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Articles Home » 2009 Articles » Stratovarius - 2009 Polaris
Stratovarius - 2009 Polaris

ARTIST: Stratovarius
ALBUM: Polaris
SERIAL: 0196731ERE
YEAR: 2009


LINEUP: Timo Kotipelto - vocals * Matias Kupiainen - guitars * Jens Johansson - keyboards * Lauri Porra - bass * Jorg Michael - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Deep Unknown * 02 Falling Star * 03 King Of Nothing * 04 Blind * 05 Winter Skies * 06 Forever Is Today * 07 Higher We Go * 08 Somehow Precious * 09 Emancipation Suite I - Dusk * 10 Emancipation Suite II - Dawn * 11 When Mountains Fall



Finnish band Stratovarius have been around the melodic/progressive metal scene for years. They can trace their history right back to the late 80's, and have over the intervening years released a treasure trove of albums. Doing a bit of research on the band, hard core fans have offered their opinion on the band's output, ranging from superlative to ordinary. Admittedly, we haven't written anything about the band in the past, where we probably should have. All is forgiven, and we can now offer something on their latest 2009 offering 'Polaris', albeit we are thirteen albums late! The Stratovarius theme is based around sci/fi and fantasy based concepts, and it's something the band do real well. There are many bands who have similar traits (think Arjan Lucassen and his Ayreon and Star One projects), plus of course fellow Finns Sonata Arctica. This is my first Stratovarius review, so forgive me longtime Strato fans if I sound a little 'behind the eight ball', but I am reviewing 'Polaris' on it merits, and without the hinderance of comparing it to the band's vast prior discography. Let's not forget that Stratovarius was built around former member Timo Tolkki's songwriting and all round presence. He has since gone onto a new project called Revolution Renaissance. This is the first album without him, so the duties are left to singer Timo Kotipelto and keyboardist Jens Johannson (ex Yngwie Malmsteen). These two are no novices, having written on solo and external projects - so that in itself (a Strato album without Tolkki's involvement) would be of major interest to fans. It's been four years since their last album, but I think 'Polaris' represents a complete career change for the band, even if the music is the same as before.

Musically, this is a pretty talented band, Kotipelto is a superb singer, who I first discovered on his solo albums, plus of course he appears on the new Cains Offering album. Johannson is a bit of a keyboard wizard, in the same league as Derek Sherinian, Jordan Rudess and Vitali Kuprij, while drummer Jorg Michael has been behind the kit for the likes of Saxon, Axel Rudi Pell, Rage, Gravedigger, Laos and Mekong Delta. The new boys on the block are also well versed in the metal trade. Bassist Lauri Porra was blasting out the thunderous bottom end for Warmen, Tunnelvision plus Kotipelto before hooking up Stratovarius, while all eyes fall on new guitarist Matias Kupiainen. This youngster is a guitar fiend in the making. Have a search around You Tube to see him in action. On those videos (less so on this album), I was reminded of Lincoln Brewster, the guy who astounded us all on Steve Perry's 'For The Love Of Strange Medicine' album back in '94. So all in all, Stratovarius are world class musicians, even if Tolkki is no longer in the picture.

The Songs
You know, Stratovarius fans are a strange lot, and reading some of the feedback and reviews for 'Polaris' would have you think this is the worst prog/power metal of the year! It isn't, rest assured, I just think that it's nothing more than some hyperactive brainwaves going into freefall, especially since there's been a four year drought. 'Deep Unknown' is the band's first single and video off the album. Johansson gives us a bunch of synths with filters and phasing on full effect. It's a great scene setter, and so far, all is well in the Strato-verse. The trance like keyboards on 'Falling Star' takes the first shift, before passing the baton onto Kotipelto, whose vocal casts a spell over the rest of the song. 'King Of Nothing' commences with a regimented march sequence, Johansson drives the track into the next phase with a set of commanding ivory laden arpeggios. It's full of power and drama with big choruses akin to a Russian male choir. The harpischord styled intro on 'Blind' is a bit of a sucker punch, and soon makes way for a full frontal assault of fast power metal. It's clean and razor sharp, and highlights the skill of new boy Matias Kupiainen. 'Winter Skies' is the archetypal Stratovarius ballad, the wintry theme combined with the ice-cold emotional lyrical chill a great combination. 'Forever Is Today' is one of those galloping power metal anthems that you associate with bands like Saint Deamon or Highland Glory. 'Higher We Go' is a bit more intense, though the choruses end up racing along much like its predecessor. 'Somehow Precious' takes us in a progressive direction, there's less power/metal on this one, but it's very symphonic throughout. Bassist Lauri Porra wrote the two-headed 'Emancipation Suite' (Part 1 Dusk and Part 2 Dawn). All up it makes for eleven minutes of solid listening. The first part is a slow builder, but soon after Kupiainen and Johansson take on solo spots before combining together for dual leads. 'Part 2 Dawn' is the smoother of the two pieces, mellow and restrained. Again, both pieces are at the prog end of the scale, which will please some but disappoint many. The close-out track 'When Mountains Fall' is an acoustic and string driven ballad, high on emotive and heartfelt lyrics. Probably not the best track to end an album, but what the hey!

In Summary
So there we have it. A set of new songs, set to engage their fans, or maybe 'polarise' them, depending which side of the fence you sit on. The songs are solid all round, but there are no stellar stand-outs either. I'm pretty impressed with the musicianship on the album, I really like the new kid Matias Kupiainen, while Johansson, Michael and Porra make a great backline. Considering this is their first album as a unit, I would say that there is definite room for improvement. I'd also go on to say that this current group have a long way to go before threatening the Tolkki era of Stratovarius' discography, but if they can iron out some of the kinks and criticisms levelled at it by their fans, there may still be a few more discoveries and surprises yet to be made in the Stratos-verse.

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