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Best of the Tolkki-less efforts - 96%

slayrrr666, April 13th, 2013
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Armoury Records

The fourteenth offering from Finnish power metal heroes Stratovarius, “Nemesis” could very well be the crowning opus of their recent output and is certainly on par with their glory days in the mid-90s and is surely the strongest of the post-Tolkki albums the group’s released under their newfound style of energetic yet melodic power metal.

The first half of the album is assuredly the albums best, with a collection of strong, diverse tracks that are rather enjoyable. Opener ‘Abandon’ swirls together with back-and-forth melodic jabs, technically-frenetic drumming, rolling grooves and Timo Koltipelto’s soaring vocals in creating a rocking opener that sounds as warm and uplifting as any lead-off track from their past and makes an instant winner. The next track, appropriate first single ‘Unbreakable’ is a rather fine up-tempo yet more melodic track with some exceptional vocal melodies and a rather rocking pace that showcases the band’s newfound melodic power metal style really nicely rather than the classy symphonic approach of the past. Next track, ‘Stand My Ground’ is a little weak as the band reverts to the uninspired melodic metal they played in Tolkki’s last years, and despite the grand choruses and potentially intriguing riff-work along the solo section, it feels a bit boring. This is thankfully rectified by the next two tracks, album highlights ‘Halcyon Days’ and ‘Fantasy.’ ‘Halcyon’ is the band’s fastest work on the whole album with an awe-inspiring intro that thrashes away with joyful abandon throughout which creates a really epic feeling and is their most traditional/old-school symphonic power metal-ish song on the whole album. ‘Fantasy’, meanwhile, is a melodic mid-tempo rager that thankfully never strays into the ballad medium the way it starts but gets into a quicker tempo when the band’s backing vocals kick in to create another winner in this new-found melodic power metal style.

The second half starts off just as strong but quickly falters, not due to the quality of the material but rather the fact that there's not the diversity among the tracks as the first half. The songs are just as good, but too many of them are stylistically similar to each other rather than the more wide-spread collection of songs that came before. That is hard to realize, though, as it starts off strong with ‘Out of the Fog,’ a rocking mid-tempo offering that sees the band really turning this more relaxed melodic power metal style into their own with a frenetic drum pattern, some inspired riff-work and those soaring vocals they’ve honed to perfection over the years. These elements create a rather impressive and overall strong track that ranks with the albums’ best works and gives the album three strong tracks in a row. It starts to turn around with ‘Castles in the Air,’ which is an even-more relaxed song and almost feels as though it could be a ballad but is a bit too fast-paced. When the band’s backing vocals during the chorus kick in, they give off a more epic feel than most ballads and the greater degree of electronic instrumentation used being another large clue, this doesn’t change the song being overall impressive if a little lacking compared to what came before it due to the more relaxed pace. Two more similar relaxing, laid-back songs follow, with ‘Dragons’ being the better of the two by the grandiose imagery of the riff-work coming off as slightly more impressive and it’s solo a lot more imposing with the backing vocals giving it a majestic vibe that’s not found elsewhere on the album and creates an overall strong track. The true ballad ‘If the Story is Over’ is the same story heard over and over in the genre’s ballads, so if you’re into that kind of song it’s quite enjoyable while for those into the more rocking tunes, it’ll feel quite lame and cheesy with its use of strings, laid-back pace and feelings of sentimentality. Thankfully, the title track closes things out with an impressive return to the more rocking vibe of the rest of the album and has a strong, up-tempo vibe that gives off an epic feel eerily similar to that of their old material and ends the album on a strong note.

There’s not a whole lot to dislike with this release, as it’s consistent, well-written with numerous strong hooks, leads and riffs, and contains a strong production job that gives everyone a great performance while maintaining the closest sound and feel yet to the classy power metal of their preceding albums. About the only flaw to be found within the work is the keyboards which are kept low and never really given a chance to shine as that keeps the band from reaching the symphonic grandiosity they performed, yet this also serves well with their more relaxed approach recently and definitely has some good points about it as the guitars shimmering is consistently enjoyable, the drumming is forceful without overpowering everything and the vocals shine exactly as they did at their brightest peak in the past. While not quite at the level of their best works, this is still one of their better records and is clearly the best thing they’ve done without Timo Tolkki in the group, and ranks among the years’ top overall albums in the genre so far.