Stratovarius are the elder-statesmen of European Progressive Metal. Their style was always straight-ahead Prog-Metal meets Power-Metal. Song-oriented, well structured and very well executed. Honest stuff.
And then – along came their early-2003 release Elements Pt.1, which seemed to herald an important development in their song writing style. The sound was bigger than before with liberal use of an orchestra and a choir, mellow guitars and wonderful melodies. It was more progressive and imaginative than anything they had done before and the sound was something like a less-heavy, more melodic version of Symphony X's V. And Elements Pt.1 will be a sure candidate for a Best-of-2003 pick.
Well – Elements Pt.2, is none of those things. We're back to the straight-ahead, less complicated progressive / melodic metal of Vision-era Stratovarius (i.e. 2 albums ago). That isn't a bad thing, but it's hard to understand how Pt.2 is a sequel to Pt.1. This is relatively formulaic prog-metal. Song oriented, 3 really nice power ballads, and no track over six-and-a-bit minutes. We progressive metal fans appreciate intelligent lush sounding metal, but some hardcore metal fans were disappointed by Elements Pt.1. Perhaps the band was trying to lasso them back into their fan-base?
Timo's guitar work is as great as ever. The other Timo (Kotipelto ) is one of the best vocalists in metal today. A strong, effortless, slightly accented delivery that defines the standard, he ranks up there with the D.C.Coopers and the James LaBries and the early-day Geoff Tates. Jens's keyboards sound excellent as they always do, and he and Timo deliver several passages of tight keys / guitar interplay. You getting the picture? The drums and bass guitar work are faultless too. So the issue is not with the execution but with the songwriting – which is solid, but sounds tired and less inspired than Pt.1 had led us to anticipate. This review would probably have a more positive tone if the album had a different name. Perhaps it is unfair to compare it with the excellent Pt.1, but hey, the album's name invites the comparison!
Pt.1 was dedicated to Fire and Water and the lyrics in the track "Elements" were consistent with that. Pt.2 is supposed to be dedicated to Earth and Wind, but aside from the cover art there is little reference to those elements – leaving the concept behind the 2 Elements albums somewhat unclear.
So it took a conversation with Stratovarius for us to clarify for you that Elements is not a concept album, and there is no logical continuity between the two parts. What happened was the band took a long hiatus after 2001's Intermission, and came back to the studio brimming with song ideas. So the new material was split into two similarly-named but essentially separate albums.
Make no mistake – Elements Pt.2 is an excellent album, a must-have for prog-metal fans and worth its 4 stars. But it leaves us wondering : Which way will the band go from here? Back to the past with the Pt.2 sound, or back to the future with the ambitious epics of Pt.1?
1. Alpha & omega 6:38
2. I walk to my own song 5:03
3. I'm still alive 4:50
4. Season of faith's perfection 6:08
5. Awaken the giant 6:37
6. Know the difference 5:38
7. Luminous 4:48
8. Dreamweaver 5:52
9. Liberty 5:01