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Good...should have been great - 70%

Radagast, July 8th, 2005

Right, I'm not going to bore you with another rendition of the story behind this album. Essentially, Tolkki was an arsehole, everyone quit, Tolkki realised he'd been an arsehole (I hope), they all realised they need each other more than they originally thought, and they were back together. Phew.

Anyway, for a 'comeback' album of sorts, this one is quite surprising. You would expect a safe, more-of-the-same release. Elements Part III, in other words. This album is not Elements Part III. The changes to the established sound are, as I say, rather surprising. The album doesn't feel like a Power Metal album, or at least does not feel like a Stratovarius-type album. The band seems to be consciously steering away from some of the more fruity excesses of Power Metal. Sometimes this works to great effect, at other times I was left scratching my head.

- There is very little use of double bass drumming. This is slightly disappointing, but hopefully few people will make the mistake of assuming the lack of double bass equates to bad drumming, something Jorg Michael is incapable of. This at least means there no verses that are just singing and constant pedal pounding (yes, of course I'm looking your way here, Rhapsody).

- Jens Johansson's contribution on this offering, as OSheaman has pointed out, is minimal - he will occasionally throw in an inspired solo or lead part, but for the most he is in the background, gently nudging things along. This is probably the biggest change to the sound, which of course leads to...

- ...a much greater guitar presence. There are actually audible riffs on this album, a bit of a Strato rarity in the last few years. This, coupled with the toned-down keys and double bass, gives the album an almost hard-rock feel at times.

- Again in keeping with the non-Power Metal vibe is the performance of Timo Kotipelto - he does not, at a single moment I can recall, go ball-squelchingly high. Unfortunately this serves to highlight that his midrange is not one of the best in the genre - he is no Daniel Heiman when it comes to the more-toned down stuff. It’s rarely a huge problem, but I'll outline later why the band seems to have shot themselves in the foot a little on this one.

- The bass? Jani is his usual self; he's just there, doing his job, steady and unspectacular.

Right, onto the songs. I won't be doing an extensive breakdown of each song, but I'll go through them quickly. You see, there are actually no bad songs on this album. Not one. But Jesus if there aren't some major stumbles along the way in some of them, which I'll be only to happy to point out.

1 - Maniac Dance. A real hard rocker, with a riff to really shake your head to. The lyrics are pretty tiresome, about how Tolkki had some problems but he conquered them 'cause he's cool as fuck. Whatever, it's a great opening track.

2 - Fight!!! Worst title ever!!! This is a really up-tempo track, feels a lot more Power Metal than the opener. Love the chorus, good solo, needs more double bass.

3 - Just Carry On. The first song that sounds identifiably Stratovarius (wait for the singing to start). Choir vocals and stuff. What this song is lacking is the Power Metal cliché everyone loves (or should love). The last 30 seconds of the song before it starts to fade is just the chorus being repeated, and I sat waiting for Timo to start shrieking it, and it just doesn't happen. A big opportunity missed.

4 - Back To Madness, our first ballad of the proceedings, ushered in by some string arrangements that give way to gentle acoustic pickings. The problem with this song is a serious "BUH???" moment in the middle. All of a sudden things give over to an opera singer wailing away in the background. For a full minute we're tortured by this guy before we get rescued by a good solo. Sanity is then restored and the song continues. Jeez, what were they thinking?

5 - Gypsy In Me. This one is more like Just Carry On, another song that you could more easily pick out as a Strato number. Jens plays a bigger part here. All in all another fine track.

6 - Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power). Yeah, another song about how the Nazis weren't very nice guys. This is the second song on the album to cut its own throat. Things are proceeding along nicely with a big evil (for Stratovarius) riff, and it’s shaping up nicely as an epic until the damn chorus. ZEEN-ITH OF POW-EEEEEER. Over and over and over again. Oh man, is that really the best they could do? There's a great solo section in this song, but it all keeps leading back to that damn chorus. Oh, and Hitler talks at the end. Well, it made me laugh.

7 - The Land of Ice and Snow. Too short! Too damn short! I was digging this little ballad that I assume is about Finland. Kotipelto's voice is just great here, and the keyboards are imitating this sad little wind instrument, but it just sort of...ends. Where's the bastard-size solo? Where? Another opportunity missed.

8 - Leave The Tribe. This fades in from The Land of Ice and Snow and continues the somewhat depressed vibe in a 'heavier' way. The chorus brightens things up a bit. I don't get the lyrics, but whatever, it’s another good song.

9 - United. This is the 'big anthem' of the album. The lyrics are pretty vile, about how it was destiny (rather than their bank managers) that brought the band back together, but it's a real crowd-pleaser in the making. The music is good enough to actually carry the cheap sentiment along. Put it this way, I'd love to be in the crowd when they play this one.

Conclusions: As I said earlier, there isn't a single outright bad song to be found here. If only it wasn't for the major fuck-ups in a couple of songs and a couple that could don't realise their potential, I'd be quite happily giving this record a 90.

Top songs: Maniac Dance, Just Carry On, United.

7/10