Album No. 2 without Timo Tolkki, again Kotipelto and his mates demonstrate that they can deliver a true Stratovarius album without the former bandleader. Polaris was released in 2009 and the band toured extensively and so it was quite a surprise when Stratovarius announced the follow-up for early 2011. Elysium will see the light of day in January, but the Finnish are already on tour. The offer to tour with Helloween was too good to be missed. Darkest Hours was named as their first single which was in stores when the tour kicked off. But before the band get ready for the tour, they had to face one of the darkest hours in the band's history... Drummer Jörg Michael was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and immediately underwent treatment. The band discussed to cancel the tour, but Jörg told them not to do and look for a replacement. And so Alex Landenburg will do the first leg of the tour. By now good news been spread, Jörg is back at his drum kit, practicing for the tour and will do the second leg.
But now let's talk about the album! I won't go into detail about the two tracks which were already released on the EP Darkest Hours, coz many will already know the EP already.
Some Arabic sounds lead you into Under Flaming Skies, an epic up-tempo track with a catchy refrain. A powerful, complex tune with a dark edge, but also some soaring guitar lines. After the fast tune they slow down for Infernal Maze, at least the opening is slow, but then they kinda explode - and it becomes a typical Stratovarius track.
Fairness Justified is a bombastic mid-paced tune with big backings. Perhaps not the strongest track on Elysium, but a more than decent track which shows Stratovarius a little different. Great solo by Matias Kupiainen.
For The Game Never Ends they speed up again. The song was written by Jens Johansson and he wrote an insane sounding solo in the middle of the song - as a placeholder -, but then Matias Kupiainen did the unexpected, he adapted it to guitar! So be prepared for another great solo! This solo makes a typical Stratovarius tune special.
Bassist Lauri Porra takes us onto a sonic roller coaster ride with Lifetime In A Moment. First some sacral sound... Gregorian chant like, then spacy sounds, a 70's guitar-riff leads you into a mid-pace metal tune. Heavy and dark. Timo Kotipelto's vocals are expressive, you don't need to understand the words to get an idea. But as usual his vocals are the icing on the cake. The mighty backing vocals revive the 80's while the keyboard give the tune a spacy touch. With Move The Mountain they offer a power ballad, the opening part with acoustic guitar, but then they pick up power. The song is about life and loss, so don't expect a happy sounding tune. Simple but enchanting.
An alarm sets off, a warning message and Stratovarius storm off into Event Horizon. To quote the track-by-track: "The lyrics seemingly are about the abhorrent and mysterious physical phenomenon which is a black hole. A physical singularity of matter that has caused space and gravity itself to collapse has a surface around it called the event horizon..." Even if the song is written by guitarist Matias he gives Jens Johansson a lot space to act, but also adds some twists and turns in the mid-section. The song ends as it began... An alarm, a warning message and then a countdown.
Last, but not least the title track Elysium. It's an 18+ minute long opus and so you can expect a sonic journey in 3 parts. The sections vary in mood, but also speed changes, twists and turns make the long track work. It never gets boring, nor repetitive! No way to describe the soundscapes of Elysium!
Resume: Stratovarius are still alive and kickin'! It seems that without Timo Tolkki they are freed and had a creative boost while touring with Polaris. Musically you get some typical StratovariusStratovarius songs, but also some new elements and sounds. Everybody in the band is a master on his instrument and so they can add complex passages which sound light. It's an advantage to have several songwriters in the band and that Elysium shows perfectly.