Let me start this by saying I’ve been a huge fan of Stratovarius for quite some time. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the godfathers of modern power metal. I’ve stuck by them even with the departure of Timo Tolkki, which still keeps me up at night, and accepted the addition of Matias Kupiainen on guitar. When” Polaris” was released I didn’t have high expectations, but I never would have expected it would be that disappointing. It was so generic and uninspired that I wish Matias at least tried to rip-off Timo’s style. Two years later “Elysium” was released and I’d consider it a much more improved post- Timo Stratovarius. Its sound was much more full, the recording quality was better (especially the bass) and Matias just sounded like he belonged. It was such a big leap forward that I immediately wanted the next album to see how much more they could progress without Timo. Now “Nemesis” is here and I couldn’t be more disappointed. It’s their most symphonic effort since Elements pt. 1 and 2, but it lacks the Strato-magic.
“Abandon” opens up the album on such a killer note. It really gives hope that they have finally found their own. It’s very reminiscent of Rhapsody of Fire’s “Hollywood Metal.” It has larger than life keyboards and an infectious chorus. When the solo kicks in, it’s pure heaven. It’s the perfect power metal song. The next track is their first single off the album, “Unbreakable.” While it’s not nearly as good as the stellar “Abandon,” it’s still a hell of a track. After the first two tracks though, unfortunately, it starts falling apart. Not just musically…lyrically too. It goes from the most promising power metal album in years to a generic mess.
How could it turn from a diamond to coal so fast? Maybe it’s because once you get to “Fantasy” it gets very cheesy. Don’t get me wrong, Stratovarius has always been cheesy. “Galaxies” is one of the cheesiest songs ever written, but it works for them. It’s about fighting a war to save the galaxy. What’s not to like? “Fantasy” on the other hand is supposed to be some self-motivating song to make your life feel better. With lyrics like “Take a dream/make it real/don’t give in to fear,” it’s easy to want to turn the album off. Then surprisingly after “Fantasy” they come back and deliver the second best song on the album. “Out of the Fog” is another Stratovarius classic. Fast beat, ripping guitar and catchy chorus. After that gem, it goes back to being a mess with good parts scattered here and there throughout five more tracks. The worst song on the album, by far, is “If the Story is Over”. Stratovarius were never gifted at writing ballads, but “Story” is excruciating. It takes itself too serious for its own good. At one point it sounds like Timo Kotipelto is about to cry. Why?! Do the lyrics “For I never drew the sword from stone/ there’s no Helen in my Troy/I stand alone, I stand forgotten, just gazing into the void” really make a man choked up? It’s downright embarrassing.
This album has definitely brought Stratovarious in a different direction. But not a good one. A band with 14 albums under their belt should have made a more cohesive, engrossing effort. Although I must admit while it is much better than “Polaris” it’s still a strike against them. If they can all put their heads together and make an album of songs like “Abandon,” they will be the kings of power metal once again. But until then, they sound more like imitators than legendary innovators.
- Brian DuBois
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