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Why must I be subjected to this? - 35%

Empyreal, August 5th, 2007

Stratovarius were always a respectable band, as even their weakest albums (Elements pt. 1, for example) still packed catchy choruses and an overall serious sensibility for melody and songwriting. But not this album. This is their so-called 'reunion' album, less than two years after Elements pt. 1 and 2. It's barely even a reunion album, since the band wasn't even split up for that long after all of the bullshit drama going on between them (from what I hear, they pissed on eachother and got in fights on stage, Tolkki felt the compelling desire to hire two bodyguards, etc etc etc). It all sounds ridiculous to me, but hey, they had a new album, right? The fans can rejoice, and all is well again, eh?

WRONG!

Stratovarius went and dug their own graves with this one, as this is just about the most tepid, droning, boring pile of shit the band ever recorded. Instead of taking the safe route, they decided to do something new and go for a darker sound. Change is never a bad thing, but when you take a tried-and-true power metal style of soaring choruses, rapid-fire double bass drumming, and winding, neoclassically tinged solos, and turn it into a mess of groovy, monotonous riffs and forgettable "hooks", with some of the lamest and most ridiculous choruses ever, then it's safe to say that you've gone and shot yourself in the foot. Stratovarius is indeed a darker album than it's predecessors, if your definition of "dark" involves such terms as "plodding" or "slow." But aside from the lyrics (more on those later), this is still primarily a power metal album, and it still reeks of the same light, catchy fluffiness we always knew from Stratovarius.

This is barely even a metal album at times, leaning more toward some kind of hard rock-ish mess with the oddly simplistic, grooving rhythms and choruses, and the rather 'open' feeling of the production. That wouldn't be so bad if the band was writing good songs, but the fact of the matter is, Stratovarius don't seem to have in them the ability to write a compelling, interesting, or original song anymore. Let us take a brief glance at the song "Back to Madness" for the grossest and most obtuse example of this. The song still vaguely sounds like the Stratovarius we all know, albeit slower and with much less keyboard presence, and everything is peachy. The lyrics are even pretty cool, until out of nowhere, the song just drops out into a male opera singer, who proceeds to drill into our poor, unsuspecting brains for at least a minute, until the song goes back to the same monotony as before. There isn't even any clever buildup to the aforementioned dropout; it just happens. I'd really love to know what the band was thinking when they recorded this song, because it's such a confusing, amateurish display of fuckery that it makes my head spin, especially coming from such an established, veteran band.

The musicianship here isn't anything to complain about, but it's nothing that redeems the sins Stratovarius have committed either. Timo Koltipelto's vocals are at the forefront of the mix, and he doesn't utilize his infamous high notes at all, going more for a somber midrange. His vocals here don't bother me much, although I don't like how he extends a note and just holds it there on the "epic" songs here. It surely fits the heavier, grooving riffs, but it doesn't sound good at all. Speaking of heavier riffs, Timo Tolkki's guitar has also been pushed to the forefront, and while there are some interesting ideas in "Maniac Dance", I can't remember any other cool solos or riffs or anything, from any other song here. He plays heavier, but it's just too simple, too elementary. As a result, the keyboards have been pushed back, and don't even show up in most of the songs for very long at all. If not for how dull the music was, I would count this as a plus. The drums and bass fulfill their purpose, but except for the fact that the drums are too loud, I don't have any quips with them.

Lyrics are a sticky point. Most of the lyrics on this album were written by Timo Tolkki, who, if you know the band's history, had been having quite the rough time before this album came out. "Maniac Dance", "Back to Madness", and "Leave the Tribe" all focus on his problems and life struggles, and I can't say they're very well written or enjoyable. I mean, come on! "Do the maniac dance"? I never did like lyrics that expressed personal troubles so bluntly, but this just takes a bad thing and makes it worse. The remainder of the songs hold the prize for having just about the most generic, uninspired lyrical puke ever vomited upon this earth. I hope Stratovarius didn't think they were the first band to write a song with a title containing the words 'Carry On', and their 'Oops-we-ran-out-of-ideas' rendition of the Nazi regime in "Gotterdammerung" is nothing if not pretentious and idiotic, just another 'Oh, Hitler was so terrible and powerful' rant that we've seen a thousand times from a thousand better bands.

In all reality, this album isn't mind-numbingly terrible or anything. It's not the kind of thing that you'd want to run screaming from, and I've certainly heard worse departures of sound from other bands (Nocturnal Rites, for instance). It's just really fucking boring, is what it is. Half of the songs here aren't that bad at all, but just suffer from a certain lack of enthusiasm and liveliness that Stratovarius always had on their older albums. This is the work of a tired, weather-torn band, a band that has aged, and not for the better. None of the songs here are exciting, and I'll have to point out "Gotterdammerung (Zenith of Power)" and "Leave the Tribe" as especially sleep-inducing, with boring, basic riffs and bland choruses that don't soar or fly at all. The former doesn't need to be 7 minutes long, either, especially not with such an awful chorus, and the latter is probably the worst song the band has ever written in their entire career. Several songs here are far too long for their own good, and it really cripples the album even more. It all just comes back to the lackluster songwriting prowess the band is sporting these days, and that's the worst thing about this album---Stratovarius just doesn't know how to make good music anymore. All we can do is sigh, shake our heads, and then move on to listen to better music instead.