Stratovarius - Dreamspace
T&T Records
Progressive Power Metal
14 songs (63:57)
Release year: 1994
Reviewed by Ben
Archive review

Stratovarius are a long running institution of Finnish metal and one of the bigger names in Euro Power Metal in general. While discussing the band, it came to my attention that there is actually a generation of Stratovarius fans that probably have no idea who Timo Tolkki is. They might see his name on the credits of songs in more recent live albums but they most likely know him as "their first guitarist." Well, he wasn't just their first guitarist. While Tolkki is not the founder of the band, he was definitely the leader, the captain of the helm, the rudder, the anchor, the band's everything for many years. He wrote around 93% of all the songs, most of the lyrics, and it was his creativity that led the band. In fact, this talented genius spawned the entire melodic Finnish metal scene post 1997 because of the album Visions. That's not me making grandiose assumptions or suggestions, guys like Tony Kakko and Tumos Holopainen discussed the influence of that album many times over in early interviews. As well as leading Stratovarius to glory, Timo Tolkki also was a prolific producer who helped out bands like muthafuckin' Edguy and their Vain Glory Opera album. But, unfortunately his mental illness got the better of him and his downward spiral has been documented. Dreamspace was the last album where Timo sang and played guitar before enlisting the other Timo, Mr. Kotipelto to take over the vocal duties. Looking back and being aware of Timo Tolkki's mental illness' such as bipolar disorder and his fucked up childhood, you can see the themes that would haunt his life on display here. It's almost upsetting to realize how many songs Timo has written about wanting to go back to past times, and that theme is on full blast throughout this album. As well as his personal demons, Tolkki seems to write about all the things that most likely give him intense anxiety in the way the world is heading.

First things first, this is a very "dark" sounding album. Strato might be synonymous with anthemic choruses, singalong melodies, and uplifting messages today, but this album contains very little of these elements. A foreboding, brooding sense of dread blankets the entire album. Only the track We Are The Future is an out and out "happy" song. There are very few moments of levity or happiness. 4th Reich is a mini epic in itself with its wildly varied parts. A slow dramatic build up goes into a military snare march that evokes a huge market square full of soldiers, ready and standing at attention. The main guitar riff is a pretty cool, stabbing, punctuated riff that manages to move and circle around the listener. Then, we go into a section that has Timo using an effect on his voice and giving it a mechanized sound as the drums transition into a robotic beat and the lyrics begin foretelling a bleak future. Societal oppression, economic inflation, rising military powers with not so sane leaders, we're just going down a laundry list of things that suck. Maybe all this frustration helped birth one of Tolkki's better sounding guitar solos? There's no neoclassicism here, just well chosen notes. Hold On To Your Dream is a decent simple rocker, although the lyrics are a bit unrefined. Magic Carpet ride is an early template for the Eastern sounds of Babylon that would appear on Episode. This intro sets the tone of song with slow slogging guitar parts and interspersed with lots of Indian melodies going off on the keyboards. My personal favorite is the title track. Dreamspace goes through so many movements and emotions and there is no other song in the Stratovarius catalog like it. Guitars are sharp and cutting in the beginning while still retaining a highly melodic edge. They are very dramatic in nature and sound like they are setting up something of importance for you to listen to. In terms of the lyrics, subtlety is tossed to the side and this is straight up depression mode for Tolkki. Dreamspace is all about Tolkki finding an island within himself to disappear to but at the time of the writing, that island is becoming harder and harder to find as his life keeps getting shittier. At first these lyrics come as a shock with their bluntness, but then after the first chorus there is a drastic and creepy shift in the music tonality. As if coming out of a lost Nightmare On Elm Street film, the keyboards slow things down to an atmospheric, foggy feeling vibe with a steady trickling of bells and chimes. Then, there comes some dialogue between a boy and his mother that is twisted through an ethereal type of filter. The nightmare continues (aha...aha....aha) with more keyboards and the drums making it feel as if you're walking through some blackened dead forest. Finally, Timo Tolkki starts freaking out and shouts out some insane high note before screaming about hating life. WOO. Again, no subtlety here.

The rest of Dreamspace is quite adequate and definitely worth a listen for newer fans. I honestly have no idea how Timo Tolkki is perceived in the history of the band today, much less this era where he was the vocalist. Hell, when I got this album post 1998 / Destiny, the era where he sang was seen as a morbid curiosity. While the classic lineup of Kotipelto, Jorg Michael, and Jens Johannssen were obviously more skilled and could provide more avenues for Tolkki to explore with in his writing, the original members of the band worked well with that they had. Since there aren't any blazing neoclassical shred solo battles with the keys, there's alot more atmosphere and ambiance injected into the songs. Again, if someone is new to the Power Metal powerhouse that is Stratovarius, Timo Tolkki might just be seen as "some guy" that was in the band a long time ago. His rise and fall is well documented, but here we get to see him in the middle of his ascension's crest with around six or seven of his best years in front of him.

Killing Songs :
4th Reich, Shattered, Dreamspace, Chasing Shadows
Ben quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Stratovarius that we have reviewed:
Stratovarius - Nemesis reviewed by Chris and quoted 97 / 100
Stratovarius - Elysium reviewed by Kyle and quoted 86 / 100
Stratovarius - Polaris reviewed by Marty and quoted 85 / 100
Stratovarius - Stratovarius reviewed by Jeff and quoted 75 / 100
Stratovarius - Fright Night reviewed by Brent and quoted 80 / 100
To see all 14 reviews click here
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