Stratovarius – Elysium
If Polaris lacked the significant staying power to make people believe in Stratovarius, then Elysium was the true comeback album, or at least the return to form that made Timo Tolkki’s career crawl into a corner and die. Tensions in the schism were running high in 2011, what with Tolkki having released three interim albums of varying quality, and large questions still running as to if Stratovarius could really hold together without the man who had composed “Father Time”, “Black Diamond”, and “Destiny”. Elysium though, for this reviewer, removed all doubt.
I seem to remember feeling, at the announcement details of Elysium, a sense of very cautious hesitation. The songwriting duties had shifted from about half-Lauri Porra songs, and half split between the rest, to overwhelmingly Matias Kupiainen compositions, with one or two songs each to the other composers. Included in this mix was the staggeringly long title track, standing at about 50% longer than any other song in the band’s discography. The album art was from the same artist as Polaris, and seemed somewhat as a “Continuation”, but in far less flashy form. This was clearly more ambitious than even the band’s efforts on Elements, and far more honest.
However, not 90 seconds into the song “Infernal Maze”, I was thrown on my face in ways I had never thought possible from post-Tolkkivarius. If you come away from this album with nothing else, ignoring the fantastic lead singles, the face melting “Event Horizon”, and the hugely ambitious and majestic title epic, at least come away remembering “Infernal Maze”, a song so tremendously dramatic that it makes even cheesy Italian power metal seem a bit stoic at times. Words basically betray how I feel about this song, other than the fact that for progressive-power metal fusion, I think it hits everything you could ever ask for from less than six minutes of music, and then some.
As far as the Strat-review staples, there are two ballads. Painfully stapled to form, there is the epic ballad “Fairness Justified”, and the more somber “Move the Mountain”. I will say that “Fairness Justified” was legitimately impressive, and I enjoy it on a semi-regular basis. “Move the Mountain” also was extremely well written, and for a fan less jaded about ballads than I, might also be cause for regular listening. As for myself, it’s just one of the more precise in a pile of sappy ballads that don’t serve the biggest purpose to me on a record. I’d even like to give it credit for being a fresh approach on an old standby, but a year later, it just doesn’t find its way onto my play list very often.
Also on the plate are the album’s first two tracks, the first released as a single, and the second as a music video. For those wondering if the super-accessible songs are still present, the band delivers two of them in top form, my favorite between the two being “Under Flaming Skies”. The penultimate song, “Event Horizon” also probably has received a good deal of recognition for being a straight up face-melting shredfest of massive proportions.
The elephant in the room though, at a massive 18 minutes, is the title epic. An album built around something like that obviously has to live or die on its quality. Going in, I was extremely nervous, even 30 second samples released before the album didn’t reveal the secret of what it would sound like, other than a ringing echoed guitar intro with a keyboard response. In the months after hearing Elysium for the first time, it was revealed to me that the song “Infernal Maze” was actually part of the same original, 35 minute composition that eventually was trimmed down to become “Elysium”, and this might have calmed my fears a bit, because there was nothing to worry about with “Elysium”.
As was becoming somewhat evident on Polaris, Matias Kupiainen comes from a progressive metal pedigree, and 18 minute songs therefore are more natural to him than some might give credit for. “Elysium” has all the variety and freshness that one might expect out of a track that long, with the melodic qualities one expects out of a power metal band of Stratovarius’ stature. I’ll spare the blow by blow of the song, but on a melodic level, I was impressed. When it comes to the massive pile of solos that they managed to cram into this thing, I was absolutely floored. This is no wankery either, the solos are tasteful, beautiful, and melodic. Most of all though, Timo Kotipelto puts on what is perhaps his most memorable vocal performance since after the Visions album.
Don’t let the drama or the concerns get in your way, this is an album to be heard, and one to be heard now. Eventually, it falls into some of the same traps that Stratovarius just cannot seem to avoid: two ballads, a singer who was never fully comfortable in the upper ranges (but who is exceptional in the midrange), and perhaps a lot more keyboard that some listeners are comfortable with (Even in this exceptionally long review, I didn’t get a chance to touch on “The Game Never Ends”, which is fantastic). At this stage in their career, I couldn’t realistically ask for much more from the band.
Dagg’s Rating: 4.5/5