“Polaris”/”Polaris Live” by Stratovarius

Artist: Stratovarius
Title: “Polaris”/”Polaris Live”
Label: Armoury Records
Release Date: 7/13/2010
Genre: Power Metal
Rating: 4.5/5

Back in 2009, the band Stratovarius had informed the Metal masses that not only would they be back in action with the release of new material and a subsequent tour, but that they would be doing do without longtime guitarist Timo Tolki. The album was called “Polaris” and it introduced the bands worldwide fans to their new axe slinger Matias Kupiainen. The album was loaded with powerful energy and a number of its driving tracks found me slinging my own air guitar and pounding away on invisible drums as I listened. Fast forward to 2010 as the heat of the summer begins to mess with us, the band has re-issued this killer album and added a second CD that takes the bands full live set and delivers it to your living room. Having said all that I felt was necessary about the “Polaris” album in that releases review, I am representing it for you to refresh your memory about my views. After you catch up I will talk a little bit more about the live recordings that we get.

“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.”

So what of the live CD part of this re-release? Well I am glad that you asked me that question because the fourteen tunes presented on the second disc are nothing less than a thrill ride that brings the listener right into the crowd for a rousing performance by the band. I caught Stratovarius when they performed in NYC and had to admit that I was very curious to see just how well their new guitarist Matias would be and when all was said and done, I was happy to report that he really was shredding it up from the moment he came out onto the stage. What the listener gets with the live CD is the bands full set from beginning to end and since the album was being toured for, we get five tunes from “Polaris” along with a healthy number of other Stratovarius standards. To be honest, I was never more than a casual fan of the band, but I always enjoyed Kotipelto’s voice and stage personality. He is one of the best at the craft and now with Matias on board is able to lead the band into the future with a little more certainty than was looking possible only a couple of years ago. I loved the live set that they did in NYC and was happy to find this re-release delivering this show to the fans because it was impressive without question. The did one of my favorites from “Polaris” during the tour which comes via “Forever Is Today” and while it bothers me a little bit that “Blind” was not part of the set list, I learned to cope and to enjoy “Winter Skies” and “Deep Unknown” from the album a little more. Of course the bands classics are presented as well and of the lot of them, “Hunting High And Low” still packs a hell of a punch when you play it at proper volume. The set list on the live recording is slightly different from the one that the band played in my region but that is to be expected with a year long tour. Changing it up keeps it interesting for the fans and for the band as well. From beginning to end this is a satisfying listen.

The question is what to do if you already own the “Polaris” CD (which you should or be ashamed of yourself for the oversight), and the answer is very simple – buy it. Give the original copy to some other deserving Metal head or trade it with someone who does that kind of thing. Another idea is to sell it online somewhere to make some money that you can use for other releases. Plenty of options when it comes down to it. The booklet that you get is the same as the one with the original, but there is a single page cover sheet placed over it that lines out how this is a new Live CD version. If you have waited all this time to own the “Polaris” release because Stratovarius scared you a little with their self-titled “Stratovarius” album before it, then let me remind you that “Polaris” is fantastic while the other remains dismal. You cannot go wrong with this release and after hearing it again I am very hopeful and excited about what is coming from them next.

Feel free to check out the live concert report from the bands NYC stop HERE.

Track Listing: CD2
1. Destiny
2. Hunting High And Low
3. Speed Of Light
4. Kiss Of Judas
5. Deep Unknown
6. A Million Light Years Away
7. Bach Air Suite
8. Winter Skies
9. Phoenix
10. SOS
11. Forever Is Today
12. King Of Nothing
13. Father Time
14. Higher We Go

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

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