Released: 2003, Nuclear Blast Records
Since I’ve been buying the special editions of the Stratovarius releases when they come out (INFINITE box, INTERMISSION, and ELEMENTS PT. 1), I figured I should finally review one of the special editions rather than the “normal” release. What better place to start than with the brand new Stratovarius album - ELEMENTS PT. 2. This special edition was made available for pre-order on October 1st, 2003. Being the Stratofreak that I am, my order was placed right away. This special edition version was only made available in the Stratoshop from Stratovarius.com and from the Nuclear Blast shop. From what I’ve read this limited edition version of 1000 copies is already sold out!!
Before I get to the music, let’s take a look at what makes this special edition so exceptional. ELEMENTS PT. 2 is a two CD set that comes in a high box which contains the full album, an additional photo booklet in addition to the normal CD booklet, a sticker of the album cover, a Stratovarius merchandise flyer, and a second CD with demo versions of some of the ELEMENTS PT.2 songs, a demo version of a song that is named differently on the album, and five live songs recorded in 2003 at different venues.
Stratovarius have a strong and supportive fan-base. Chances are if you are a fan of the band and liked ELEMENTS PT. 1, you will also like PT. 2. Like PT.1, PT.2 also contains nine songs. There are no real surprises, which is fine by me, as Stratovarius have perfected the art of melodic metal. The only slight criticism that I can make on the ELEMENTS PT.2 material is that I would of preferred a few more tracks that are faster power/speed metal songs. Perhaps they feel that they’ve already proven they can write some of the best speedy songs with older tracks like “No Turning Back”, “Speed of Light”, or even “Black Diamond”. However, that logic doesn’t hold up because you could also say they’ve already proven they are not just about fast tempo material, especially on their last few releases! Criticisms aside, the material that Stratovarius write puts them at the top of the melodic metal style in my mind. So let’s look at the tracks on ELEMENTS PT. 2….
I don’t usually comment on every song on an album since I find it is often better to point out what I like or dislike on an album. However, since Stratovarius are one of my favorite bands, and since this is a lengthy review of the Special Edition of ELEMENTS PT. 2 I will take the liberty of commenting on all nine tracks on the album.
The album opens with the slower paced “Alpha & Omega”. This song’s lyrics had me wondering what they had in mind. The chorus is “I am the alpha, I am the omega. I am the beginning and the end of time.” I am not a follower of any religion, but even I recognized that as a quote from the bible as something Jesus Christ supposedly said. I hope this is not the beginning of Stratovarius going Xtian metal on us. One other quote in this song, to me, brings in an element of sarcasm when the lyrics read as: “No mistakes in God’s great ‘perfect’ cosmic play”. The inclusion of ‘perfect’ in quotes suggests that is far from perfect. It’s hardly perfect…anyway, no point to get semi-philosophical.
On the second track Stratovarius continue with having a catchy “single” release in the vein of “Eagleheart” or “Hunting High & Low” with the track “Walk To My Own Song”. This one is a bit simpler with regards to the guitar riffing than the other two. It’s still a great song, even if it’s a minor notch below these two.
Finally on track 3 of the album we get a faster song in the form of “I’m Still Alive”. The drumming is what makes this one fast; the guitar playing is not as aggressive as it could have been. That aside, it is one of my favorites on here and contains a fine solo!
Up next is the ballad “Season of Faith’s Protection”. Lyrically this one contains a positive message about never giving up. It begins with strummed acoustic guitar and vocals for the first verse before the keyboards and then drums come in. I’m not a big fan of ballads, but this one is ok (as in it’s bearable). At least 2mins into the song there are some distorted guitars for a bit. It is also the best ballad on the album. The keyboard outro on this one was totally unnecessary as it tinkers on like a child’s music box for too long.
“Awaken The Giant” is another of the album’s heavy slower tempo tracks, stylistically similar, yet a bit better than, the album opener. Lyrically it again contains a positive message about awakening the ‘giant’ within you and taking control. The vocals begin with a megaphone effect on them that was thankfully only used for a few vocal lines. It’s sounds ok in a small dose, but it does hide the voice.
“Know The Difference” begins like a classic Stratovarius song with it’s neo-classical lead guitar and keys following along….and thank the metal gods this one picks the tempo back up!! This is currently my favorite track on the album, but that could change as the months and years pass by. The solo section around 3mins in is awesome and the keys and guitars play some wickedly fast stuff!!
Now we come to the low point of the album with the ultra-sappy ballad “Luminious”. This is the song people will use when picking an example out of context to “prove” why they think Stratovarius are weak. I doubt I’ll be letting this one play all the way through that often since it’s just way too pussified for me.
“Dreamweaver” starts out with another classic sounding Stratovarius (sounds like it could have been something on FOURTH EPISODE?) melody. After the killer intro, I was expecting the tempo to pick up with some speedy double kicks and fiery guitar playing…too bad. Still good for a slower song, but I think we could use some more fast material on here!
“Liberty” closes the album out…but unfortunately not with a bang. The solo in this one shreds it up though and the orchestration is very nicely done.
Bonus CD (52mins long)
”Alpha & Omega (demo version)” is pretty much like the album track, just less produced with a rougher drum sound. Even Stratovarius demo material sounds as good as some band’s real releases. The ballad “Vapaus” is the unfinished song on here and it’s clearer that this is a demo because the vocals are unfinished and are not even sung in English. Timo Kotipelto even cracks up at one part and does a false start on the second verse. This one was re-worked and sung in English on the album and is called “Liberty”. I don’t speak or read Finnish, but I do know that the lyrics on the “Vapaus” version of the song are meant as a joke. I dropped by the StratoForum to see if someone might of posted the English translation, and sure enough it was there (thanks to a poster named “Lapazeus” for that) in all it’s hilarious splendor….for example “Quietly, quietly I hear the calling. Now I hold my balls, they are my friends.” Haaaaaa! “Season of Faith Protection” in demo form begins with 80’s computer game sounding keyboards. This one improved on the album and didn’t begin with the annoying keyboard sound; this demo version also has no vocals. The live tracks on the CD all sound decently recorded and not much can be said about them really. If you’ve heard them on the album, then you know what they are like and that Stratovarius are more than capable of recreating their sound live. One cool thing to point out is how they slide into “Fantasia” from the song “Destiny”. I’m sure if you were not a big fan of the band you might mistake this for one big song.
Well there you have it, an epic-length review of one of the year’s best melodic metal albums (along with ELEMENTS PT. 1 of course)! This has been a busy year for the band with 2 albums and a tour. They won’t be doing a proper tour for ELEMENTS PT. 2 but they will make appearances at some major festivals. This doesn’t bother me at all since they never play anywhere near me in any case! Maybe someday I’ll get to see them!! Next up in 2004 will be a new DVD in April. It was supposed to come out in January 2004 but was unfortunately put off a few months! All in all it’s been a great year for the band and for the fans with two killer albums to keep us occupied. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, chances are you are not a Stratovarius fanatic. If you like any melodic metal though, this is one band that you should be checking out.