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Still At The Top of Their Game! - 92%

Spiner202, October 14th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, earMUSIC

Stratovarius is by far the most reliable power metal band in recent years. Almost like clockwork, every 2 years since 2009, the band has released a new record, which manages to make subtle changes to the band’s overall sound, while still sounding definitively like Stratovarius. “Eternal” marks the fourth such effort. Interestingly, this album’s unique identifier is that is almost shows the band going back to the sound they became famous for. Many songs on this record are reminiscent of albums like “Fourth Dimension” and “Episode”; in other words, there is plenty of high-speed, blazing power metal driven by eccentric keyboards and large amounts of double bass. This is no more evident than on the opening song, “My Eternal Dream”, which kicks things off with triumphant fanfare from keyboardist Jens Johansson. This song also shows that lead vocalist Timo Kotipelto has not lost a step. His voice soars with ease, and while he may not go after some of the high notes he did earlier in his career, he knows how to work within his range (which is still of impressive width).

Though quite a few songs also display this tendency towards old-school European power metal, the band does manage to mix things up a little bit. “Shine In The Dark” is the prototypical Stratovarius single, not dissimilar from “Unbreakable” and “Darkest Hours” before it. As always, this means a song with a chorus that transcends catchy, an almost bouncy beat throughout, and a very upbeat feeling. Another highlight is the sole composition from bass player Lauri Porra: “Lost Without A Trace”. This song is a little bit darker, alternating between cleaner sections in the verses, and heavier sections in the rest of the song. Once again though, it is Kotipelto’s voice that steals the spotlight.

Aside from these songs, another track of note is the nearly-12 minute closer “The Lost Saga”. The band’s previous epic, “Elysium”, is without a doubt one of the best songs they’ve ever written. While “The Lost Saga” doesn’t quite stack up, it is quite worthy of being called epic. The song starts off slow, but once the band comes in, guitarist Matias Kupiainen hits you with one of the all-time great Stratovarius riffs. It almost reminds me of the riffs from the early Metallica records, simply because of how classic it is. As the track progresses, the band continues to deliver largely the same things they have been providing earlier in the album, culminating in an epic slow section not unlike the grand finale to “Elysium”. As great as “The Lost Saga” is, the band easily could have cut off the first or so minute as well as the last one, neither of which feature substantial musical contributions relative to the rest of the track. Nevertheless, these are small complaints on an otherwise stellar song.

In terms of disappointments, “Eternal” has few. The only slight letdown is that the Jens Johansson-penned tracks are not quite up to par this time. On the previous two albums, songs like “The Game Never Ends” and “Dragons” were easily among the highlights. This time around, “Man In The Mirror” is a very serviceable song that fits in with the rest of the record, while “Fire In Your Eyes” is a bit of a weaker ballad-esque song. But this is part of what makes Stratovarius great; on “Elysium”, Lauri Porra’s song was easily my least favourite, while on “Nemesis” and “Eternal”, his contribution to each record were amongst the best. The variability in writing shows that everyone in the band is a good songwriter. Likewise, Kupiainen and Kotipelto/Liimatainen have their share of hits and more standard songs (but these two songwriting groups tend to write more of the material, so there’s usually a good share of winners and more predictable songs on each album). Ultimately, however, all of these guys have a perfect understanding of Stratovarius’ sound and what makes it so great. Sometimes they write a better song than others, but they never miss the mark completely, and even an average Stratovarius song exceeds what many other bands are doing. “Eternal” may be the weakest of the latest 3 records (though I like it more than “Polaris”), but it once again shows a fresh take on a familiar sound, and that’s more than enough to keep it in regular rotation!

Originally written for Skull Fracturing Metal