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The best power metal album in many years - 95%

BloodIronBeer, January 26th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, earMUSIC

I don't think Stratovarius needs any introduction. So, I'll jump right in to what matters in this phase of the band's life. After losing their founding member, and chief song writer, Timo Tolkki, the band has be lauded for having recovered so well with the last three albums they've produced. Some would even argue that among those three, namely Nemesis, is their best work so far. And there is no denying the quality of those albums, especially in light of Tolkki's departure, but I would disagree, only because this album is the best contender for that honor. Yes, I would argue that 30 years after forming, and having no founding members, this band has strangely, against all odds, produced their best work.

The key words to defining this album, are the words you would use to describe a great deal of the body of work throughout those 30 years: uplifting and energetic. Stratovarius' sound and theme have touched on the melancholy, but have always in true power metal fashion, sought to see the positive in things. To keep it on the better side of the corny spectrum they've always tempered their upbeat spirit with heart-felt melancholy and darker reflections. To hone this balance further, they've always added high tempo and quick licks to the equation. Both of these things, however, I feel they've done better than ever on this album.

The base of their sound is of course, the synth-heavy, double-bass-tastic speedy European power metal. But balancing their older sound which was maybe a bit more on the emotional side, with the last three albums, which have a bit more of a new school, riff-oriented and downtuned guitar sound, they've produced in this album their most well balanced and refined music. Both elements are here. The dream-like quality of the keyboards mesh with some legit headbanging guitar riffs.

The drums are thunderous, bassy with pop. Very tasteful playing here, not going crazy with the double bass, like they might have done in the past. The more modern leanings on the guitar show up at just the right moments, like in a sort of slow down in Rise Above It with some nice epic choir keyboards and guitar screams, giving a nice little punch to the song before it moves on to the next part.

Kotipelto's vocals are as powerful, full ranged and expressive as ever. This might be his best vocal performance. A true legend. The opening track is one of the most "Stratovarius" sounding songs ever. It's the band in a single song. Powerful, uplifting, catchy as all Hell. Speedy drum fills, grandiose keyboards and quick guitar licks abound. Classic stuff.

But what really pushes this album from really good, to something truly special is the epic final track, The Lost Saga. This track is essentially perfect from a song writing standpoint. It opens with the epic choir vocals, slowly building the theme, then breaking into a sweet chugging, headbanging riff that is uncharacteristic for this band but so, so spot on, going back to the epic theme in the melody. Later there is use of polyrhythms and nice metric variations, getting a little proggy, done so tastefully. The song unfolds so nicely, seeing flashes of many genres, and many moods throughout the course of the narrative. Impeccably written, and so fucking potent. This is quite possibly the best song in this band's long history. I have no qualms in calling it a masterpiece.

Even the bonus track of Giants is a fantastic track. Reminiscent of Fourth Dimension era stuff, it's catchy, and cheesy and awesome. I can't quite remember the last time I heard a power metal album of this magnitude. Don't sleep on this album. Absolutely top notch!