Stratovarius – Fright Night
Since the “Artist Rewind” brainchild began a couple months back, my clear calling was to the Stratovarius rewind, no simple task, and I think actually Arno and Dan have been doing it newest to oldest (editor’s note: Dan has, I haven’t – Arno), but that doesn’t make too much sense to me, so here’s my take on the Stratovarius debut album, Fright Night.
Upon my first peruse through the Stratovarius discography, this was an album that really didn’t make the first bit of sense to me. Really, even in context to the early albums, Fright Night stands out as just “different”, and the best description I could give it, if I were to dumb it down quite a bit, would be early period Judas Priest with a manic double bass drum presence and a haunting atmosphere. For those more familiar with Tolkki’s later compositions like “Eagleheart” and “Hunting High and Low”, this is quite a shocking contrast, but some of these songs are a little bit creepy.
So if you’re coming at this familiar with the mid-late 90s Stratovarius brand (Which, aside from fans, is all anyone is really aware of), there are several big differences in the approach. The most notable is the vocals of Timo Tolkki, by all accounts, he’s a pretty talented vocalist, and his voice fit the compositions better than Kotipelto could have managed. The drums are of a distinctly different style as well, the double bass is still very present, but Antti Ikonen seems to be playing a bit more rock and progressive elements. There are also some clear 80s hair metal elements going on, especially in the album’s lead single “Future Shock”. It remains on the upper spectrum of classy 80s metal though.
Lyrically, Stratovarius had never quite established the lyrical identity of some of their fantasy oriented power metal counterparts, but in general a classic era Stratovarius album might treat you to some peace, love and world peace, with some pseudo-philosophy and anti-religious ranting thrown in for good measure. While I’m sure it was all very meaningful and personal to Timo and Timo, I must say that with Antti Ikonen penning the lyrics on Fright Night, I can stomach the whole package much easier. The lyrics are a moderately humorous take on the horror genre, without seeming too much like a parody or an outlandish joke. Both Keeper Of The Seven Keys-albums were around by this point, but for all musical elements, this was really just NWOBHM-influenced speed metal.
The standout track for me though, has to be “Black Night”. For an album that is generally forgotten in the power metal pantheon, “Black Night” is a song that could, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, stand up to some of the best tracks even from Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. In particular, and this is consistent through most of the early Stratovarius-albums, Timo Tolkki shows us a style of excellent shredding and guitar work that seems to get lost once he can rely on Jens Johansson to pick up the slack. Especially at the end of “Darkness”, he shows early wizardry that you just wouldn’t expect this early in the game.
Compared to what the band accomplishes later in the career, it’s understandable why fans gravitate towards albums like Episode and Visions, but independent of what’s to come, this is a very good record.
Dagg’s Rating: 3.25 out of 5
Twilight Time (1992)