Stratovarius – Visions
Where Episode was the melodic metal masterpiece of the 90’s Stratovarius extravaganza, Visions stands as the neo-classical masterpiece. This distinction comes with an important caveat, in that just as there were neo-classical elements present in Episode, there is also a very strong melodic current throughout Visions. While I (and I believe the largest number of dedicated fans) hold Episode as the best Stratovarius album, Visions is certainly the more highly regarded in the public sphere.
The album opens with “The Kiss Of Judas”, a fairly heavy, plodding song that, in this reviewer’s opinion, is done much more justice in a live environment, but nonetheless serves its purpose as the album opener. The true significance of the Visions record however, is its second song, “Black Diamond”. If there is a single song that defines the Timo Tolkki/Jens Johansson era of Stratovarius, it is this. Beginning with a simplistic harpsichord melody, it launches into a full forced song with an incredibly catchy chorus and some of the most blazing guitar and keyboard solos to grace power metal up to that point. If you only ever hear one Stratovarius song in your life, make it “Black Diamond”.
Through the middle of the album, there are plenty of awesome metal attacks like “Forever Free”, “Legions”, and “Paradise”, which stand as some of the band’s best heavy material. In particular, I find “Forever Free” to be one of the best songs in Stratovarius’ discography for a live environment, because it’s rare to hear Tolkki put out something quite so crunchy. “Legions” is dedicated to the fan base, and that’s a pretty cool shout-out if you ask me.
What stands out to me here, even moreso than on Episode, is the quality of the ballads. Brace yourself, because this is the last time Stratovarius will put two solid ballads to a record for a long time. Even with amazing songs like “The Abyss Of Your Eyes” and “Forever Free”, I’ve been often times most drawn to the album to hear the beauty that is “Coming Home”. It’s bombastic and epic in the way that a metal love song should be, and I don’t feel like it takes anything away from the album’s pacing or quality.
The added benefit of jumping to “Coming Home”, is that it is a quick route to the album’s closer and title track, “Visions”. This is the bands first full attempt at an epic length song, and perhaps their best (at least from this era of the band). This is still early enough in the game that we can compliment Timo Kotipelto’s vocal performance in a completely non-ironic, non-condescending way. He’s legitimately amazing on this song, especially around the 3:30 mark when he rips into a fairly impressive scream. I’m not really one to weigh songs like this down with lengthy descriptions, but for the 10 minutes of your time, it’s worth a chance.
While there are some things on this album that are perhaps stronger than on Episode, as a whole I find it to be, marginally, the weaker of the two, mostly for having a somewhat lackluster opener (editor’s note: Hey, I like that song!), and for the fact that I never quite got into “Paradise” as much as the rest of the fan base, but a near perfect score it still earns.
Dagg’s Rating: 4.75 out of 5