Stratovarius - Elements Pt.2
Finland's leading metal act, Stratovarius, is back with one of the more anticpated releases of this year- Elements Pt II and with that the Elements saga has reached its conclusion. This album very much continues along the Stratovarius metal highway of later years but it's also in many ways different from Pt I. The change from focus on speedier up tempo tunes to a way greater attention on more epic slow mid tempo tracks could be traced already back on the previous Elements release and that trend is very obvious here too.
With exactly such a track, Alpha and Omega, the whole deal starts and with that the concept of a speedy track first out is broken. Despite this, Alpha and Omega qualifies as a very good song with its slow epic build and calmer parts. The song is the kind that gets better and better for every time you hear it and the religious philosophical theme in the lyrics goes very well to the song. The choir also helps to give that little extra and after the very first listening it feels like a very good representative in the Elements realm.
This one is followed by the by now almost traditional more up tempo track, I Walk to My Own Song. This is also the single from the album and if you've heard Hunting High and Low and Eagleheart you know exactly what to expect. No surprises whatsoever and I Walk to My own song is the worst among these three. Then (finally) the tempo increases and reaches the speedier levels with I'm Still Alive. Although being a fast double keg track it still continues on the non surprise routine and despite being a good track it's nothing exactly breathtaking. Once again the feeling of having heard the exact same thing many times before is very present.
And then the first out of three ballads occurs and one that I've just as well could have done without. It's of course comparable to any other Tolkki composition of the slower character and Season of Faith's Perfection is not the worst ballad the band have in their back catalogue, but it's definitely not their best either. A pretty mediocre tune that spoils the overall quite good beginning. Awaken the Giant is another mid tempo grinder where some computer affects have been added to change Kotipelto's voice during the verse. This is the heaviest track on the album and it also has one of the better refrains. Know the Difference begins very great in the veins of instrumental killers like Stratosphere and Stratofortress with hapsichord arpeggios and fast as hell guitars. This part of the song is the absolute highlight of Elements Pt II.
But once again, and very unfortunately I have to say, Kotipelto's voice gets very out of tune. This happens already during the verse but still it's not so bad there as during the coming chorus. This just doesn't sound good and, for I don't know which time around, I wonder how these vocal shortcomings aren't fixed and especially this time, since it's even worse than ever. It doesn't matter if you're a reviewer or common listener, have a musical degree or being totally out of musical talent- anyone can hear this instantly and it totally destroys something that could have been one of the better Stratovarius tunes in a very long time.
Not even the killer solo by Tolkki or the outstanding beginning can repare the damage done. And then it's time to slow things down to boring ballad pace again. Luminous is a better ballad than Season of Faith's Perfection but that doesn't really help much. I much more prefer the second highlight of this release, Dreamweaver. This album would have needed much more songs of this calibre.
This is definitely one of the best mid tempo tunes Tolkki
has ever written. It reminds me a little of The Kiss of Judas in some
ways and the very good chorus and melodic opening makes it a very compatible
track in the Stratovarius song bank. Around this point I began to hope
that the album's last two songs would save it from being one of the
paler Stratovarius albums ever but Tolkki doesn't really end his Elements
saga with some fabolous metal monster but instead rounds off things
in the cheesiest way possible with yet another power ballad. Liberty
is the best one of the three here on Pt II but come on! Three ballads
out nine tracks in total? Sharpen up lads!
The reuse of material seems to have reached its absolute peak and many songs found here on Elements Pt II can be traced back to Tolkki tunes already written. Of course some recycling is to be expected from the same band but the re-use of melody lines, hooks etc seems to be bigger than ever. And where is the awesome guitar bending nowadays? Didn't Stratovarius albums used to be full of killer guitar work in the shape of kick ass shredding and solos that almost split the earth in two? Perhaps I'm being more cruel in my criticism than I have to but I really hate it when a favourite band seems to loose its former magic and God how I miss the Stratovarius of the older era. I'm not trying to relive the past here either but sometimes bands that you used to love doesn't evolve along the lines you hoped they would and your disappointment has to manifest itself somehow.
And while typing this down yet another question also pops into my head: did Tolkki & co really have enough material for two albums in such short period of time taken the final result into account? Also remember that the band took an almost two year time out to recharge their batteries and it still didn't get better than this. All this perhaps has it's explanation in the news that reached us the last couple of days. Namely there seems to be a great crisis in the band and many different opinions from whithin on how Stratovarius should sound and evolve.
During such circumstances it must be very hard (not to say impossble) to produce and deliver one of your better efforts and this is of course even harder when we've recently also learned that three of the members seem to be leaving the band. Hopefully these very unfortunate matters can be taken care of and solved and the Stratovarius of old will resurrect. But no matter what has and will come to happen with the band can change the fact that Elements Pt II for me goes down as one of the more mediocre releases from these guys.
Those of you who still remain among the loyal ranks of Stratovarius fans will of course be of a totally different opinion and run fast as the wind to get it but in my book, Elements Pt II is an album only for you Strato freaks. Perhaps it will earn a few buyers to due to that this might be the last release with the present Stratovarius line up but if you don't fall into any of those categories it's enough to be aware that this album exists.