First off, this is a judgment based on Elysium and not a comparison to the previous incarnation of the band. Sometimes you just have to let it go and get on with life and forget about how things use to be. From that perspective, Stratovarius gives you a dynamite dose of power metal with more than its share of progressive moments on the new disc. If you are looking for the album of the year though then you are in the wrong place but you will find a terrific work that highlights musicians who know their craft and deliver an album worth of high quality music even if they seem to be going through the motions for a good portion of the disc. Just keep in mind with a band of this caliber, playing it safe is still better than 99% of what you are going to find out there.
If Stratovarius pushes the envelope anywhere on this disc it is the eighteen minute closing title track "Elysium". Knowing how difficult it is to keep the attention of the listener to begin with, to be able to do so over that kind of time span takes something special. Weaving a masterful yarn, the band gives you an amazing musical journey which pulls you along through the multitude of styles and shifting attitudes just like the pied piper. Wherever they decide to go with the music you are more than willing to follow. Coming complete with breathtaking guitar work by Martias Kupiainen, exemplary keyboards as always from Jens Johansson and the soaring vocals of Timo Kotipelto they give you enough magic on this song to make this one worth the purchase price alone. Sure there is the overblown orchestration at times along with the choral vocals that take it a bit over the top but isn't that one of the reasons to purchase these guys in the first place? Stratovarius makes it work and work well enough to be one of those real treats when it comes to power/progressive metal.
While they do save the best for last, Elysium starts out in high fashion too. Kicking off with a terrific trio of songs, you almost think that this is going to be the disc to end all discs as they hit you with the dramatic "Darkest Hours" followed by the guitar driven power metal showcase "Under Flaming Skies" and then follow it up with the hauntingly effective "Infernal Maze". It is after this point that things seem to slow down a bit. Not musically but creatively. From here on out even though they still pack some punch it is as if they are resting on who they are as opposed to what made them Stratovarius. "Fairness Justified", "The Game Never Ends" and Lifetime In A Moment" are all very good examples of melodic power metal but nothing spectacular. Like I have stated, good Stratovarius is better than most everything you can hear out there and this kind of song reminds you of that fact but none of them have any kind of lasting effect.
The slow "Move The Mountain" starts off with a meter and feel that made me think of the Billy Joel song "Goodnight Saigon". OK…it doesn't stay that way for sure but it still is the most ballad like song on here and being so keyboard driven it is one song that even though it is strong, just seems to be there, nothing more.
Reading over this review it sounds like I hated this album which is far from the truth. It really is a very good work that is strong enough to merit frequent playing around here but falls short of being called a classic. With repeated plays this one does grow on you and eventually the songs will find a niche in your repertoire even though most do not really stand out from the multitude of good music out there. It might be that I expected too much from these guys.
1. Darkest Hours
2. Under Flaming Skies
3. Infernal Maze
4. Fairness Justified
5. The Game Never Ends
6. Lifetime In A Moment
7. Move The Mountain
8. Event Horizon