Stratovarius - Elements Part I


Year of Release: 2003
Label: Nuclear Blast
Catalog Number: NB 1037-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 60:34:00

In the progressive metal realm, Stratovarius have a long history and have been very influential on a numerous bands falling into the same genre. Their first album, Fright Night was released in 1989 and between then and now, they have released no fewer than 12 albums, including studio, live, and retrospective compilations. Elements Part I thus represents their 13th full length release ? part two is expected to be released in October 2003. Listening to Elements I can easily hear where many of those bands that came in their wake got their influence. There are points where I think of Dream Theater and of James LaBrie specifically, for example. Classic Angra also come to mind, and much more often, as here Timo Kotipelto sounds a lot like ex-Andre Matos.

I have not been a long time listener to the band, and in fact, other than hearing their previous studio release Infinite (2000) a few times, this is really my first experience with the band. So, how this stacks up against their past material, I can't say. But, from other reviews I've read, it seems that the band has drawn influence from others in the genre in preparing Elements - apparently some of the orchestration. There is no denying that the quintet of Timo Kotipelto (vocals), Timo Tolkki (guitar), Jari Kanulainen (bass), Jens Johansson (keyboards), and Jörg Michael (drums) are very good at what they do. It's marvelously played and recorded. Sure, keys seem to be up front a lot, but that has to do with arrangement rather than a mixing problem. I don't think they conflict with the other instruments in anyway.

It is certainly very powerful, containing all the hallmarks of progressive metal ? thundering drums and bass, sharp and melodic guitars, great and soaring vocals and that heroic sense of intense purpose ? this is certainly true of the 12-minute centerpiece track "Elements," which encapsulates all the elements at play here on the album as a whole. Anyone familiar with this style of music will know what I mean by that last bit. I mean, a song called "Eagleheart" should tell you something. This piece kicks the album off in high energy mode, though in comparison to some of the other tracks, seems throttled back a bit. Everything, though, is played full tilt and with a lot of passion. "Stratofortress" is a keyboard (Jens Johansson) dominated instrumental piece that sounds at times like the music used for Disneyland's Electrical Parade and sometimes like something we might have heard from Rick Wakeman? if Wakeman were playing electrified (like lightening) metal keyboard runs. Oh, there are guitar solos in there, too. It's a fun rollercoaster ride. Johanssen is all over "Find Your Own Voice" at times, too ? a vocal piece and my least favourite. You'll hear him again on the intro to "Fantasia." In contrast, there is the light, airy, acoustic based "A Drop In The Ocean" which ends the album. Here you can hear that orchestration I mentioned, as the swell of strings provides a backdrop to Kotipelto's vocals. This is, actually, a very nice and nicely constructed song. It leaves you with a very relaxing sense of peace ? the crashing of waves close out the album. Perhaps they realized with all the heart pounding excitement of the rest of the album, there needed to be a counter balance, a chance to breathe. Putting this anywhere else in the sequence, to me, would have ruined the rhythm.

However, the equally mellow "Papillon" fits into mix perfectly, beginning with lilting vocals from ? well, if you didn't read Tolkki's mixing diary at the band's website (or, the credits in the booklet perhaps, which I don't have) you'd think it were a woman, but it is a 12 year old boy who sings in a very high falsetto. As Tolkki writes, "Papillon" means butterfly in French. It is a sometimes fragile piece that leads right into "Stratofortress."

"Fantasia" is the track where I thought of both LaBrie, and, oddly enough, of Styx's "Lady" and of Journey's "Open Arms" a bit ? this mainly in the way the first line of the chorus of delivered, though not the words of it. This song actually has two styles, the first being the balladic beginning ? the kind that will sure have folks flickin' their Bics in a live setting (do folks even still do that?). The second aspect to this piece is heavier and orchestrated. Bridging them is a sweet guitar solo from Tolkki. And there were parts of "Soul Of A Vagabond" reminded me of Threshold's "Terracota Army" again mainly in the way part of the chorus is delivered, and that at that point vocalist Timo Kotipelto sounds a bit like Damien Wilson here. Mainly Kotipelto sounds like a mix of LaBrie and Matos.

As good as an album as it is, it doesn't having me singing its praises in hyperbolic tones. Maybe I've become jaded; having listened to a lot of progressive metal of late and so something that this good now merely meets my expectations. So while I don't speak of this album in ebullient tones, it is very well done. This is another solid entry into the prog metal realm. Still, I find some one thing lacking, something that I can't name, but it keeps me from giving this full marks.


Tracklisting:
Eagleheart (3:50) / Soul Of A Vagabond (7:22) / Find Your Own Voice (5:10) / Fantasia (9:56) / Learning To Fly (6:19) / Papillon (7:01) / Stratofortress (3:26) / Elements (12:01) / A Drop In The Ocean (6:49)

Musicians:
Timo Kotipelto ? vocals
Timo Tolkki ? guitar
Jari Kanulainen ? bass
Jens Johansson ? keyboards
Jörg Michael ? drums

Discography:
Fright Night (1989)
Twilight Time (1992)
Dreamspace (1994)
Fourth Dimension (1995)
Episode (1996)
Visions (1997)
The Past And Now (comp) (1997)
Destiny (1998)
Visions Of Europe (live) (1998)
The Chosen Ones (comp) (1999)
Infinite (2000)
Intermission (2001)
Elements Part I (2003)
Elements Part II (2003)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin FI

Added: February 23rd 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.stratovarius.com
Hits: 697
Language: english

  

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