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Stratovarius: Polaris

Stratovarius should need no introduction to readers of this site, but for those who have been out of the loop, the band plays a blend of neo-classical and progressive metal and have been doing it for a while as this is their fourteenth album of new material. The band line-up includes Timo Kotipelto (vocals), Matias Kuplainen (guitar), Lauri Porra (bass), Jorg Michael (drums) and Jens Johansson (keyboards). It has been four years since their last album so this is a welcome platter among fans of the band, myself included. While the band has always used keyboards, I noticed a more diverse keyboard sound this time around. From ultra fast soloing to lovely piano interludes you will find it on this album. Of course we get the obligatory shredding between keys and guitar and no one does it better than Stratovarius. So, you may be asking yourself, especially if you are new to the band, is the playing over the top? It doesn't feel that way to me, partly because the melodies are so damn good and it is clear solid songwriting appears to be first and foremost with this album. The band also slows down the pace more often than I recall on past records, creating a more varied sound. There is also a healthy dose of melodic metal present here which is slightly new for Stratovarius.

The album kicks off with the melodic rock of "Falling Star". A wistful keyboard intro leads to crunchy melodic riffs and strong vocals from Kotipelto. He has an excellent voice ideally suited for metal, whether soaring in higher tones or taking a more mid-range approach, Kotipelto delivers the goods. The darker sounding "King of Nothing" follows with its slower, brooding tempo and fantastic synth work from Johansson. The use of background vocals really adds another dimension to the band's sound and makes the music more melodic and warmer than anything I have previously heard. The keyboard string intro of "Blind" is in nice contrast to the fast keyboard and guitar riffs that follow. Kotipelto's voice has a Dickenson quality and is very strong here as his vocal lines really soar during the chorus. The pace slows in the somber "Winter Skies" with a beautiful piano melody and catchy chorus. One of the album's best tracks is the ultra catchy neo-classical metal of "Forever is Today" complete with uplifting lyrics and the emotional vocals of Kotipelto. Since the lyric sheet was not provided I cannot go into detail but you will have to trust me when I say you will be uplifted by this song.

This brings me to my only gripe about this CD. My advanced promo copy came with fade outs in every song which made for a huge distraction and affected the overall flow of the album. Of course, when the official album is released in May, we will not have to worry about that. As it stands, since this was such a detriment when listening and absorbing the CD as a whole, I have no choice but to change my review from 4 stars to 2 stars. Sorry guys…

(Note: the official release will come with one extra track.)


Track Listing:
1. Falling Star
2. King of Nothing
3. Blind
4. Winter Skies
5. Forever is Today
6. Higher We Go
7. Somehow Precious
8. Emancipation Suite I: Dusk
9. Emancipation Suite II: Dawn
10. When Mountains Fall

Added: October 25th 2009
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Score:
Related Link: Band's Official Site
Hits: 3036
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Stratovarius: Polaris
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-10-25 09:58:10
My Score:

A band has two options when one of its primary creative forces chooses to move on from the lineup and that is to either cease to exist and begin other projects or rise from the ashes of disruption, find a replacement and get back to business. Such was the dilemma faced by Stratovarius when key member and guitarist Timo Tolki decided to quit the band and leave it hanging out to dry. Lucky for the world's Stratovarius fans the guys were more than willing to press on and soon found the talented Matias Kupiainen handling the necessary duties on the axe. In the public eye this was a pretty big pair of shoes to fill as Tolki had written some 95% of the bands material since 1989, so not only would his successor need to be adept on his own but also be able to handle all of the acrobatics that were regular practice for Tolki. So how do the new guy and new album sound? Well in a word this is probably the strongest material that Stratovarius has released in years and stands high above the utter garbage that was their last album "Stratovarius". Matias is an exceptional guitarist and to quote my Dad I can say that "no one is irreplaceable" and in the end I think that new life has been breathed into this band that will make their fans proud. I was instantly drawn into the tasty riffs that were being dished out as opener "Deep Unknown" blasted through the stereo but it was in tracks like "Blind" and "Forever Is Today" that did the most for me and had me not only repeating them but also playing them louder and louder each time while playing either air guitar or air drums.

