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Aged Like Fine Wine - 95%

Evergrey_Rocks, February 1st, 2019
Written based on this version: 2011, CD, Armoury Records

This record is a fond one for me to look back on, as it was one of the first 10 metal albums I ever purchased. I just had it on in my car for the past week and a half and figured I’d give it a review.

Stratovarius is a band that needs no introduction, but it is worth noting this is the 2nd album they made without Timo Tolkki and Jari Kainulainen. Matias Kupiainen and Lauri Porra bring some fresh blood into this band and contribute excellent musicianship in this record.

When I first got into metal, I gravitated towards prog bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X, but I also appreciated, and still very much appreciate, traditional metal like Iron Maiden. I got my hands on a copy of this CD and I was impressed by how this, to my ears at the time, seemed to be a combination of what I had heard from Maiden and Symphony X. The album was fun, fresh, energetic, and catchy! This album made me obsessed with this group for a time.

Now, first thing: this album 100% stands the test of time. When I jammed out to it this past week, it still sounded just as fresh as it did back in 2011. I still enjoy the hell out of this album. Having bought and listened to all of Strato’s albums since hearing this one, I can honestly say this isn’t just my favorite album from them, but it’s simply their best one. I’ve heard plenty of other power metal bands since 2011 (like HammerFall, Sonata Arctica, Kamelot, Magica, Seven Kingdoms, among others) and this album just stands out; regardless of the nostalgia, this album just has a unique feel to it. The typical power metal tropes are there, but they aren’t overbearing: there’s plenty of double bass drumming, but it’s done as a compliment to the music in this case, rather than just for the sake of “checking the block” so to speak. The music has an “epic” feel to it, but not in a cheesy way; the album’s name is appropriate as the music just has a heavenly atmosphere about it, especially in the slower songs. Another note on the music, however, is the guitar playing is far more emotive and feel based than the typical “arpeggio up and down the scale” that I’ve heard a fair amount of power metal bands do.

Expanding on that “epic feel” that I mentioned earlier, I think it has to do with the fact that the music isn’t always major, or happy, like most power metal bands. It has a little more bite to it. For example, looking at the lyrics to “The Game Never Ends,” it seems like it would sound a little more upbeat due to the kind of “we stand united” message that it seems to convey, but even it has a little tint of grey in its sound. It’s honestly a unique sound to me.

Now, on this album, I’ve come to appreciate every song. I will say that the weakest link for me is “Lifetime in a Moment.” I can listen to it at times, but at other times it remains the only song I skip: it just depends on my mood. It is a pretty solid song until the chorus. The chorus kills the feel of it to me.

The standouts, though, have to be “Darkest Hours,” “Under Flaming Skies,” “Fairness Justified,” and “Elysium.” They are all just very well crafted songs. “Darkest Hours” is still a song I can jam and sing along to after a rough day, or even when I’m feeling on top of the world! I love the fact that it’s still heavy, yet there isn’t a single section of it that has double bass drumming. “Under Flaming Skies” is one of the heavier songs on the album and I just love the darker atmosphere the keys bring to the song.

“Elysium,” the behemoth title track, however, is this band’s magnum opus. This song takes up 18 minutes (32% of the album’s run time for those keeping score back home), and wow does this impress. The song is done in 3 parts and they flow together beautifully. This song just doesn’t age. They managed to make 18 minutes feel like 8; I get lost in this song every time I hear it. This is the peak of the album in all aspects: vocally, drumming, guitar, keys, bass, everything! The solos are top notch, the lyrics are conveyed beautifully, and everything just flows together naturally. One of the best epics in any genre!

If you’ve made it this far, you can tell I really enjoy this album: even 8 years later. This is Stratovarius’ best album; don’t let anyone else fool you!

Other comparable albums: Polaris by Stratovarius, Neverworld’s End by Xandria, and Hymns for the Broken by Evergrey.