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Eternally entertaining. Sorry for the pun. - 87%

Empyreal, October 4th, 2015

The last couple of Stratovarius albums have been, bar none, the best in the band's long catalog, which I say even as a fan of some of their earlier 1990s output as well. It's especially impressive because I can't think of another band that was able to jettison basically a founding member and then reform their whole identity, putting out such quality albums as Polaris and Nemesis. Guitarist Matias Kupiainen is an obvious factor in that success, as his extremely solid, polished style and obvious songwriting chops have gone a long way toward keeping Stratovarius one of the best in their genre. For a young dude in his 20s when he was first hired, this kind of work is stunning. I can't wait to see what else this dude does in the future.

So now we have Eternal, their newest album, and it's more of the same rock solid quality. I admit I was unsure of how this would turn out – the album title was generic, the song titles were rather bland, and I wasn't huge on that new Cain's Offering album which also came out this year. But inside I knew Stratovarius would do fine, and they have. This is basically what you expect – pristine production, crystalline synths, pounding, rhythmic guitar riffs and soaring, AOR-inspired chorus melodies delivered in a Finnish accent. There are few surprises here, but then, the quality is so good that it doesn't matter. The sound is, as always, so polished and clean that it's actually a bit of an acquired taste due to how forceful and energized the music is – it's the other side of the coin from a super brutal, murky death metal band. They may be polar opposites, but both of them are a niche, specific sound representing an acquired taste.

The songs on this are more palatable and accessible than those on Nemesis, without quite so many experimental, electronic and progressive flavors. But they're also easier to listen to, and the album goes down like an ice-cold glass of milk after you just worked all day outside in the summer. Everything just kind of gels on here – the melodies are extremely pleasant and catchy, and the songs are bursting with an electric energy. Timo Koltipelto's vocals sound great – along with guys like Tobias Sammet and urban breed, he's really finding a new groove and sounds better than ever. The riffs here are a bit less in the forefront than on Nemesis, but everything flows very well anyway.

“My Eternal Dream” is a blazing opener with fluttering melodies, searing guitar leads and Koltipelto dipping into a forceful, immediately hooky vocal line that comes off like a late 90s Stratovarius track in high definition. Lead single “Shine in the Dark” has some poetic, lovelorn lyrics and an infectious hook, and further tracks like “Rise Above It,” misty, atmospheric half-ballad “Lost Without a Trace” and the urgent, melodious ear-worm “Feeding the Fire,” which is my pick for best on the album, are basically a play-by-play of everything the band has ever been about. They are extremely catchy songs, and the fact that you've heard this type of material before from them does nothing to dilute the entertainment value. Actually, I'd say they have really honed their sound here into a summation of everything they've ever been about. “Man in the Mirror” is one of the only spots on here that hearkens back to the progressivism of Nemesis, with a slightly darker, electronic-influenced sound that grows on you like fungus. Ballad “Fire in Your Eyes” is actually a standout, a really good, affecting song.

If I had to pick a weak point, the epic “Lost Saga” might have to be it. It starts off good, and the band certainly sounds on point – but it loses its way in the second half and the lyrics are a bit silly. But overall even that's still worth hearing. This is a very solid, well played and professional album of power metal. Maybe not as good as Nemesis, but not being as good as one of their best albums isn't a crime. Eternal is legit; power metal fans will love it. Go get it now. That's all I gotta say about it.