Released: 2012, Edel Music
With the release of UNDER FLAMING WINTER SKIES, Stratovarius has clearly emerged from the shadow of former band mastermind, Timo Tolkki. This of course does not lessen his contributions as he did form the band, set the blueprint, and wrote all their classic songs. However, witnessing them live, and seeing this live release, it's clear the band's newer material stands up very well with their immortal classics.
The fact that this was available on Blu-Ray was a treat. I had to order my copy from the USA though as Amazon Canada didn't have any Blu-Ray's available. The picture quality is excellent and the sound is amazing. Strangely, the 5.1 audio of the concert itself it a bit weird, so I switched that off. However, the 5.1 audio for the 18+min song "Elysium" in the bonus content sounds fantastic! I really wish 5.1 audio mixes of albums would have caught on. Speaking of the bonus content again for a min, the "documentary" portion is cool but could have been longer. It was nice to hear from ALL members in the documentary. It's quite sad that drummer Jörg Michael has left the band, but at least he explains why he's stepped down when the band is in such an upswing. The guys are clearly taking the high road regarding the "strange era" of the band from ~2005 until 2008 and with regards to Tolkki's departure. I guess the reason is - why focus on the negative? The band and their music has mostly been uplifting and positive, so it's best to focus on things that are not so depressing. The documentary, and all speaking in the live concert, is in Finnish (except when Jörg speaks, which is done in English). Even though Stratovarius is an international band, I can understand that, as they are a Finnish band, playing a live give in Finland.
Regarding the live set; the band went on a five date farewell tour in Finland in November of 2011. It might have been cool to have video from each of the 5 dates, but the band went with their show in Tampere. As these shows were something special, to give the band and fans time to celebrate the ending of an era with Jörg, the setlist is not entirely typical as well. Sure, you could argue that that the added cover songs were unnecessary and could have been used to play more Stratovarius material, but reportedly these were songs Jörg liked to play, so who can argue with that? The setlist covers almost all bases with a good balance of newer material ("Under Flaming Skies", "Deep Unknown", "Winter Skies") with their most recognized material ("Hunting High And Low", "Eagleheart", "Black Diamond", etc). I really like that they threw in some songs that dug a little deeper into their discography, namely, "Legions of the Twilight" and "Paradise". Of course, there is a ton of other songs I would have loved to see added, but all in all, I can't really complain.
Each member gets time for a short solo (including Jörg, although his mini-solo isn't listed as a separate track). The standout for me was the guitar solo by Matias Kupiainen. While many solos become a show off shred-fest, what Matias has accomplished is something else which is not just a showcase for his musical wankery, but for his composition skills and tastefulness as a shredder.
As with all live albums, you wonder how much was fixed post-concert in the studio. In some concerts you can tell (i.e. you hear vocals while no mic is in front of the vocalist). But with this release, they’ve done a good job of either hiding the fix-ups, or there are very few. As long as the touch-ups are not obvious, I'm OK with it as I'd rather hear something in key and to the right pitch than completely off. With the level of competence and musicianship in Stratovarius, it's likely that almost everything you hear is as it was.
Anyone who is a fan of melodic metal, power metal, and progressive metal will enjoy this concert. Regardless of what era of the band you prefer, their live performance here is undeniably awesome. With a new studio album due in the spring of 2013, the band will be watched closely to see how the addition of new drummer Rolf Pilve will impact their sound.