14 January 2011
by Tom Dare
There are returns to form, and there is cynically seeking refuge in the time people liked you and bought your records that leave you rather cold. With this, their thirteenth album, Stratovarius have firmly and triumphantly returned to form in the best possible way. Time to practice your air keytar.
The Great Strat’s last decade hasn’t been their best. After spending the 1990s releasing some of the all time great albums in what they do, they saw in the new century with the excellent Infinite and promptly entered something of a difficult patch. After three somewhat disappointing albums, their guitarist of nearly 25 years Timo Tolkki left the band in 2008. The last album, Polaris, saw them go “stripped down”- toning down the vast widdle synonymous with the band and reigning in the vocal athleticism. While everyone wants bands to progress and advance – and while Polaris was a perfectly adequate record – it wasn’t really what is wanted from Stratovarius. It would be a bit like Gallows making a record that doesn’t make you want to smash shit up- however good it is, it is a touch incongruous with the bands identity. Elysium brings the widdle and soaring campery back in spades, and it is no coincidence that the result is the band’s best record in years.
This isn’t a cynical rehash of Infinite, or a nostalgia trip back to the classic days of Visions– Timo Tolkki’s guitar parts were too distinctive, and his successor Matias Kupiainen has a clear style of his own that seems to bring in influence from Michael Romeo and Jeff Loomis while slipping seamlessly into the Stratovarius structure. The degree to which this comes across strongly hints that he has been allowed rather more involvement with the songwriting than last time out, and it is this that results in both the absence of tedious nostalgia and the quality of Elysium– the guitar work is fucking stunning.
Jens Johansson’s signature keyboard playing is all over Elysium like the rich chocolate sauce on profiteroles. At times it simply augments what else is taking place, and other times – such as on the sublime ‘The Game Never Ends’ – it is as important as the riffing, throwing out solos that don’t so much melt your face as sear it off, boil it and distil it into its constituent elements. With the foundations of the songs so strong, all is needed to round off the excellence is the huge vocal lines that made a generation of Finns fall in love with metal. Enter Timo Kotipelto to provide his biggest set of iron-lunged hooks in many, many years.
Watch a preview of Elysium material from here:
The singing takes an already excellent record and cements it into a towering colossus of superb brilliance. If you have choruses like ‘Infernal Maze’ or ‘Lifetime In A Moment’ or verses as engaging as ‘Move The Mountain’, the music that surrounds it could be shite and you would still be worth listening to. That it’s absolutely spankingly stellar makes this a record that shits all over everything in its sphere to come out in 2010 not released by Blind Guardian. Kotipelto sounds totally enthused and invigorated again, Johansson is at his gymnastic-fingured best and Kupiainen has stamped his own distinctiveness on a band that got together when he was learning to walk.
Elysium is the record power metal fans earned by staying the course over the last barren year. From the strong opening of ‘Darkest Hours’, things go from strength to strength, the heroic ending of the 18 minute closer the high point of a spectacular odyssey. If you even vaguely like noodly, uplifting metal and don’t smile with childish joy at the keyboard solo in ‘Event Horizon’ or one of the dozens of other spectacular sex-wee moments on here, there really is no help for you.
Sounds like: the most metal nation on Earth’s greatest band finding peak form
Top tracks: Infernal Maze, Event Horizon, Elysium
Stratovarius – Elysium tracklisting:
Under Flaming Skies
The Game Never Ends
Lifetime In A Moment
Move The Mountain