Stratovarius - Stratovarius
Mayan/Sanctuary Records
Melodic Heavy Metal
9 songs (49:12)
Release year: 2005
Reviewed by Jeff
Major event

The release of the new, self-titled "Stratovarius" album represents an end result of sorts that many fans (and even the band members themselves) didn't think would ever see the light of day.

The last few years represented a time of much inner turmoil for Startovarius. Timo Tolki was under a lot of pressure and started to crack under it. He would make incoherent statements and lash out for no reason. He had a therapist prescribe him some heavy antidepressants, which made it more difficult for him to control his temper. He even received death threats. There were conflicts and disagreements within the band, especially between guitarist Timo Tolkki and lead vocalist Timo Kotipelto. Tolki cited the biggest problem between them was "a very strained" relationship. At one point Kotipelto was replaced with a new lead female vocalist by the name of Katrina. In early 2004, there was a legal issue regarding Sanctuary Records requesting that Timo Tolkki pay back one million euros from the recording agreement advance for the new album. Then Tolki was apparently attacked, (some feel this was a publicity stunt to get out of his situation with Sanctuary), in Spain on February 29th, 2004. Stab wounds were inflicted to his left arm and he received a facial contusion. All of the aforementioned caused him to start suffering from suicidal feelings and chronic depression and he was hospitalized due to a mental breakdown. After much talk with the other band members, a lot of soul-searching and reflecting on the experiences, most of the damage between everyone was repaired. The rest of band was able to come to an understanding of Timo's condition and have slowly come to terms with it. There has been forgiveness and everyone has a good relationship again. They have managed to find concrete solutions to many of the immense problems they were facing. Ironically, long time bass player Jari Kainulainen recently left Stratovarius because he doesn't have it in his heart to tour heavily anymore. He has been replaced by new bass player Lauri Porra. He is 27 years old and a native of Helsinki, Finland.. He has previously played with Sinergy, Warmen and Kotipelto.

The end result of the new Stratovarius album, (their 11th), is mixed. Gone are the very speedy, double bass, neoclassical styled songs. Most of them are much more simplistic and straight forward in structure and more commercially oriented. There are a few songs that bring back the feel of the older ones. The slower, heavier pounding songs are actually better than the mid paced, upbeat ones. It's obvious that everything that has happened to this band in the last few years has affected the song writing process both lyrically and musically.

Much of the lyrical subject matter seems to be inspired by Tolki's experiences over the last few years. The tone of the lyrics is that of being at the bottom, a low point of life; that of hopelessness, pain, darkness and despair, only to come back from it and rise once again.

The first track, "Maniac Dance" is very commercial sounding with its synthesized sine wave pop sound and is the first single and video off of the album. "This year has been a nightmare. I feel so low I don't care". Vocally, it doesn't even sound like Kotipelto. This song will probably give many Stratovarius fans the wrong impression of what the rest of the album will sound like.

"Fight" is one of the most upbeat tracks on the album. It's an inspirational song that tells one to "fight for your life" instead of succumbing to a "hopeless feeling" where "everything is black". "Just Carry On" is another song of encouragement that seems to be directly related to the band's support of Tolki. "No one knows, what you've been through. Like no one cares, but it's not true. Turn the page and make a fresh start".

"Back To Madness" is the longest track on the album and is almost suicidal in tone. It has a sad, depressing beginning with it's piano and cello arrangements. There is also some male opera vocals that sound like something out of an Italian opera. The song switches tempos many times, from slow to mid paced. It's a very haunting song with the choir and bell tolls. There's also some spoken words at the end of the song...."Have you ever been hurt? Have you ever been abandoned? Have you ever felt like you don't belong here?".

"Gypsy In Me" is another uptempo track where the keyboard gets the lead during the solo. It also includes some more sine wave pop sounding keyboard runs along some blistering guitar riffs.

The beginning of "Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power)" presents itself as something gargantuan and monstrous with the pulsating keyboards, "Kashmir" like beating drums and heavy power chords. It switches to a mid paced tempo with some guitar riffing and guitar lead fills and back to a repetative chorus that sounds like it's worshipping something of great power.

"The Land of Ice and Snow" is one of the more melodic and simplistic songs whose beginning has that "Stairway To Heaven" feel with it's flute and acoustic guitars. It has a memorable melody line and a very patriotic vibe with the drum snare rolls, paying homage to the homeland of Stratovarius. I really like how the song starts off soft, slowly building with each verse only to reach a climax and then shift back to the same way it started off.

"Leave The Tribe" sounds like "Eternity" from "Episode" and is my favorite track on the album. It has a slow, pounding drum and bass line accompanied by keyboard vocal choirs, giving the song an ominous presence . The pace of this song also gives the listener the feel of one departing from something bigger in order to take a chance along an unknown path.

"United" seems to be the band's statement to their fans and themselves. It's a pinnacle and testament to the storms they have weathered. Tolki was quoted as saying "Stratovarius is Timo Kotipelto, Jens Johansson, Jörg Michael, Jari Kainulainen and Timo Tolkki. If this line up is not possible, then there cannot be any band called Stratovarius". "United" will probably go over well in the live setting. It's an anthem of perseverance for Stratovarius. "United we stand, divided we fall".

This album has grown on me with each listen. I do wish there were some faster, neoclassical songs on it. I also don't like some of the keyboard sounds that were used. The production is still top notch as with many of Stratovarius's albums. I still find it to be a quality release and a fine effort considering what this band has been through. It's probably the most personal Stratovarius release to date. Overall, I don't think it's as good as albums like "Episode", "Visions", "Destiny" or "Fourth Dimension".

"Stratovarius" will be issued in Japan with an exclusive bonus CD through Victor Records on August 31st, ahead of the European release on September 6th through Sanctuary/Mayan.

Killing Songs :
Fight, Back To Madness, Gypsy In Me, Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power), The Land of Ice and Snow, Leave The Tribe, United
Jeff quoted 75 / 100
Other albums by Stratovarius that we have reviewed:
Stratovarius - Dreamspace reviewed by Ben and quoted 80 / 100
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 - Fright Night reviewed by Brent and quoted 80 / 100
To see all 14 reviews click here
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