… that Stratovarius made an album without Timo Tolki on six string strafing. So is it still Stratovarius? Well, I’ll leave that debate to others and just plough into a review of the album;
# The album kicks off with Deep Unknown which is a fine tune totally in keeping with the Strats vision. In fact this album doesn’t really seem to have taken any departures at all from their signature motifs of speedy riffs, lots of keys and a hammering drum attack all leavened with Timo Kotipeltos’ highly strung vocal stylings. It’s all somewhat highly strung mega-goth-speed-metal with goth twinges, the latter more by default than any real gothic leanings of the band itself. After a number of plays I think Deep Unknown is a good track to sample to see if you want to buy this album, ditto for Blind though for me this track has too much emphasis on the drums to the detriment of enjoyability.
# Production by the band and having keyboardist Jens Johansson involved in the engineering has made sure that what you are getting is the bands musical vision. The sound is quite clean as you’d expect and kudos to Jens for not beefing up the keyboard sound until it drowns out everything else.
# The album does contain a number of mellow tracks. But then the Strats have been doing that for quite some time, the lumbering Winter Skies being a good example of where the band are at with this tangent at present and King of Nothing being a bit too plodding for its own good.
# The stepping aside (or call it what you will) of Timo Tolki has meant that the other band members have had to come to the party in the songwriting department. Of course most Strat fans know that the majority of the past writing has been done by Tolki and Kotipelto and most of the bands fans knew that the latter could pen a decent enough tune himself. But perhaps less people have heard the other works of Jens Johansson – albums like Sonic Winter for instance – and so his contribution to this disc will perhaps surprise many. But as I alluded to earlier, the absence of the bands main writer on this release has produced negligible effect. If you liked Infinite then you’ll like this. And as for the new guitarist – Matias Kupiainen – just check out some of the trade offs with Jens on tunes like Forever is Today. And at least this way the royalties might be shared a bit more evenly!
All up an album that stands alongside their earlier albums and is probably marginally better than the last, self titled, studio effort though it doesn’t rise to the realms of Visions, which would appear to be an album the band will never quite be able to surpass. Ultimately this album is a victory of sorts as it could very easily not have ever gotten made and it would be a shame to no longer be able to hear these guys perform in a group which obviously means so much to them. Fans of the hard rock musings of Stratovarius should buy with confidence even if it’s not their best work.