Review Summary: Not quite there yet, but Elysium proves that there is life after Tolkki.
The band has surely been through a lot of drama since long time member Timo Tolkki departed Stratovarius, resulting in a feud between two parties. Stratovarius has decided to carry on without him, hiring new guitarist Matias Kupianien, and releasing their “comeback” album Polaris. Polaris was an album that mainly played it safe, retaining most of Stratovarius’ core elements while at the same time assuring us that Kupianien is certainly no slouch and capable of continuing the legacy of Stratovarius, it was an album that was inconsistent in quality but in a way reassuring. Where Polaris failed, Elysium has succeeded, the songwriting has improved, everything has been taken up a notch, resulting in songs that are stronger and more memorable. Now Stratovarius certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel in any way, but this album shows they have not run out of ideas yet.
Timo Kotipelto is a decent enough vocalist, my complaint about him is that sometimes he sounds like he is always singing at the limit of his range, yet he still pushes it, so sometimes you’re actually wondering when his voice will crack instead of listening to what he’s singing, his voice is also more on the thin side. His voice works well on songs like “Infernal Maze”, a highlight of the album, it starts off with Kotipelto singing softly and then it suddenly bursts into high gear with him ominously singing “Delusion, destruction…”. He stays in a more comfortable range on “Under Flaming Skies” and “Fairness Justified”, the latter of which is a more mid-paced song with a sing along chant-like chorus, simple and effective and possibly the strongest chorus for me on the album. Cheesiness is present in Power metal in some form, and it is at it’s most apparent on “The Game Never Ends”, with your run-of-the-mill lyrics such as “When we’re standing together, we cannot ever die”. However, the song is more than saved by Jens Johanssons’ insane keyboard solo in the middle of the song.
Stratovarius has also made use of prog elements in this album, and they are more apparent in the latter half of the album, “Lifetime in a Moment” and “Move The Mountain” are good examples of these, these two songs are more drawn out and take time to grow on you, the latter also draws on more oriental folk melodies, especially in the verses, this song would fit quite well in a video showing beautiful and peaceful mountain landscapes. “Event Horizon” picks things back up and is the fastest song of the album and reminiscent of Sonata Arctica’s early works, showcasing some very fast neo-classical soloing from Kupianien and Johansnson. The song is about approaching the point of no return, the character is fast approaching a black hole in space (nothing escapes a black hole) and lost in despair because he can’t escape, the song’s frantic pace perfectly reflects this.
Stratovarius save the best for last, the 18-minute title track “Elysium” is the longest song they have written to date, it is a power metal epic with heavy progressive elements that take you on a journey through three separate movements. Full of soaring vocal melodies and soloing from Kupianien and Johansson, this song will be sure to please progressive and power metal fans alike. The last few minutes in particular are impressive, it builds from almost nothing to a crushingly epic ending (for lack of a better word) in the final verse with Kotipelto singing “Do you believe in hope and faith"...”, followed by a final guitar solo that is sure to tug at your heart strings, ending the album on a very strong note.
Elysium is their comeback album for me, in many ways a step up from Polaris, but unfortunately this is also long time drummer Jorg Michael’s final album with the band before departing late last year, Elysium is a fitting “swansong” for him, he went out strong. This is a huge step in the right direction for Stratovarius, it’s not quite on par with their earlier work but this album proves there is life after Tolkki.
The Game Never Ends (for the keyboard solo alone)