By Jason Wellwood
Armoury Records has done an admirable job with the two recent Stratovarius reissues (the current rage in the record industry: reissue a deluxe version so the fans will buy it again!). Polaris, the 2009 ‘comeback’ album for the band had its detractors, many of whom were fans that couldn’t/wouldn’t accept the band without Timo Tolkki. My complaints had nothing to do with the guitar playing. In fact, I thought that the musicianship throughout the record was quite solid and the duelling guitar and keyboard parts were excellent. Of course, having Jens Johansson means great keyboard work period. My complaints with Polaris were about the band’s attitude : they take themselves way too seriously! There are some very pretentious spoken moments in Polaris that came off as incredibly cheesy. Other bands could pull it off by adding in a wink and a nod, but Stratovarius aren’t much for cheekiness. The album could do with some re-sequencing as well, I really don’t like the way it ends with ‘When Mountains Fall’, it seems anti-climactic. Overall there are worse sins the band could commit though. Polaris is a powerful, if pompous, power metal album and a great rebirth for Stratovarius. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.
Pairing Polaris with a 14 track live disc recorded around the world, is a great move on Armoury’s part. It is a chance for fans and detractors to hear the new guitar player (Matias Kupianinen) in live action, and he more than stands up to the challenge. Recording this over a few shows means the band can make sure it’s their best performances before it’s put out. Of course Stratovarius don’t have bad performances so I’m sure it was tough picking the tracks. Starting with the powerful ‘Destiny’ then running into the immensely memorable ‘Hunting High And Low’ before addressing the crowd, the band gives the audience a taste of what will follow for the remaining hour: power and fun. Musically, Stratovarius sound at their peak on this recording, solid, with just enough change in the songs that you realize it’s live but the big surprise is they also make it sound fun! Maybe it’s the fact that Timo Kotipelto sounds a little more raw live, maybe it’s being removed from the sterility of a studio, but Stratovarius actually sound like they’re having a great time here and it’s infectious.