Review Summary: While Elysium is not quite a return to form, Stratovarius seem to be moving in the right direction.
Helloween really couldn't have picked a more appropriate band to support them on their 7 Sinners Tour than Stratovarius. There's more than a few parallels between their respective careers and not just because the two are among the most influential in power metal. While they've each had their fair share of successes, both Helloween and Stratovarius have also faced a great deal of (well documented) adversity. Between all the internal drama, which eventually saw the exit of important band members, as well as poor musical output, future prospects must have looked bleak. But Helloween was able to bounce back; 2010's 7 Sinners
was their best record in twenty-two years, and the two that preceded it were worthy listens as well. Stratovarius isn't quite there yet, but with Timo Tolkki gone, and the songwriting reins taken up by pretty much every one else, they seem to be moving in the right direction.
more or less continues where Polaris
left off in 2009. Think mid-paced, European power metal they helped popularize years ago alongside groups like Helloween and Sonata Arctica. Hardly revolutionary, to be sure, but that isn't Stratovarius' aim. Unfortunately, this serves to limit the scope of Elysium
. As far as middling power metal goes, the album is top notch. But at the end of the day, middling power metal is still middling power metal. Give Stratovarius credit for when they do pull through; Matias Kupiainen's guitar work is consistently excellent, particularly in "Darkest Hours", and keyboardist Jens Johansson is no slouch as well. Problem is, this doesn't happen often enough. In a song like "The Game Never Ends", while the riffing is quite good, the formulaic structure and bland chorus hold it back. This isn't a problem unique to Stratovarius (one might remember Helloween struggling with the same issue ten years ago), but rather comes with the whole melodic power metal shebang. Because of how derivative it is, it's difficult to be very impressed. That isn't to say it can't be done; Sonata Arctica very nearly perfected the style between Elicptica
and Reckoning Night
. But they were successful because they incorporated a far more spirited dynamic into their music, something that can't be said about Stratovarius consistently enough.
Interestingly, Stratovarius shows the most promise on the album's title track. Given the uneven level of quality heard throughout Elysium
, (and the unfortunate tendency of other groups to screw up this type of song) an eighteen minute track seems ill-advisable. But it works. Although not departing too far from the band's comfort zone, "Elysium" at least breaks out of the rigid power metal model that constrains a lot of the earlier material. In doing this, Stratovarius adopts a more progressive approach, seamlessly incorporating a number of different movements into what turns out to be the most satisfying song the band has released in years. Impressively, Stratovarius avoid sounding bloated and overbearing, a pitfall that traps so many of their contemporaries; what could have sunk Elysium
instead emerges as its biggest highlight.
As it stands, Stratovarius haven't quite recaptured the flare that helped them claim initial success. However, Elysium
is at the very least a clear step above much of the material the band has released, and considering how weak Stratovarius
was, it’s a start. The band still has trouble with consistency and variance, and given how keen Stratovarius seems to be on playing it safe, Elysium
is unlikely to draw in new listeners. However, the solid songwriting in the title track is encouraging enough; whether Stratovarius can fully revitalize ala Helloween remains to be seen, but listeners finally have reason for optimism.