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Stratovarius - Polaris

Discussion in 'Metal Reviews' started by Fullangr, Jul 13, 2009.

  1. Fullangr

    Fullangr Loitering Dwarf

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    Stratovarius - Polaris
    EarMusic - 15 May 2009
    By Ellie McGee

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    There are some bands in this world that seem to soldier on regardless of what happens, who leaves, or anything else for that matter, and to say Stratovarius are one such band is putting it somewhat mildly. With the original line-up long gone, Kotipelto and Co are back with a new guitarist in the unfeasibly blond form of Matias Kupiainen (of Fist in Fetus fame/infamy), and a new album in the form of Polaris. So, how've they done?

    Fittingly, Polaris kicks off with 'Deep Unknown', which must go some way to describing how it felt making this album. A relentless performance from Jörg Michael on drums is almost flawless and sets this song up as a cracking opener to the rest of the album. Mildly catchy in its own right, but nothing compared to what’s coming up next and later: 'Falling Star'. Just in case you’ve managed to forget that Stratovarius like their overblown, impossibly catchy choruses, here’s a rather cute little reminder. Sounding not unlike a disco tune given a metal makeover, this is one of a couple of surprisingly playful tracks on Polaris that give the distinct impression a lot of fun was had by all in the studio.

    Next up, dragging Polaris kicking and screaming in a rather different direction, is 'King of Nothing'; an epic, keyboard-led opus composed entirely by Mr Jens Johansson who, unsurprisingly, plays keyboards. Very, very ambitious and notably innovative in places, but somehow it doesn’t quite work or fit into the album, especially when followed by 'Blind', a track that although good, doesn’t quite know what it’s meant to be. It’s part fun, catchy fluff along the lines of Falling Star, part perfect drunken-sing-along song, part mildly experimental demi-masterpiece, and wholly incoherent as a result.

    Moving swiftly on, next up is 'Winter Skies', a low-key number that just about supports its own weight and stands up with the rest of the album, but it’s tenuous in places. The piano and significant drop in tempo work surprisingly well as an interlude before the onslaught that is the rest of the album, and I suppose it could be rather stirring if you live far enough in a northerly direction to relate to the lyrics. I, sadly, don’t.

    The onslaught bursts into life with 'Forever Is Today'. The first track that new boy Matias Kupiainen really goes to town on, and almost single-handedly turns into a soaring, inspirational number, that makes this midget want to sod off up remote mountains for no real reason. Yes, really, and if that gets me up the mountains, 'Higher We Go' is what I’ll be singing on the tops. Think you know what the mother of all insanely infectious, happifying tracks sounds like? Not until you’ve heard this you don’t. Bugger swine flu – this is far more contagious, and there’s no known cure. Not that you’ll ever want one.

    With 'Somehow Precious', the tempo may have dropped, but the intensity hasn’t gone anywhere, and you get the impression that this track is somehow rather hard to play; it sounds almost like they’re playing in treacle, and the whole thing comes off as a bit laboured. The lyrics are interesting (and remarkably coherent) though, and Timo Kotipelto sounds considerably more comfortable here than on a fair few of the other tracks.

    Now…The Lauri Project. Written by bassist Lauri Porra, 'Emancipation Parts I and II' combine into what is quite simply one of the most epic pieces of metal I’ve heard since Mathias Nygård roused his warpainted Viking rabble with the Miklagard Overture back in ’07. Working well with his newly acquired partner-in-crime, Matias plays a big part in making not only Part I truly spectacular, but Part II as well. Part II has that rare, slightly unnerving feeling of a band in complete agreement about every aspect of a track – in particular, some brilliant vocals and guitar make Part II a worthy companion to Part I, if only as proof that Matias really can play guitar at less than 300bpm.

    So, after all that, does Polaris go out with a bang? In true, perverse Stratostyle, it goes out with anything but. 'When Mountains Fall' is a rather sweet, nicely orchestrated wee ballad, that has just enough charm to override the various things wrong with it on a technical level, including Kotipelto’s weakest vocals on the whole album. It is, however, a strangely fitting end to an album that’s a bit weird, a bit epic, a bit personal, a bit silly and, above all, more than a little bit good.

    Finally, back to the all-important question: how did they do? Let’s put it this way: if this is their idea of the expected awkward-first-album-with-new-line-up, I for one look forward to hearing great things in the future. Not to mention kidnapping as many band members as needs be to secure an advance copy of their next offering. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a stupidly catchy Finnish power metal album to get out of my head before I review Lunatica…

    Official Stratovarius Website
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  2. jwiebe

    jwiebe New Metal Member

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    i bought this cd the day it came out wondering how the new guitar player would stack up being a guitarist myself and huge music fan/stratovarious fan.. i was really excited about this cd and the production is just friggin amazing as usual! blind reminds me of black diamond just for the intro ect... i really dig that album!
     

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