Not many people thought that Stratovarius would survive the 2008 departure of primary songwriter Timo Tolkki, along with the associated kerfuffle surrounding hos ownershop of the name. But they soldiered on with new guitarist Matias Kupiainen, and their 2009 album "Polaris" was surprisingingly and deservedly, well received.
They've obviously decided that there is no point hanging around, and they've already got the follow-up album, "Elysiums", recorded and ready to go. But just to get a bit of a buzz going, they're releasing this mini-album in advance. The five tracks comprise two tracks from the forthcoming album - 'Darkest Hours' and 'Infernal Maze', along with a demo version of 'Darkest Hours' and two live numbers - 'Against The Wind' and 'Black Diamond', recorded on the Polaris world tour.
The first thing you notice is that Timo Kotipelto is in mighty fine voice. 'Darkest Hours' is up first and is instantly recognisable as classic Stratovarius. Fans will take it to immediately, and it has you reaching for the pre-order button for "Elysium". But there is better to come, as the orchestra drenched 'Infernal Maze' takes over. It's an awesome tune, with some fantastic guitar / keyboards interplay and a great solo from Kupiainen. Things take a dip with the demo of 'Darkest Hours', but that's only because you've already heard the finished product.
The live tracks are a real treat, well recorded and a reminder of just how good they band were when I saw them last year. The version of 'Black Diamond' is the real treat, as it crashes on for seven and a half minutes in finest power metal style, replete with some amazing keyboard work from Jens Johansson. They're not reinventing the wheel here, but as power metal goes, this is just about as good as it gets, and whets the appetite for "Elysium".