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Added by Central Electronic Brain     February 25, 2011    
 
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'Elysium' will no doubt put the band back where they belong ... on top!

With an expansive history that goes back more than 20 years, Finland's Stratovarius are quite rightly lauded as one of the founding fathers of modern day symphonic power metal. Their first couple of studio forays were admittedly inclined towards a more traditional type of power metal, but with first 'Dreamspace' and then 'Fourth Dimension' (in '94 and '95 respectively), they established a post Helloween framework that really did take the genre to new heights. The much anticipated international breakthrough came a year later with the brilliant 'Episode' opus, and for the best part of a decade thereafter they were unassailable ... until it all came crashing down.

The mental problems of former main man Timo Tolkki are well documented so need not overly trouble us here, but the ramifications of his very public meltdowns took the band to the edge of the abyss. After a couple of years of legal wrangles, shenanigans and stunts that would even challenge the warped mind of a deranged soap writer, the major players tried to patch things up, but as 2005's eponymous 'Stratovarius' album and subsequent tour were to prove, nobody's heart was really in it ... then a miracle happened.

For some reason which probably only made sense to him at the time, mainstay and chief songwriter Tolkki relinquished all rights to the Stratovarius name, effectively gifting the band to his former colleagues. Finally freed from the shackles of his increasingly erratic whims, the band found themselves another guitarist (Matias Kupiainen), took themselves off into the Finnish wilderness and for the first time as a band, sat down to write an album together. Released a little under two years ago, 'Polaris' wasn't quite up there with the band at its best, but it was a million light years ahead of 'Stratovarius'.

Now, after gradually winning back the confidence of their peers and fans, Stratovarius Mk 2 (for want of a better description) are about to unleash 'comeback' album number two, the tantalisingly titled 'Elysium'. I was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt with 'Polaris', but for a real shot at recapturing their hotly contested throne, this one was going to have to be something really special. Thankfully, with the odds stacked seemingly against them, Stratovarius haven't let me down because to put it simply, 'Elysium' is awesome!

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Sounding more confident and assured than they have in years, Messrs Kotipelto, Kupiainen, Johansson, Porra and Michael have the audacity to not only embrace the admittedly rich musical legacy bequeathed them by Tolkki, but to actually drive it forward to the next logical level. In amongst all the trade mark neo-classically infused speed metal riffing, searing guitar/keyboard solos and up-tempo songs that are the backbone of any Stratovarius album, 'Elysium' allows the five piece to explore moods and styles barely touched on before.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the epic 20 minute title track that fittingly closes the album. One of the longest Strats tracks ever, it perfectly captures their new found joie de vivre whilst at the same time setting out their grand master plan going forward. Kotipelto's high octane clarion call commands the moral high ground throughout, whilst the aforementioned Kupiainen and keyboard maestro Jens Johansson provide a superlative sonic landscape filled with vividly contrasting colours. Saving the best until last of course can backfire, but when you have an arsenal of future classics like 'Darkest Hours', 'Infernal Maze', 'Lifetime In A Moment' and 'Event Horizon' to beguile and enthral, that's not a problem Stratovarius need worry about.

At last a new album worthy of the Stratovarius name, 'Elysium' will no doubt put the band back where they belong ... on top!

Dave Cockett

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