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Stratovarius
Polaris
April 2009
Released: 2009, earMUSIC
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: EvilG

New album... new logo... new line-up... Same old Strato? Well...ALMOST. In the past few years, Stratovarius primarily became fodder for the popular metal tabloids with former band mastermind and guitarist Timo Tolkki's public mental breakdown. Despite all this, I still remained a fan of the band and Tolkki's new band Revolution Renaissance. The big question mark was not so much if Tolkki would continue to write good music, but what would happen to Stratovarius without his driving influence? With the launch of POLARIS, all fears and any doubts are laid to rest.



Some of the internal dynamics of the band have no doubt changed and to these ears perhaps the biggest change is the more prominent role given to keyboardist Jens Johansson. Jens fills the the lead guitar role on a number of the album's opening tracks. I was expecting that with the first song or two there would be some in your face guitar wankery, as the band might have wanted to say “in your face” and show people that the new gun was here to shred. This is not the case at all. The presence of the guitars and the lead playing is something that builds as the album proceeds with the lead guitar taking on a larger role later into the album, where new guitarist Matias Kupiainen gets to prove to us that the band made the right call in bringing him into the fold. As a big Tolkki fan, I was hoping there would have been a little more over the top guitar wanking on here but I'm not disappointed...just nit picking.



Another plus with POLARIS is the return of some fast double kicking songs. Of course, I'm a bit retarded in this department and would prefer it if 80% of the material was ripping like “Speed of Light” but I'm much more satisfied with this album than I was with their unmemorable 2005 self-titled album. In fact, at this early stage I'm liking POLARIS more than anything post INFINITE (2000). Faster songs like ‘Blind’, ‘Forever Is Today’, and ‘Higher We Go’ definitely have the good old Strato feel. If you are a fan of the band's softer ballad side, you'll also be happy as they keep things diverse.



I was kinda surprised to see the song-writing credits for the album. I was figuring that Jens and Kotipelto would do the bulk of the writing. However, as you can see below, bassist Lauri Porra really gets to make his mark on POLARIS while guitarist Matias Kupiainen is only credited as a co-writer on 2 songs. What impact his playing and writing will have on the band perhaps remains to be heard. It will no doubt be interesting to catch them on tour and hear how he interprets the Tolkki material!



1. Deep Unknown: (Matias Kupiainen/TimoKotipelto)

2. Falling Star: (Lauri Porra/Lauri Porra)

3. King of Nothing: (Jens Johansson/Jens Johansson)

4. Blind: (Jens Johansson/Jens Johansson)

5. Winter Skies: (Jens Johansson/Jens Johansson)

6. Forever is Today: (Lauri Porra/Lauri Porra)

7. Higher We Go: (Timo Kotipelto, Matias Kupiainen/Timo Kotipelto)

7. Somehow Precious: (Timo Kotipelto, Matias Kupiainen/Timo Kotipelto)

9. Emancipation Suite part I: Dusk (Lauri Porra/Lauri Porra)

10. Emancipation Suite part II: Dawn (Lauri Porra/Lauri Porra)

11. When Mountains Fall: (Lauri Porra/Lauri Porra)



Reportedly, the band went into a month long seclusion in a cottage by the sea in Finland in Sept. 2008 to work on this album. Following that they went to Hästholmen and 5by5 studios, in Helsinki, Finland to record. Again the band was masterfully mixed by the well known Mikko Karmila. The end result is one of the best melodic metal albums of 2009 from a rejuvenated and back on track band. So chart a course to your local record shop on May 18th as one of melodic metal's finest shine as brightly as ever.
Track Listing

1. Deep Unknown
2. Falling Star
3. King Of Nothing
4. Blind
5. Winter Skies
6. Forever Is Today
7. Higher We Go
8. Somehow Precious
9. Emancipation Suite: I Dusk
10. Emancipation Suite: II Dawn
11. When Mountains Fall

Lineup

Timo Kotipelto (vocals)
Jens Johansson (keyboards
Jörg Michael (drums)
Matias Kupiainen (guitar)
Lauri Porra (bass)


Next review: » Stratovarius - Polaris
Stratovarius
Polaris
May 2009
Released: 2009, Edel
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: Munkwunk

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.
Track Listing

1. Deep Unknown
2. Falling Star
3. King of Nothing
4. Blind
5. Winter Skies
6. Forever Is Today
7. Higher We Go
8. Somehow Precious
9. Emancipation Suite I: Dusk
10. Emancipation Suite II: Dawn
11. When Mountains Fall

Lineup

Timo Kotipelto - Vocals
Matias Kupiainen - Guitars
Jens Johansson - Keyboards
Lauri Porra - Bass
Jörg Michael – Drums


Next review: » Stratovarius - Polaris / Polaris Live





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