Stratovarius – Elements Pt. 1
Bands run a significant risk releasing albums with the Pt. 1 and 2 distinctions. For those who have been around the genre long enough, we’ve grown accustomed to some of the best works in the genre carrying this, and if we’re faced with a new band that has a two part album suite, we tend to gravitate in that direction. Elements Pt. 1 is by no means a completely boring album, but the trend of inconsistent symphonic power metal had finally become so pronounced that it finally just sort of exploded. The album swings back and forth moodily, and the inconsistencies are positively raging, with songs alternating, frustratingly, between brilliance and utter crud. Rather than risking sweeping generalizations, I’ll do a rare treat of a track by track walkthrough.
Like every good embittered fan, there are perfectly non-offensive and popular songs in the discography that I positively hate. “Eagleheart” is one of those. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just a poor redux of trying to get a catchy single out when they had already done that well enough with “Hunting High And Low”. There’s not enough distinction here to make me really care, and it strikes me too much as a rip off of Rhapsody’s early material (Who the band had recently toured with at point of this release).
Getting the bad taste out of my mouth is one of my personal favorites, “Soul Of A Vagabond”. All the drama of a really fantastic piece of a symphony is present here, with an excellent layer of sheer crunchy heaviness layered on top. The icing is a fantastic vocal performance, and all the great shredding you love and have come to expect from Stratovarius. At this point I’d like to go on a dissertation-length rant on how awful the next track (“Fantasia”) is, but if you’ve read my thoughts on “4000 Rainy Nights” and “Mother Gaia”, it is just the logic-defying conclusion of that thread. “Fantasia’ is nearly 10 minutes of awful lyrics accented by raging pomposity, with far too little musical content to make me want to even hear the full song through. “4000 Rainy Nights” and “Mother Gaia” could have perhaps been salvaged with a bit more thought and cutting the amount of music in half, but there is no hope for the composition of “Fantasia”, it positively sucks. Spoiler alert: if you can stomach the first 5 minutes of this song, there’s a pretty cool instrumental section that starts therein, but since “Stratofortress” comes up later on, there’s really no point.
“Learning To Fly” is counted amongst the heavier tracks on the album, as well as being a pretty good vehicle for Kotipelto’s vocals, and especially Johansson’s keyboard shredding. But at six and a half minutes, the guys are pushing it. It’s by no means bad, but it’s one of those songs you might catch yourself hitting the skip button after the solos are done, because the chorus is nothing special. We’re not even going to grace “Papillion” with more than a sentence here, because it’s slow, it’s boring, and it’s way too long. It makes me sad, because for those who have stomached now almost 20 minutes of completely unnecessary trash, there’s a rare treat of a Stratovarius instrumental, titled “Stratofortress”. Of the many talents to distinguish Stratovarius from their power metal peers, I’ve always found them to be among the best shredders of the most famous tier of power metal, certainly better than any of their German counterparts (editor’s note: lolwut?). “Stratofortress” then, is one of the best examples of fun filled shredding in their catalogue.
Thence comes the title track. Here we have somewhat of a conflict of interest, because on the one hand, I think that 12 minutes is still a bit much for the musical ideas presented here. The first minute or so is an awfully hard sell, and some of the passages repeat themselves a bit too much, but at the same time, the music is every bit as good as some of the better songs of Stratovarius past. The slow plodding nature is deceptive, because with as much overlong trash listeners would have to sit through to get to this point, it would be easy to dismiss this song before giving it a chance to really hit its edge, and that would be a shame.
The album unsurprisingly ends on an uninspired, rather pointless note. Yet another overlong ballad that really only serves to bookend into the second half of the Elements suite. For everything going on here, this is perhaps everything that is wrong with Stratovarius at this stage in their career, both for being painstakingly boring, as well as putting the spotlight on the completely unnecessary decision to make two albums when there was really only enough content for one. For all the venom in this review, it’s important to remember that there are some really tremendous parts on this album, but they’re mostly lost in the flood of garbage that was unleashed from Tolkki’s raging hubris.
Dagg’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Elements, Pt. 2 (2003)