Stratovarius released their first studio album Fright Night in May of 1989. Practically twenty one years to the month later, Stratovarius releases upon their fans, an album of songs that radiates Power Metal sophistication. Polaris, released on May 21, 2009, may not bestow the original Stratovarius lineup, nonetheless, this is as potent a lineup as there ever has been, in this bands history. Being an integral name in a select group of Power Metal pioneers, Stratovarius continues on without original guitarist Timo Tolkki for the first time on Polaris.
Step in new guitarist Matias Kupiainen. The melodic Power Metal guitar of Matias is standout, with his solos abundant on Polaris and not self serving. On Winter Skies, Matias lends his guitar to be a true asset to Stratovarius. Matias’s emotion for playing seeps from his guitar tone with riveting believability on Winter Skies. The same can be said for his talent during many, many moments onPolaris.
Lauri Porra as the new bass guitarist for Stratovarius fits right in alongside drummer Jorg Michael, bringing the melodious thunder that holds together these songs, especially on Blind and Forever Is Today, which can be equated as the two heaviest and fastest tracks on Polaris. Lead vocalist Timo Kotipelto can be considered to be the featured attraction for Stratovarius, never over powering yet powerful enough are his vocals to make any fan of Power Metal or Heavy Metal take notice.
On Polaris, the progressiveness of Stratovarius cannot hide, especially when a song such as Falling Star exists. The integration of Progressive and Power Metal styles that sometimes gets non mentioned doesn’t escape my ears, on a song so dynamic as Falling Star this never sounded more true. King Of Nothing carries out this same Power Metal progressiveness, with a saturated and brilliant overlay of synthetic sound from Jens Johansson’s keyboard skills. At 6:44 long, King Of Nothing borders on epic and plays out masterfully, without ever becoming an elongated power ride of nonsense.
Emancipation Suite I Dusk and Emancipation Suite II Dawn blend together with a thematic power ballad style that is reminiscent of 1970′s Hard Rock legends Styx, with Power Metal mechanisms all in place, of course. The vocals of Timo Kotipelto have pronunciations that remind me of Styx vocalist and founding member Dennis DeYoung, these two opening tracks are my best examples of this complimentary example.
Deep Unknown culminates Polaris as one of the best formulated and once again, mature, Power Metal albums that I have listened to in quite some time. Deep Unknown does not mask itself from any dark theme lyrically, it just spirals it’s way through a mixture of melodies and hooks that signify exactly what Stratovarius is… sophisticated Power Metal. Polaris is not going to grab you with non-stop and heavy Power Metal fury, nor will it have you wondering where the good parts are either. The element of surprise lies in it’s tantalizing progression toward the highs, while never letting in the lows.
Polaris has become a Power Metal album that I would recommend in the same sentence, along with Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Trilogy and Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I. The significance for me lies within the overwhelming musical credibility that I hear from this Stratovarius lineup, in addition to the exemplary song writing and layering of music elements. It’s not always about the heavy in Power Metal, the hardness, diverse tempos and progressive articulation is what has won me over with Polaris.
1. Deep Unknown
2. Falling Star
3. King of Nothing
5. Winter Skies
6. Forever Is Today
7. Higher We Go
8. Somehow Precious
9. Emancipation Suite I: Dusk
10. Emancipation Suite II: Dawn
11. When Mountains Fall
Timo Kotipelto – Vocals
Matias Kupiainen – Guitars
Lauri Porra – Bass
Jorg Michael – Drums
Jens Johansson – Keyboards