It doesn’t seem all that long ago that STRATOVARIUS was riding the high tide of popularity, playing a slightly more operatic form of power metal that had them taking the torch from the masters HELLOWEEN. Back in 1999 they were enjoying the momentum they earned from the solid album Intermission and its infectious hit “Hunting High and Low”. It seemed like the band couldn’t lose, but as always looks can be deceiving. Since then though the band has more or less resembled a train wreck, and like most train wrecks, we don’t want to look but we do anyways. Over the past couple of years the band has had internal squabbling that supposedly escalated to throwing blows. The band and their label threatened to sue anyone who illegally downloaded their albums, going so far as to claim that they had ways of booby trapping their discs so that they could tell who the transgressors were. Most recently they had a run in with the German government because of a new song that was written about Hitler. In the midst of all of this they released two albums called Elements Part I and II (clever titles huh?) that were overly dramatic, overblown, and overrated. Both of the bands highest profile members, guitarist Timo Tollki and Timo Kotipelto, also released solo projects. Somehow the band went from being the European poster boys to the band that everyone loved to hate in the span of a couple of years. Just call them the Scandinavian METALLICA.
Man, I am exhausted just thinking about all that. You could guess that I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get my hands on this album. Maybe since my guard was down the band could sneak up on me with some amazing new material that would help wash away the bad taste that the band had left in my mouth…maybe not. I will say this for Stratovarius (the album, not the band, I am sure countless hours went into the inspired title) is the best the band has done since Intermission. The band has dropped some of the pretentiousness of the previous two albums and seems to strive for a lighter fare at times that would remind me of a band like EDGUY. The results are songs like “Maniac Dance” “Fight!!!” “Gypsy In Me” and “Just Carry On”, the last being their best tune since “Hunting High and Low”. Sandwiched in between these four tracks though is evidence that they have not quite gotten over themselves just yet. “Back To Madness” closes with some spoken verses that sound…well there is no better way to describe it than silly beyond all reason. Then there is “Gotterdammerung (Zenith of Power)”, the song about Hitler that raised the ire of the Germans. Well I don’t see what all the fuss was about, both because the track is so obviously anti-Hitler and it is just not a very good song. Clocking in at almost eight minutes in length, it spends that last couple of minutes with Kotipelto chanting “Zenith Power” over and over again as if he has the ability to put us in a trance. This might have worked if I hadn’t been so busy laughing at the amazing level of cheesiness of the song. From there is doesn’t get any better as the album reverts back to the bands forte, overblown and under powered poodle metal. The ballad “The Land of Ice and Snow” is just excruciating.
RATING – 5/10 – As much as I liked about half of this album, I detested the other half just as much. It is looking more and more like these guys have gone round the bend a bit too far to get back. There are just too many bands doing this style bigger and better at this point. I am certain that my rating will not come close to matching those from people who plan their year around releases like this, but I was actually hoping this would be a good album because I have enjoyed this band a lot in the past and had hopes for a return to glory.
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