With Tolki gone, the song writing might change the style just a little bit, but after hearing just how Matias plays and writes I think the band is in capable hands. Plus it doesn't hurt when you have Jens Johansson on keyboards and Kotipelto on vocals. Timo K. sounds better than ever and is again delivering the stratospheric notes that we love him to do so much after hardly doing any on the confusing affair that was "Stratovarius". The drumming of Jorg Michael is also back on point and the release thunders with double bass drum patterns that make this a healthy CD to do fitness along to. I know my own heart was racing as a couple of the tunes played and I truly felt myself motivated to get up and go. There are more solemn moments like during "Winter Skies" and a quasi-ballad with "Somehow Precious" and if this all amounts as a "change in direction" well then I am all for it. The band has been around long enough to no longer need to follow "expected standards" and since the record features not one original member they can make more of their own rules. The production is sound and tight and the booklet provided delivers photos of the guys, lyrics and some cool artwork. I guess the overall question would be can a slightly new direction in sound and a new member of importance actually work to the bands advantage and I say perhaps you should turn your attention to Nightwish if this comes to mind. After all, that band managed to successfully continue after long time singer Tarja Turunen was dismissed. Yes, Timo Tolki did write a lot of the Stratovarius material over the years but the other members of the team are all talented at this as well and since Metal music is a constantly changing thing, I am confident that the best is yet to come. If you are a fan of solid Melodic Power Metal then I highly recommend this album for your collection.

Stratovarius: Polaris
Posted by Scott Jessup, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-05-30 19:07:19
My Score:

After much uncertainty it's simply awesome to see a new Stratovarius album, especially when it seemed like all was lost, due to all the drama they went through, keeping us the fans entertained as the events unfolded, and we pondered over what was to eventuate next.

So those that remain have decided to continue under the name Stratovarius, and Timo Tolkki well he has gone off to release two Revolution Renaissance albums. But also just to confuse matters more he is working on another group titled Project Strato, featuring former Stratovarius members, and yes they are playing music in the style they used to, much to my delight. So have we gone from one Stratovarius to three? Maybe so but at least we have plenty of choices.

I am a big fan of Jens Johansson, he's always been my preferred keyboardist, and I have also really enjoyed Timo Kotipleto's solo albums, so I had a lot of anticipation with this album, now they should finally be able to contribute much more to the songs. Also there is a new guitarist in the ranks, so the result should be quite a rejuvenated band, which isn't a bad thing, their last album had its moments but wasn't up to level of their better releases.

Polaris is still very much Stratovarius in sound, and I am happy to write this is an improvement on their last album. Timo's vocals are still soaring high, Jens is all over this, showing he's still the keyboard master and Jorg is pounding his skins as hard as ever. The two newest members Lauri Porra on bass and more recently guitarist Matias Kupiainen also prove they are worthy additions. Polaris doesn't beat my favorite Stratovarius albums, but I enjoyed the tracks, especially Deep Unknown and Falling Star.

I suppose given that Timo Tolkki was such a major part of the band, this must have been quite a different writing and recording experience, and to their credit they have produced another impressive CD with Polaris.

Stratovarius: Polaris
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-05-25 08:45:12
My Score:

So, apparently there is life after Timo Tolkki after all. In a recent, surprising move, the founding member and guitarist Tolkki once again decided to break up Stratovarius and move onto other projects, however, in this case the band decided that they would continue on without him, which led to another series of battles through management and the internet. The end result was both parties agreeing to the existing members carrying on as Stratovarius and Tolkki starting his new project Revolution Renaissance, who, sounds remarkably like Stratovarius (getting dizzy yet?).

