STRATOVARIUS – Stratovarius

STRATOVARIUS - Stratovarius


Nuclear Blast
Release date: September 5, 2005

User Review
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There has been lots of Stratovarius in the press the last year or so, although very little of it musically related. Mental illness, obscure female singers, Hollywood religions, and several very atmospheric line-up changes have been key ingredients in a rather unstable period in the life of both Stratovarius and main songwriter/guitarist Timo Tolkki. However, the band is back with the “old” line-up (not the original one, which actually did not include Timo Tolkki, but the most well-known one consisting of Tolkki on guitars, Timo Kotipelto on vocals, Jari Kainulainen on bass, Jens Johannson on keys, and Jörg Michael on drums).

However, it was all in the cards that the Strato’s would return, and this self-titled album is not at all a bad manner in which to do so. Musically, not too much has changed since last time – no one supposed it would, did you? – but some minor changes were made actually, the most important being that this is a Stratovarius album almost entirely free of double bass kicks. From a band that gave us “Against the Wind” (Fourth Dimension), “Forever Free” and “Legions” (Visions), “Speed of Light,” and “Father Time” (Episode), that comes as a bit of a surprise, but the boys have obviously had a desire to slow things down a bit. Luckily things still work well.

“Maniac Dance” opens the ball. On one hand, this is quite a typical Strato album opener as it is a short, catchy, mid-tempo song (think “S.O.S,” “Hunting High and Low,” “Eagleheart,” etc.), but still this song is probably the one that differs the most from pre-mental illness Stratovarius. With a main theme sounding more like something by Tägtgren’s Pain or even a Nokia ring tone, and very Metallica-influenced verses and solo, this indeed was something new. Kotipelto has some kind of effect on his voice on this one, and sounds very cool. A funny little song, which smells like hit material all the way from Finland.

“Fight” and “Just Carry On” are more traditional Strato songs, with the trademark chord changes, one-finger keyboard and guitar lines, and epic choruses. Both are great songs — “Fight,” with its cool theme and awesome chorus (Kotipelto shines on this one), and “Just Carry On” with a very groovy verse, nice backing vocals in the bridge, and the trademark, optimistic chorus melody and lyrics. The lyrics go from pure sunshine to almost suicidal thoughts in no time … probably correlated to how Tolkki was feeling at the moment.

“Back to Madness” is another great track, melodic and majestic, with a very epic chorus where Michael lays down some cool variations on the old 8-beat groove. Timo Tolkkis’s riffing is very good, and that definitely goes for the entire album, as he is much more creative in his rhythm playing than before. He is far from being a Van Halen or Bettencourt, but the days of sole emphasis on sixteenth-note chugga chuggas are long gone.

“Gypsy in Me” opens with a very good example of a very groovy, very Tolkki-like, single-note riff. However, this is soon drenched in way too much keyboards. This is also symptomatic for the rest of this song – it tries a bit too hard to be a melodic, catchy Power Metal tune, and ends up sounding way to predictable. Jens Johansson tries to make up for his “Murder of the Main Riff” with quite a good solo, but this isn’t even close to what he’s capable of producing.

While “Gypsy …” was Stratovarius at their most predictable, “Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power)” is Stratovarius at their most pompous and so-called progressive, and this song also doesn’t work very well. The up-tempo verses and the solo section are very cool, but the rest is too slow and too boring, plain and simple.

Stratovarius has a good reputation when it comes to ballads, and the national romantic “Land of Ice and Snow” is another beautiful one from these Finns. It opens with a very emotional Kotipelto accompanied by a sole acoustic guitar, before it builds towards a very pompous climax, with dist-guitars and marching snare drums. Powerful stuff indeed. Also, look out for some cool lyrics here …

“Leave the Tribe” is everything “Zenith of Power” is not –- this is another slow and majestic number, and a very good one. The main theme is a very Destiny-like guitar motif, accompanied by trademark Finnvox studio synths. The chorus is a traditional Stratovarius melody over a circle progression of fifth chordsn, and Kotipelto gets to use his full range on this one. Tolkki delivers a good solo, and all this adds to a very good, although very typical, slow Strato-song.
“United” ends the album, and does so in a very good manner. The song is melodic and quite catchy in a Manowar sort of way, with a sing-along chorus and a very stage-friendly, mid-tempo beat. It may be a bit long –- the last minute or so featuring some rather clichéd fanfare trumpets could easily be dropped –- but a radio edit of this song could very well be a good second single if “Maniac Dance” does well.

In other words, Stratovarius is back with a vengeance. Despite a few flaws and the fact that the album lacks a true up-tempo track, this is a highly recommended album, and an impressive feat from a band who truly deserves some support.


  • Torgeir P. Krokfjord

    Torgeir was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. After hearing Malmsteen's "Vengeance" on a guitar mag CD at the age of 12 or 13, he began doing hopeless interpretations of Yngwie licks and it just took off from there. After shorter stints at other zines he was snatched to Metal Express Radio in 2003. Alongside Yngwie, Savatage, WASP, Symphony X, Blind Guardian, Emperor, Arch Enemy, In Flames, Opeth, Motörhead, Manowar, and Queensrÿche are a quick list of musical faves. Torgeir is also guitarist in the Heavy/Prog/Thrash outfit Sarpedon.

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