Stratovarius – Infinite
While Destiny marked a step down in quality from Stratovarius’s best work, as well as set the trend for the weaknesses and inconsistencies that would eventually come to head over the next few albums, that is not to say that the band entered a permanent slide. 1999 was the first year in quite some time to not see new material released, mostly due to transitioning from Noise Records to Nuclear Blast Records. However, the time off proved to be quite effective in terms of reinvigorating the band’s creativity. Infinite, when at its best, stands not terribly far behind the best achievements of Visions and Episode, and even surpasses these in some ways.
Unlike my previous review of Destiny, I’m going to start with the positives here. The pseudo-title track (one letter off) “Infinity”, is mind-numbingly epic. The band had been toying with the idea for three albums now, and had delivered quite efficiently on their three previous efforts, but “Infinity” is downright amazing. “Huge” would be a word I would use to describe it, and that’s something that I think any epic track really needs to embody. Choirs and orchestration are something that no power metal band can go without for long, but rarely is it accomplished so well as Stratovarius did with this song. I might also add that Timo Kotipelto is absolutely fantastic on this song.
Secondly, this marks the first songwriting contribution from Jens Johansson. I’d like to tell you how this set off an amazing symbiotic relationship between Jens and Tolkki, resulting in a breath of compositional fresh air, and a quickly achieved secondary rise to fame for the band, but we have to remember that Timo Tolkki is BALLS crazy, and a bit full of himself at the best of times. Regardless of all of this, “Glory Of The World” (Johansson’s contribution) is among the catchiest shredfests that the band had put to record at that point in their career. I could offer the same gushing praises for the opener and lead single “Hunting High And Low”, the live-show staple “Phoenix”, or even “A Million Light Years Away”. Infinite is home to some of the most well put together and fantastic songs in the Stratovarius catalogue.
So what’s wrong? For those of you who have been paying attention, the answer is fairly obvious. Ballads. Or more specifically, ballad. The band has at least had the respect to return to two ballads on Infinite, and one of them is short, sweet, and to the point (“Celestial Dream”), I actually quite like it as an acoustic piece. But for all the goodwill they might have earned with “Celestial Dream”, there is the utter crudfest that is “Mother Gaia”. I know that just last album I tore apart “4000 Rainy Nights” for being completely overblown, but they had the respect to keep it to a somewhat reasonable length (though it felt like 20 minutes, the tracklist assures me that it is in fact only 6). “Mother Gaia” decides to test my patience further by having even more music with even less content. While some parts of this album might have me favorably compare Timo Kotipelto’s voice to a soaring eagle, “Mother Gaia” has him whiny enough to make the comparison closer to a wounded animal. This is nearly 8 and a half minutes of false piousness complemented by a guitar track that got lost off the set of a bad 80s power ballad. Everything about the epic feel of the better points of this album are present, but with absolutely none of the content to back it up outside of a startlingly good guitar solo three and a half minutes in (by which point I’m usually far too bored to care). Maybe there are some positives to this song, with liberal use of the seek bar, I can find a lot of OK parts, but for everything that is holy, this song is WAY. TOO. LONG. Outside of that, there are a few filler tracks sprinkled in for effect, (“Freedom” and “Millenium”). Nothing special here, but they’re a ton of fun, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them.
Dagg’s Rating: 4.25 out of 5
Elements Pt. 1 (2003)