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Dark ride on star-shaped spaceship - 79%

Lane, November 4th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2009, CD, earMUSIC (Digipak)

Stratovarius have never been a band I listen to very much. I had only five of their albums before I opted to get their latest one, 'Polaris'. So, I'm not a fan of their music, so why did I bought it? There was two reasons, and both of them truly moderate: The single cut 'Deep Unknown' is fucking awesome and so is the sci-fi style cover art. On the other hand, I got every Kotipelto album, and while two later ones are quite average, I love his debut. So, I decided to wager on this...

This is the first Stratovarius album without the forming guitarist Timo Tolkki. Couldn't care less. Want to hear the story why he is out now? Okay, here we go: Piss off and read it from somewhere else if interested about metal music soap operas! The new guitarist is Matias Kupiainen who also plays in Fist In Fetus and played in The Sinkage. Never heard either one. Anyway, he knows his axe. The bass also is played by a new face, Lauri Porra, who's known from his appearance on the Kotipelto album 'Serenity' (2007) and plays in TunnelVision. Yeah, he too knows his axe. As a non-Stratovarius follower, I can say there is nothing wrong with the musicianship on this album.

It is no news, that a Stratovarius album does go from good-time songs to ballads and to melancholic ones, too. People have complained, that there are no catchy-as-fucking-catchiest-songs here. What the ffffff... If the opener 'Deep Unknown' does not drill itself into your brain on the first two goes, you've probably been lobotomized. This ass-kicking good-time song has it all: Catchy vocal lines, riffing that varies from straight to classical and proggy stuff, as do the synths too, and finally, ist has really driving beats. The best Stratovarius song I've ever heard, and yes, I've heard all the hits even if I don't own all the albums. Surprisingly, already the second song 'Falling Star' hits more melancholic mood with its slower pace. It still rocks, though. 'King of Nothing' sticks to the slower pace, but the mood is more offensive. 'Blind's baroque keyboard work is also rather snail-paced, but suddenly the song explodes into action: A truly Stratovarius-style speed-piece, and about time to. 'Winter Skies' takes the album back to the heavy melancholic mood. Roughly the half-point of the album. So, it's been unexpectedly slow tempo first half.

'Forever Is Today' is what the fans want: Anthemic power metal speeder. And 'Higher We Go' is another one. Now it's rolling! 'Somehow Precious' is the most melancholic piece with a lead melody, that is just a must to hear all over again and again. Epic 'Emancipation Suite' refuses to step on the gas pedal during the Mid-Eastern tinged 'Part I: Dusk', while 'Part II: Dawn' gets calmer and proggier. And how the album ends? With the middle age-meet-Finnish national romanticism style ditty called 'When Mountains Fall'...

To sum it up is not very easy at all. First, the song material is quite slowish in general. Maybe quite dark, like Kotipelto's latter albums, but much more coherent. The instrumentalists' performances leave me mouth open, because so good, interesting and multifaceted they are. The drummer Jörg Michael has found the power again, but does not forget those tasty tricks. The keyboardist Jens Johansson playes anything from prog to space stuff and from classical to baroque. New axe-wielders do it with style, showing their skills but without getting pompous. The guitar shreds, goes wildly classical, hits straight heavy metal gear, shrieks and whatnot, and the solos are simply make one go "wow". It's just so bloody multi-level! The bass backs it all with style. It sounds like it all is coming from the guys' hearts. The high-pitched vocalist Timo Kotipelto sounds enthusiastic too, but he overdoes it, ending up "shouting" and "screaming" everything out, even the calm ending ditty sounds very, very strained. But every song has fantastic and catchy vocal lines, no doubt about that, and Kotipelto's vocals still are a vital part of what is Stratovarius, no matter how big Finnish accent he has. The album needs a lot of spinning, before it opens up. I've spinned this dozens of times and still there are songs that need more, or then they'll never open up for me, hard to say.

Production-wise this is, in one word, perfect. The sound is powerful, clean and well-balanced. There are a billion and one nuances to be heard on 'Polaris', and I am truly astonished with all the big and the little details the band have worked on to be here. The cover artwork is fantastic too. well, I'm a sci-fi freak so it just grabbed me. The lyrics are about human emotions, be it determination (which this album just exhales), warring, love and loss.

A positive surprise after the bland 'Stratovarius' (2005). I can whole-heartedly support 'Polaris', even though not being a Strato-fanboy, but because it is a fine album anyway. If you love power metal with some proggy touches, then I suggest you grab this one ASAP!

(Originally written for ArchaicMetallurgy.com in October 2009)