Released: 2009, earMUSIC
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.