By Carl Begai

It has taken Stratovarius three albums since their 2008 split with guitarist/songwriter Timo Tolkki to find solid footing again. Not that their “comeback” record Polaris (’09) and follow-up Elysium (’11) were particularly bad; they simply felt too tentative, as if the band was being extra careful about not stepping outside the box. Nemesis, on the other hand, sees Stratovarius throwing out their own rulebook on what makes for a solid album. Guitarist/producer Matias Kupiainen has fleshed out his role as Tolkki’s replacement, while frontman Timo Kotipelto and keyboardist Jens Johnasson have come into their own as songwriters, making for an album loaded with hooks and double-take moments. And with the entrance of drummer Rolf Pilve in place of Joerg Micheal, Stratovarius is back to sounding fresh and stoked about their collective day job.

Put it this way; Stratovarius hasn’t sounded this good or this together since the Episode (’95), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) albums.

Off the top, gotta say it’s a huge pleasure having to wait 10 out of 11 tracks for the album’s lone ballad (‘If The Story Is Over’) to surface. Very un-power metal of them to make the move, and Nemesis is better for it. The band dishes out some out-of-character heavy on ‘Abandon’, ‘One Must Fall’ and ‘Stand My Ground’ – welcome Mr. Pilve – with ‘Halcyon Days’ marking Stratovarius’ most adventurous song to date thanks to some unexpected trance elements (that actually work). Johansson is all over the record and not merely doubling the guitars or hitting the “opera vocal” pre-sets, while Kotipelto has coughed up some bloody infectious melodies this time out. Fave of the moment in this regard include ‘Out Of The Fog’, ‘Dragons’, ‘Stand My Ground’, ‘Abandon’, and somewhat grudgingly ‘Unbreakable’, which conjures up a sense of the Nightwish hit ‘Amaranth’ for some reason. Title track ‘Nemesis’ closes the album in expected epic form, which is pretty much an eyerything-and-the-kitchen-sink crusher done up in trademark old school Stratovarius style.

Oddly enough, the only rough spot on the entire album is the song ‘Fantasy’, a feelgood rocker that’s more abrasive than anything thanks to some truly cheesy lyrical combinations. Doesn’t fit with the rest of the material on the album, which is above par for a band that had a questionable future five years ago.

Check out ‘Unbreakable’ here and ‘Halcyon Days’ here.

My new interview with Timo Kotipelto can be viewed here.

(And apologies to Rolf Pilve for spelling his name wrong in the first draft of this review. My brainfart must have been caused by all the excitement :-))