It's no secret all the controversey that has surrounded power-metal legends Stratovarius over the last two years. With band members coming and going, hospital stays, and fits of rage between members of the band towards each other and the fans being posted on the internet, this has been a group in turmoil. However, things seemed to have calmed down and everyone looks to have come to their senses, as the classic line-up of Stratovarius is back together with their brand new, self-titled album. During the recording process they stated that the new record would be different, and it is. If you are looking for the "been there done that" speedy, double bass driven symphonic power metal of the past, you're not going to get much of that here. In a way, that's a good thing, as I think the band had pretty much done that style to death and needed a new direction.
Stratovarius is mainly about grooves, melodies, and straightforward, good old fashioned hard rock. Songs like "Just Carry On", or the single "Maniac Dance" contain plenty of catchy hooks and chunky guitar work, and not a double bass drum stampede in sight. The cheesey synth noises though on the latter are a little hard to take and sound a tad juvenile. "Fight!!!" is a great rocking piece, and one of the heavier tracks on the CD, featuring tasty guitar leads from Timo Tolkki and soaring vocals from Timo Kotipelto. The requisite ballad is called "Back to Madness", and while nicely done and featuring lovely piano work from Jens Johansson, just fails to go anywhere and is not overly memorable. "Gypsy in Me" also never really seems to connect, sounding more like a song that could have been rejected from Helloween's Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II than anything else.
The band bounces back on the head banging anthem "Gotterdammerung (Zenith of Power", complete with thick rhythm guitars from Tolkki and an overall doomy vibe on the chorus thanks to the evil twist given from Kotipelto's vocals. On "The Land of Ice and Snow" Stratovarius turns in a great progressive rock styled performance, but it's way too brief. Thankfully they continue on with that vibe on the next track "Leave the Tribe", a moody yet powerful piece that sees Kotipelto soaring through the heavens, complemented by powerful drums from Jorg Michael and symphonic keyboards from Jens. This one has it all, and is perhaps the most well rounded song on the album. They end with the keyboard driven "United", a decent song, but one that just doesn't get the blood flowing much.
This will either be a release that will satisfy the legions of Stratovarius fans who are simply just happy to see the band still together as a unit, or it will polarize the fanbase completely. Regardless of the outcome, this is still decent symphonic hard rock, and in my opinion it was a good thing for the band to change their speed-metal ways in favor of this slower style. Now they just need to grow into this new sound a bit and I'm sure all will be fine.
1. Maniac Dance
3. Just Carry On
4. Back To Madness
5. Gypsy In Me
6. Gotterdammerung (Zenth Of Power)
7. Land Of Ice And Snow
8. Leave The Tribe