Released: 2009, Edel
Stratovarius is a band which needs little introduction. With a career that spans two decades, these venerable power metal experts have a history as long and tumultuous as any any rock band. Most will remember the public fall-out between the band's founder and former guitarist, TImo Tolkki, and the band's present singer Timo Kotipelto. It was a messy affair that ultimately led (ironically) to the founder leaving the band and the ousted singer rejoining and eventually carrying the torch for their future.
POLARIS is the second album to be released since Kotipelto's return to the band, but it is the first in which Tolkki's presence is missing, and it is sorely felt. While the album as a whole is a masterful piece of progressive power metal, it – like the previous self-titled release – lacks some of the quality that used to make Stratovarius so great. The majority of tracks are mid-tempo pieces, similar to much of Kotipelto's solo work, with a huge emphasis on progressive-sounding keyboards. There isn't as much of the speed metal flair that used to set the band apart, like on their 1997 release, VISIONS, which is regarded by many to be one of Stratovarius' defining albums.
If you can put aside any preconceived notions about what the music should sound like though, what you'll find is a remarkable piece of work. Matias Kupiainen may not be Timo Tolkki, but his guitar work on POLARIS is satisfactory, though not exactly stand-out save for his soulful solo on "Emancipation Suite Part II: Dawn" and the two shredding tracks, "Forever is Today" and "Higher We Go". The rest of the crew, including the somewhat recent addition of Lauri Porra on bass, still perform as exceptionally as ever. The end result is a pleasant power metal album with a few "really good" tracks among a bunch of "pretty good" ones.
Even if this isn't quite the album that long-time Stratovarius fans have been hoping for, it is a solid release that certainly trumps their previous effort. It's worth picking up if you're a fan of melodic power metal in general, even if you haven't been following the band for the better part of twenty years.