Fast forward to 2009, and the band is back, with new guitarist Mathias Kupianinen joining singer Timo Kotipelto, drummer Jorg Michael, keyboard wiz Jens Johansson, and bassist Lauri Porra for their brand new release Polaris. The Stratovarius formula is pretty much intact here, their brand of power & progressive metal featuring huge vocal hooks, neo-classical guitar playing, layers of symphonic keyboards, and tight, powerful rhythms strong as always. Johansson seems to have really benefitted from Tolkki's departure, as there are more than a fair share of his lightning synth runs and layers of orchestrations here than in years past, and the occasional duel with new axe-shredder Kupianinen prove to be quite impressive. Also, with the other Timo out of the band (the two were at odds quite a bit in recent years) Kotipelto is pretty much the star of Stratovarius now, his instantly recognizable vocals taking center stage on tunes like "Deep Unknown", "King of Nothing", the manic "Blind", or the lush and highly symphonic "Winter Skies". Though there are plenty of those 'Helloween meets Rising Force' styled power metal neo-classical speedsters, such as "Forever is Today", "Higher We Go", and "Falling Star", overall this is a much more varied release than we normally expect from this band, as pieces such as "Emancipation Suite-Parts 1 & 2", and "Somehow Precious" offer up a heaping amount of adventurous, melodic progressive metal, long on extended musical excursions and catchy vocal hooks, Johansson's layering of keyboard sounds & colors really doing the songs justice.

In short, Polaris is pretty impressive stuff all around, Stratovarius doing the wise thing and not choosing to revert back to their 'million miles an hour' power metal style from their earlier days, instead forging ahead with their more epic and symphonic indulgences that we've seen creep out on their last few releases. Now that they are out from under the shadows of Tolkki's unfluence, the individual talents of these musicians have been allowed to come forward.

And yes, Matias Kupiainen is a pretty damn good guitar player to boot!


» Reader Comments:

Stratovarius: Polaris
Posted by AlexD on 2009-08-04 01:02:08
My Score:

To be honest, I have still never heard an actual Stratovarius song. However, since I'm always looking for great new music, this is precisely why I visit this site.

In terms of Mr. Neudorf's rating, he can only review what he receives. Thus, it was both fair and honest of him to mention the distractions his copy contained. While I fully understand the desire/need to 'protect the integrity of the musicians and their product,' Jon rated both the advance copy (2 stars) and the commercial disc (4 stars).

Musicians create. Labels promote. Reviewers critique. Fans buy. While I appreciate the obvious fact that Matt is a passionate fan, so too is Jon. How many of us could provide a sincere, credible review without at least mentioning the annoying (albeit arguably necessary) piracy prevention add-ons? I doubt if I would take the time to provide two separate ratings. If Jon was simply 'in it for free cds,' I am sure that SeaofTranq ownership would prudently cancel his ticket.

If I was Stratovarius, I would value objective reviews like Jon's. I would also talk to my management company about how the promo copy distractions affect the flow of the music. If there is no other alternative, so be it. If there is, implement it.

As for me, I'm as tired of typing as you are of reading. My score for this album is as honest as can be since I haven't yet heard it. Now that the holiday is over however, it's time to rectify that error by hitting the cd store. Bring on the Stratovarius!!!


Stratovarius: Polaris
Posted by Matt on 2009-07-25 21:32:29
My Score:

Why would you take 2 stars off a review of an album because of something the RECORD COMPANY does to keep reviewers from leaking advance material? Which we all know reviews DO, hence the label taking drastic measures. The music is the music whether there is a fade out or not. You being distracted by that is the problem not the bands. So in essence your review should lose points not STRATOVARIUS. I am not even a huge fan of the band, but i read this review because i wanted to see how the new blood was doing and your ending comment upset me, so i am saying something.

If you are distracted by fade outs then you should really reconsider your status as an effective music critic.

In my opinion it shows your lack of respect for the artists you are reviewing and more so an unprofessional attitude.

So just say it gets 4 stars and don't be a whiny critic who is really upset because they didn't truly get the "full" album for free. Truth? i think so.

Matt




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