Released by: Armoury Records
Release Date: February 22nd, 2013
Genre: Power Metal
3. Stand My Ground
4. Halcyon Days
6. Out Of The Fog
7. Castles In The Air
9. One Must Fall
10. If The Story Is Over
This is a very important album for me, even more so than for other longtime fans. As predictable as it might seem, while I had been exposed to some power metal before, the band that most helped me to become as big a fan of the genre as I am today was Stratovarius. At the time I started listening to them it was during their dark ages, when it looked like they may have been finished after the disappointing self-titled album and all the inner turmoil that came out of it. Well, long story short, even without founding member, guitarist and main songwriter Timo Tolkki around anymore, they managed to come back with a flawed, but still enjoyable rebound album with “Polaris”. Then two years later they struck gold with “Elysium”. It wasn’t perfect and I didn’t think it was quite able to match my personal favorite “Destiny” or its predecessor “Visions”, but it was still a huge improvement over anything they had done since those albums, with the title track in particular showing the full potential of the new lineup. The band seemed to have a potential setback shortly afterwards with longtime drummer Jörg Michael leaving, but they have pressed on and are now ready to release “Nemesis”, which is their 14th full length album overall, and their 3rd without Tolkki. With all the improvements they had made over the last two albums, I was hoping for something special this time, and that’s exactly what we have here. In fact, if all you’re interested in reading about is how the album stacks up, here’s all you need to know: Not only is it by far their best album since “Destiny”, I’d go as far to as to say I’d take it over “Visions” any day of the week.
Over the last two albums they managed to strike a nice balance between evolving into a much more versatile band, and still having all the typical elements fans associated with their music, so they both attracted new fans and kept most of their their existing fan base happy. With “Nemesis”, it seems guitarist Matias Kupiainen has settled in very nicely and has taken more control than he had before, pushing them further into new directions, with more modern metal elements than they had ever had before. Obviously, there’s still a ton of great melodies and excellent keyboard work as you’d expect, but I think this is the album where Matias finally shows what he can bring to the band. Now, I was certainly impressed with the songwriting ability he displayed on “Elysium” (the epic 18 minute title track was his creation), but I had always thought his guitar work paled in comparison to Tolkki:That certainly isn’t the case anymore. He has a much different style, which is generally not as flashy but still very technically proficient, and he adds the type of riffs the band has always been lacking. So while they can still play their trademark brand of melodic power metal, they’re able to bring so much more to it with Matias in the band. I won’t say he’s outright better than Tolkki, though, because I really don’t care to compare the two anymore: Tolkki had his turn, and now it’s time for Kupiainen to shine.
However, a masterpiece can’t be made by just one person, and I’m glad to say the rest of the band is very much in top form as well. Jens Johansson continues to bring more and more new and interesting keyboard sounds to the table, Lauri Porra does as solid a job as he had on the last two albums, and Timo Kotipelto has never sounded better to my ears. The most important thing was how well new drummer Rolf Pilve would fit in, and thankfully he has turned out to be the right replacement and then some. He’s capable of following in Micahel’s footsteps when he has to, but he’s also a much more versatile drummer, which makes him the right fit for the band in its current form.
As I said above, this continues with their evolution into a much more well-rounded band, but I can assure longtime fans that the spirit of the band is still very much intact, and the album really feels like a more modern version of Stratovarius, which hasn’t refused to grow over time. Take the opening track “Abandon”, for example: It starts out with a nice keyboard intro before exploding into some of the heaviest riffs the band has had, before nicely slipping back into a typical speedy power metal song, where Rolf gets to channel his predecessor, while Kotipelto makes the chorus soar as usual,and Matias and Jens each deliver some epic solos. In many ways, it feels like a darker, heavier and more modern version of the band I’ve always loved, and it is just the beginning.
I’m sure many fans have heard “Unbreakable” already, since it was released as a single. It’s a much slower, very melodic song driven by the keyboards during the verses and choruses. It seems like a really nice song, and then Matias comes in and surprises the listener with an explosive riff the likes of which has never been heard on a Stratovarius album, instead feeling like it came from a modern melodic death metal album or something, though it actually works great and helps kick the album into full gear. The new style is fully established by the end of “Stand My Ground”, which is shockingly heavy, while still maintaining their typical power metal elements. Kotipelto uses a lower register than normal and even adds a bit of an edge to his voice, which works surprisingly well. By the time the chorus shows up, he’s allowed to switch back to his typical nice and epic style, and the song takes off and becomes something truly amazing. A bit of an oddball shows up with “Halcyon Days”, a rather complicated and progressive song with an outstanding chorus and a really weird middle section where the keyboards are utilized in such a way that it briefly becomes some sort of electronic music, though it doesn’t last long enough to become distracting, and is simply a nice change of pace.
We get more proof they haven’t lost their touch when it comes to melodies once “Fantasy” comes on, as it starts out slowly with minimal instrumental backing (though the keyboard sound is very interesting and unique right from the start), before launching into the catchiest chorus of the album, and from there the band comes in with a full sound and it becomes an instant classic. That one quickly became my favorite, and at this point I think it still is, though it’s hard to say. Up next is another example of how much the band has evolved even just between now and 2011, as the main riff of “Out Of The Fog” sounds like it could have easily been lifted from “Infernal Maze”, except here it’s shifted to be much darker, slower and heavier, and overall the song shows the band’s more progressive side while still having the occasional burst of speed. The chorus in particular is very inventive and extremely complicated, with multiple tempo changes, and yet it’s still somewhat catchy. It feels like they took one of the best parts of an already excellent song and morphed into something more modern and even more awesome. Yet another surprise comes in the form of “Castles In The Air”, which starts out as a very nice melodic metal song, but in the middle it morphs into perhaps he most progressive thing the band has done, with a very long and complex jam session that is very well put together, so it adds to the experience and doesn’t feel out of place.
Aside from the excellent mid-tempo melodic metal track “One Must Fall”, the last few songs mostly explore familiar territory, though the band’s evolution is still very noticeable. “Dragons” and “Nemesis” are the typical speedy shred fests longtime fans would hope for, with the former having the second catchiest chorus, and the title track is longer and it ends the album with a really nice outro. The lone ballad is “If The Story Is Over”, which is a very nicely written song that allows Kotipelto to shine as he always does on a ballad, and I would say it’s one of their better songs of that type.
Ever since I first heard “Polaris” I had been awaiting the day when Stratovarius would make one more masterpiece to equal their best works, and with “Nemesis” that day has finally come. It takes all their familiar elements, adds in a ton of modern tendencies, keeps the symphonic and progressive elements they’ve been adding in over the years, and overall it shows them evolving into a band that is as relevant today as they were throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. In some ways this is very different from anything else they’ve made, while in others way it remains familiar, and that’s just part of what makes it so exceptional, in that they were able to take some risks and make them pay off, while still keeping their spirit intact. “Destiny” has always been my favorite album of theirs because of the two incredible epic length songs that anchor it, but if I’m being honest, “Nemesis” is their first album where I can say I’ve loved every song, as even on the aforementioned album and “Visions” I always had a couple songs I wouldn’t listen to often. With “Nemesis”, each and every time I listen to the album I’m excited the whole way through and there aren’t any songs I can see myself ever skipping. I can’t say it has any individual track that can match my all time favorite by the band, “Anthem Of The World”, but overall, as varied as the album is, the songs flow together nicely and the songwriting is stronger that it has ever been. In the end, I can’t decide what my favorite“Stratovarius” album is anymore, and that’s all the proof needed to know they’ve delivered another masterpiece.
Written by Travis
Ratings Travis 10/10
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