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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Stratovarius

Polaris

Review by Greg Olma

You can call me a newbie if you want but this is the first time I have ever listened to a whole Stratovarius album straight through.  I know they have many discs and they have a very strong legion of fans but I was always bored with what I thought was their style.  I thought they were full on power/symphonic metal and there was no variety in sight.  Well, Polaris has proved me wrong.  I am unable to compare this disc to their other releases because I was never really a fan so this review is strictly based on Polaris and Polaris alone.  I will still admit I find the power/symphonic metal scene a little boring; albums like Polaris stand out as fine examples that a little variety goes a long way.  Sure, Stratovarius offer a few tunes that have that fast (almost too fast) playing but they manage to also include ballads and slower heavier tunes.  I might not have put the songs in this order on the CD but all the pieces have their place and they give the listener a little bit of a breather after the fast cuts.  I think one of the best compliments I can give this disc is that is has not only proved me wrong about the band but it has made me decide to go back and check out their other albums.  If they are as good as this one, I will be sorry I missed out on them first time around.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Deep Unknown
A computerized keyboard starts off the album that quickly turns into a faster power/symphonic metal tune. The chorus has that sing-a-long type of feel and it is a bit poppy compared to the rest of the track.  The keyboards are really up in the mix but all the instruments can be clearly heard.  The vocals by Timo Kotipelto are very clean and harken back to the old school metal style of singing.
Falling Star
Things slow down a little but in my mind get a little heavier.  The vocals during the chorus lighten things a bit by having high backing vocals accompany Kotipelto.  It has a late 80’s sound to it.  There is a nice little keyboard/guitar solo in the middle that fits the song perfectly.  After repeated plays, I think this is my favorite cut here.
King Of Nothing
A similar type of keyboard sound as the opening tune starts this epic sounding track.  They continue with a slower heavier sound with keyboards taking center stage.  The bass gives this song its heaviness by plodding along through the verses.  Instead of having that pop sounding chorus that the earlier tunes had, this one has more of a deeper Hammerfall-ish chanting style in it which also gives it more of a heavy sound.  Even when you get to the guitar solo section, this track has a very epic feel.
Blind
Don’t let the little intro fool you, this is probably the fastest track on Polaris.  It is very much in the power metal vein.  Even though the verses contain some crazy fast drumming from Jorg Michael, there is still plenty of melody here.  I was expecting the whole CD to be full of songs like this which would have annoyed me but having only a few makes for a well balanced album.
Winter Skies
I guess it was time for ballad and after the previous tune; it seemed to fit in perfectly.  Although I am not a big fan of the ballad, I have to admit that these guys do it well.  During the second verse, there is some really cool riffing from Matias Kupiainen.  All the right elements are here to keep this cut from falling into cheesy territory and it turns out to be a tune that you won’t want to skip over.
Forever Is Today
This tune goes back to the faster style of “Blind” but manages more of a groove than that one.  Kotipelto really pushes his vocals to the high register for the chorus which kind of takes away from the track.  This is more of a typical shred fest power metal cut that I have heard too many times and I think these guys are better than the song shows.
Higher We Go
Now this is more like it.  Things slow down for the verses but speed up on the chorus.  The mixture of slow and fast makes this a ready good piece.  Even though it is later in the disc, this would have been a great opening track and I would have sequenced this album a little differently.
Somehow Precious
I wasn’t expecting another ballad type tune but since the guys are good at it, I don’t mind.  This one has a little more “power ballad” in it than “Winter Skies” but they still manage to keep it fairly heavy without all the trappings of 80’s hair metal.
Emancipation Suite Part I: Dusk
I have a tough time separating this and the next track as they are essentially one 10 minute tune that is really only partitioned by name.  They flow together as one so I wonder why they made them 2 different tunes.  Surely, metal fans and fans of the band would have been fine with one long track.  Anyway, this has all the right parts to give this an epic feel.  The song starts off heavy with a very plodding beat before it switches to a story-telling/confession vibe.  Of the two parts, this one is the more interesting piece.
Emancipation Suite Part II: Dawn
The story continues and as I said earlier, this could have been one tune appended to the previous one.  This is the shorter part clocking in at three and half minutes and it follows in the same vein as its predecessor.
When Mountains Fall
To close off the disc, the band gives us another ballad.  This is basically an acoustic guitar composition that has other classical instruments accompanying it to fill in the sound.  It has a very renaissance feel to it and although I could do without this many ballads, Stratovarius at least mix it up so that each one is different from the other.  I would not have ended the CD with this cut but that goes back to my sequencing comment earlier.
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