some really cool sound effects to boot.

But of course the 18 minute title track is where the bulk of the band’s inspiration clearly was on this album, and it shows. Now, this is not one of those songs where you get like three minutes of intro and outro background noise book-ending a bunch of prog-jerking; no no. This is a full 18 minutes of crushingly dramatic Thespian-level power metal with vocalist Koltipelto giving an absolutely stunning performance – every single vocal line is pure gold; I am dead serious. The rest of the band is great, too, with crystal-clear guitars and lush synths and the electric fuzz of the bass coming together wonderfully, but it’s Koltipelto’s moment of glory, and he just absolutely shines. One of Stratovarius’s best songs ever. They never could have done this with Tolkki in the band; it would have come out terrible. But this…this is a band at full power.

So, yeah, Elysium is a hell of an album, improving on Polaris just like any good follow up should. The songwriting is rock solid, the performances are all great and there are just some really great songs on here. They’re all enjoyable, really. This is going to be on many end-of-year Top 10s, and one or two listens will show you why.

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