During the multiple break-ups and handful of albums released all within a few years, Stratovarius was clearly losing momentum due to Timo Tolkki, their lead guitarist, lacking inspiration as the main writer for the band. So much so that when he ended the band for the final time, he waived the rights of the name to Jens Johansson, the band’s keyboardist. The remaining members decided to breathe new life into a dead tree, replacing Tolkki with upcoming guitarist/producer Matias Kupiainen and wrote a completely new record as a band within a year…so it probably fell on its face, yeah?
Based off just one listen you can take a shot in the dark and say Tolkki was the problem, because even amongst the myriad of useless power metal bands Stratovarius managed to put forth something not only listenable, but enjoyable. Yes, enjoyable power metal. This is huge, this hasn’t happened since Nightfall In Middle Earth, but just how did they do it? Firstly, Johansson’s eclectic use of keyboard effects is vital in the versatility of the record. Secondly, the song compositions are not nearly as typical as their recent outputs, as if they allowed a progressive edge to take form construction-wise. Kupiainen’s new blood is noticeable with his lead playing and the amount of feeling he is able to put into his parts, playing so fluid as if he was born to play these songs. Stratovarius just may be a force to be reckoned with once again…if only they’d find a more resourceful vocalist. They are beyond standard for the genre; at times they fit quite well, but when there’s less layers of music his voice is distinctly less strong.
Polaris as a whole isn’t power metal innovation but it certainly could be a stepping stone to that path. Not one track feels forced, and it seems that even though Stratovarius are not doing anything different than their previous works, let alone their very small amount of contemporaries, they have a vindication mindset allowing them to evolve without the limits of band member conflicts. Among the emotive piano progressions budding from chaotic and conscious shredding and the ever-changing tempos and sensations within the catharsis of a band reborn, even a casual power metal fan will find this a worthwhile listen.