By Carl Begai
During the last half of the ’90s, Stratovarius ruled the roost when it came to top-notch A-game power metal. Over the course of three albums in three years – Episode (’96), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) – the band set a standard that was hard to match. Guitarist Timo Tolkki was elevated to the status of guitar god, new vocalist Timo Kotipelto (as of ’95) cemented his position as the band’s frontman in spite of initial fan misgivings, and the quintet was deemed pretty much unstoppable. That wasn’t the case, and Stratovarius’ fall from grace in the years that followed was well documented, with the brakes finally being applied to halt complete self-destruction when Tolkki departed once and for all in 2008. Three albums into what has been touted since 2009 as a fresh start with axe-monster Matias Kupiainen in Tolkki’s place and the band have hit one out of the park with new album, Nemesis. It’s a record based on change of a tried and true formula, and nobody – not even vocalist Timo Kotipelto – could have predicted the wave after wave of positive feedback that’s come down since the press got a hold of it.
“The reactions haven’t been like this in about 12 or 15 years,” says Kotipelto. “I’m always excited about releasing a new album when it’s done, of course, but this time it feels like a fresh new start. Not just because we have a new drummer (Rolf Pilve) but because things also clicked together in a good way.”
Which is a huge understatement to the ears of anyone that has followed Stratovarius since the ’90s. Kotipelto is hard pressed to identify what it was about the creative process this time out that coughed up a record worthy of their late ’90s run.
“When I had the demos there weren’t any vocals, just guitar melodies or weird keyboard melodies from Jens (Johansson). At that stage it’s hard to tell if it’s going to be a good song or not. I can recognize of there’s a melody in there that makes some sense that I can work with, but it can be difficult. Especially with Matias’ songs because he doesn’t compose with vocals and lyrics in mind; a lot of the time I end up thinking ‘What the fuck is this…’ when I hear his stuff (laughs). And sometimes when we’re recording Matias sometimes suggests we change things about the vocals because he has a vision in his head of what he wants. We give each other feedback in the studio, and it really works. When Jens composes he has a more melodic approach from a singer’s perspective, and I guess that’s because we’ve been in the band together for so long. For the last couple albums we made demos and Matias mixed them in the studio so we could hear how the songs would sound. They weren’t perfect but they gave us a better picture of where we were going. Of course, by the time I get to do my vocals two or three months have passed and the songs have changed a bit.” Continue Reading
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). Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
In 1986, the Sacramento-based band Tesla released their blues-based shred rock debut, Mechanical Resonance. Stamped at the bottom of the liner notes were the words “No Machines” placed above a graphic of piano keys with a line through it. It was the band’s response to the pop-happy ‘80s’ love affair with sickly sweet keyboard pre-sets that had infected the realms of rock and metal. As if the Max Factor-sponsored glam movement wasn’t bad enough, the instrument that Deep Purple legend Jon Lord made respectable had become the musical equivalent of a chick flick. Thus, keyboards and their players in general were saddled with a reputation for softening up a band’s potential backbone-of-steel sound and / or being completely dispensable. In the world of soaring vocals, screaming guitars, crushing bass and tribal drums, anyone caught behind a Korg was often considered “just a keyboard player” with nothing special to offer. Things have since changed, with the likes of Janne Wirman (Children Of Bodom) and Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) re-establishing the instrument’s credibility, and Nightwish owing their millions-sold existence to the almighty keys.
In the case of Finnish bashers Battlelore, the soft spoken Maria Honkanen is responsible for filling out the band’s trademark Tolkien-inspired sound. In many cases it’s her contributions that carry the songs without dulling her bandmates’ fangs. A member since the band’s late ’90s inception, it’s safe to say Battlelore would be a much different animal without her. Continue Reading