“Polaris” by Stratovarius

Artist: Stratovarius
Title: “Polaris”
Label: Armoury Records
Release Date: 5/26/2009
Genre: Power Metal
Rating: 4/5

A band has two options when one of its primary creative forces chooses to move on from the lineup and that is to either cease to exist and begin other projects or rise from the ashes of disruption, find a replacement and get back to business. Such was the dilemma faced by Stratovarius when key member and guitarist Timo Tolki decided to quit the band and leave it hanging out to dry. Lucky for the world’s Stratovarius fans the guys were more than willing to press on and soon found the talented Matias Kupiainen handling the necessary duties on the axe. In the public eye this was a pretty big pair of shoes to fill as Tolki had written some 95% of the bands material since 1989, so not only would his successor need to be adept on his own but also be able to handle all of the acrobatics that were regular practice for Tolki. So how do the new guy and new album sound? Well in a word this is probably the strongest material that Stratovarius has released in years and stands high above the utter garbage that was their last album “Stratovarius”. Matias is an exceptional guitarist and to quote my Dad I can say that “no one is irreplaceable” and in the end I think that new life has been breathed into this band that will make their fans proud. I was instantly drawn into the tasty riffs that were being dished out as opener “Deep Unknown” blasted through the stereo but it was in tracks like “Blind” and “Forever Is Today” that did the most for me and had me not only repeating them but also playing them louder and louder each time while playing either air guitar or air drums.

With Tolki gone, the song writing might change the style just a little bit, but after hearing just how Matias plays and writes I think the band is in capable hands. Plus it doesn’t hurt when you have Jens Johansson on keyboards and Kotipelto on vocals. Timo K. sounds better than ever and is again delivering the stratospheric notes that we love him to do so much after hardly doing any on the confusing affair that was “Stratovarius”. The drumming of Jorg Michael is also back on point and the release thunders with double bass drum patterns that make this a healthy CD to do fitness along to. I know my own heart was racing as a couple of the tunes played and I truly felt myself motivated to get up and go. There are more solemn moments like during “Winter Skies” and a quasi-ballad with “Somehow Precious” and if this all amounts as a “change in direction” well then I am all for it. The band has been around long enough to no longer need to follow “expected standards” and since the record features not one original member they can make more of their own rules. The production is sound and tight and the booklet provided delivers photos of the guys, lyrics and some cool artwork. I guess the overall question would be can a slightly new direction in sound and a new member of importance actually work to the bands advantage and I say perhaps you should turn your attention to Nightwish if this comes to mind. After all, that band managed to successfully continue after long time singer Tarja Turunen was dismissed. Yes, Timo Tolki did write a lot of the Stratovarius material over the years but the other members of the team are all talented at this as well and since Metal music is a constantly changing thing, I am confident that the best is yet to come. By the way, new guitarist Matias wrote three of the albums eleven numbers. If you are a fan of solid Melodic Power Metal then I highly recommend this album for your collection.

Track Listing:

1. Deep Unknown
2. Falling Star
3. King Of Nothing
4. Blind – a
5. Winter Skies
6. Forever Is Today – a
7. Higher We Go
8. Somehow Precious
9. Emancipation Suite: I Dusk
10. Emancipation Suite: II Dawn
11. When Mountains Fall

Official Website: http://www.stratovarius.com

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