Album Review – Stratovarius / Episode (1996)

The best album from the best Finnish band of all time.

Rating2

stratovarius_episodeOi maamme, Suomi, synnyinmaa, soi, sana kultainen! Finland is by far one of the most Heavy Metal countries in the world, and I’m not inventing this information from out of nowhere: take a look at this map showing the number of Heavy Metal bands per 100,000 people and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Nightwish, Lordi, Amorphis, Sonata Arctica, Turisas, Apocalyptica, Teräsbetoni, Finntroll, HIM, Sentenced and Wintersun are just some of the biggest exponents of heavy music in this land that offers its people a lot more than just ice and snow, but none of them have changed the world of heavy music as the Power Metal/Melodic Heavy Metal band Stratovarius.

Since their start in 1984, Stratovarius have released many important albums which revolutionized Heavy Metal with intense and fast riffs, double bass, high-pitched screams and epic songs. Among those releases there was their fifth studio album, Episode, released over 20 years ago, which in my opinion was the most important step in the band’s history in terms of creativity and evolution. With the awesome Timo Kotipelto on vocals for the second time after the good album Fourth Dimension (and fortunately until present days), and the addition of the beasts Jens Johansson on keyboards and Jörg Michael on drums, Stratovarius became a synonym for Melodic Heavy Metal in the 90’s and influenced an infinite number of bands all around the world. That was the band’s most stable and powerful lineup of all time, until Timo Tolkki left the band in 2008.

The music in Episode is pretty straight forward, it’s fast and clean Heavy Metal with total synchronicity of instruments, together with lyrics talking about life, love, dreams, and all the struggles a man has inside his mind. Add to that the beautiful atmosphere created by the Sibelius String Orchestra and Sibelius Choir, and you have a musical masterpiece. The clock ticking in the beginning of the album just announces that what comes next is no less than memorable: Father Time is an incredible song that summarizes all the power and technique of the band’s members, especially Timo Tolkki and Jörg Michael. What those guys do with their instruments is beyond awesome, and seeing this song live is like having a musical orgasm. Furthermore, Tolkki’s riffs are a constant in the whole album and one of the elements that make it so special for all Heavy Metal fans.

The speed goes on with Will the Sun Rise, another classic showing how perfect the partnership Tolkki/Kotipelto used to be. Then things slow down a little with the beautiful Eternity, but after the instrumental intro Episode comes one of their fastest and most amazing compositions ever: Speed of Light can make even a Thrash Metal band jealous of its speed and riffs, and as Canadians love a mosh pit I can’t wait for a Stratovarius concert here in Toronto to slam into the pit with this song. On the other hand, Uncertainty is quite boring and the lowest point of the album, despite its nice intro.

stratovarius_1995The next track is another good ballad, Season of Change, where Kotipelto once again demonstrates why he’s a reference in Melodic Heavy Metal, followed by the instrumental song Stratosphere, where we can see an inspired Timo Tolkki and a crazy Jens Johansson “masturbating” their guitar and keyboards respectively for our pure delight. Babylon can be considered an “epic” song due to its lyrics, strong intro and variations, while Tomorrow brings back the band at full speed with its inspiring lyrics (“Feeling strong and brave inside / my head up high with pride / yes I’ll be back tomorrow”) and Jörg Michael pounding his drums with his unique technique.

Finally, we have the song Night Time Eclipse, a nice semi-ballad with pleasant riffs and solos, and then a ballad so beautiful I can’t even find the right words to describe it, Forever, where Timo Kotipelto melts the heart of any woman with his performance (“I’m still there everywhere / I’m the dust in the wind / I’m the star in the northern sky / I never stayed anywhere / I’m the wind in the trees / would you wait for me forever?”). The Japanese version of Episode also contains a good bonus track called When the Night Meets the Day, another nice song, albeit not as wonderful as the regular tracks.

If you don’t know Stratovarius, I would say Episode is probably the best album to start. The only “issue” would be the side effects of listening to this musical wonder, which are an extreme addiction to Finnish Heavy Metal and a compulsive obsession with the language, culture, drinks and people from the marvelous land of ice and snow.

Best moments of the album: Father Time, Speed of Light and Forever.

Worst moments of the album: Uncertainty is the only “weak” track of all, or let’s say the least awesome.

Released in 1996 Noise Records

Track listing
1. Father Time 5:01
2. Will the Sun Rise? 5:06
3. Eternity 6:55
4. Episode (instrumental) 2:01
5. Speed of Light 3:03
6. Uncertainty 5:59
7. Season of Change 6:56
8. Stratosphere (instrumental) 4:51
9. Babylon 7:09
10. Tomorrow 4:51
11. Night Time Eclipse 7:58
12. Forever 3:06

Japanese edition bonus track
13. When the Night Meets the Day 5:30

Band members
Timo Kotipelto – vocals
Timo Tolkki – guitars, backing vocals
Jens Johansson – keyboards
Jari Kainulainen – bass
Jörg Michael – drums

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