I agree with absolutely everything you said, Jon. I love those songs as well. "White Pearl, Black Oceans" is
! I also love the 80s-style catchiness of "Blinded No More" and I think "Shamandalie" is a killer ballad. Best album yet, without a doubt!
I also TOTALLY agree with you about their first, "Ecliptica". It's a good album, but I never understood why everyone seemed to think it was their best. To me they've grown miles from the Stratovarius style of that debut, especially in the way that Tony has learned to better write for his voice. In fact, I think they've gotten better with each album. I loved "Winterheart's Guild", but thought the first half of the album was definitely stronger than the second. This one is strong from start to finish.