Album Review – Stratovarius / Eternal (2015)

The Finnish masters of Power Metal are back with a beautiful album made to be eternal.

Rating1

Stratovarius_EternalIt is unfair to say that Stratovarius are back because, actually, they are that kind of band that don’t let their fans waiting for too long. But, yeah, on September 11, date which many bands picked to release new albums too, Eternal came to light and for the fans of Power Metal, Speed Metal, Symphonic Metal and Finnish bands, this is definitely one of the best releases of the year.

So, here are some interesting facts about Eternal: the whole process, from the writing to the release, took the band one year; the producer of the album was, once again, the guitarist Matias Kupiainen, who has been involved with the production process of Stratovarius’ releases since joining the band in 2008; all the lyrics were written by Timo Kotipelto and Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica), except Man in the Mirror and Fire in your Eyes, written by keyboardist Jens Johansson; Liimatainen also co-composed along with Kotipelto three tracks for this album: Shine in the Dark, In My Line of Work and Few Are Those; the cover artwork, designed by the Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák, who previously worked with the band in the albums Polaris (2009), Elysium (2011) and Nemesis (2013), was ready more than a year ago and brings together elements and references from the previous artworks; after several suggestions and ideas, the title of the album, Eternal, was chosen by the band in a Facebook chat session. You can check these and other cool facts and highlights of the band on this album on this short documentary from inside the studio, released by earMusic.

In my opinion and in the opinion of several reviews I’ve read recently, Stratovarius are sounding better than ever in Eternal, bringing again all that old school vibe of the Power/Speed Metal they helped to develop in the early 90’s. The best example of this is the first track, My Eternal Dream (check the beautiful official video clip below) that has a lot of energy thanks to the intense keyboards, the heavy guitars and fast drums and bass, not to mention Kotipelto is also singing beautifully. It also has an amazing guitar solo by Kupiainen like the old ones we used to hear on the early years of the band. Shine in the Dark is another great song, sounding slightly heavier, and it was the first presented to the fans with a lyric video and, believe me, the lyrics will stick to your mind for days (“I am what you made of me / Your blood is my blood / And your heart is my heart / We are what we leave behind / An eternal stream / You flow through me / I fear no more though you’re gone / I know we’ll meet again / I know you’re there still somewhere / You are waiting”). Rise Above It brings again the Speed Metal style and definitely sounds like something you have heard before, it is intense like “Forever Free”, and one could easily think it has been released on their 1997 album Visions.

The first tunes of Lost Without a Trace may trick you and make you think there is a ballad coming, but take another listen at it and you will find a more modern and progressive touch. Rolf Pilve’s performance on drums in this song is great, very paced. This is the second album recorded by Pilve on drums and it seems like he has been in the band forever. Feeding the Fire has a great start with keyboards, like many of Stratovarius’ classics, and its vibe grows stronger along the music. I imagine this song played live as one of the highest points of the concert – I hope they add it to their upcoming tour setlists. In My Line of Work is a great example on how the band is working great together; it brings the perfect balance of vocals and all the instruments and sounds more modern than the previous songs of the album, just like the following one, Man in the Mirror, showing that Power Metal can sound classic and yet bring new elements.

StratovariusFew Are Those has several levels of intensity: it starts with a nice keyboard intro, then gets rhythm with the addition of bass and drums and reaches its peak with powerful guitar riffs. Once again, Kotipelto’s performance is great and full of feeling. The ballad Fire in Your Eyes brings a moment of calm after so many stormy songs. It starts (and ends) in a beautiful way with Kotipelto’s voice and a piano, and gains force later with an outstanding work by Pilve and Kupiainen.

Eternal comes to its end with a nearly-12-minute epic song, The Lost Saga. This is, undoubtedly, the highlight of the album, sounding intense and progressive like many other of the band’s hits, like “Infinity”, for example. It has choirs, orchestrations, great extended solos, amazing beats, unexpected (and yet perfect) change of rhythms, in summary, a song that has everything to thrill even the most coldhearted fan.

In very few words, after 10 songs and 54 minutes Eternal makes you ask for more. Stratovarius definitely have a very consistent line-up, still developing great ideas and bringing to the 2000’s the same kind of songs that made them huge more than 20 years ago. Soon their world tour starts, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for more updates. May all Stratovarius’ songs be eternal!

Best moments of the album: ALL OF THEM!!!

Worst moments of the album: Duuuh! None, of course!

Released in 2015 earMusic

Track listing
1. My Eternal Dream 6:04
2. Shine in the Dark 5:05
3. Rise Above It 4:26
4. Lost Without a Trace 5:28
5. Feeding the Fire 4:12
6. In My Line of Work 4:18
7. Man in the Mirror 4:43
8. Few Are Those 4:11
9. Fire in Your Eyes 4:15
10. The Lost Saga 11:39

Band members
Timo Kotipelto – vocals
Matias Kupiainen – guitars
Lauri Porra – bass
Jens Johansson – keyboards
Rolf Pilve – drums

Album Review – Gamma Ray / Empire Of The Undead (2014)

Gamma Ray return with their unmatched empire of Heavy Metal.

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CoverAfter a very long and exciting wait, Empire Of The Undead, the new album by German Power Metal masters Gamma Ray is finally among us, and once again the one and only Kai Hansen and his crew deliver us excellent music full of great riffs, nice lyrics, and above all that, lots of passion for what binds us all together. Yes, I’m talking about pure HEAVY METAL. And yes, Germany keeps on rockin’ nonstop in 2014.

As a long-time fan of the band, from the times when Dirk Schlächter was still the guitarist and Ralf Scheepers was still on vocals, I, for one, am a huge advocate of Gamma Ray’s music and style. In my humble opinion, they have reached that same stage bands such as Motörhead, AC/DC and The Ramones have, a stage where changing their music direction would be the major mistake of their lives. Who wants to see to Kai Hansen singing Rap or the band adding any electronic elements to their music? Other less important bands can try that, but Gamma Ray exist to provide us the most traditional heavy music we so much love.

BandTo kick off things in an exceptional way, how about the 9-minute epic tune Avalon, with its excellent solos and harmony, which reminds me of one of their biggest classics, “Rebellion In Dreamland”? Then comes the best, fastest and most awesome song of the album,  the pure fuckin’ metal song Hellbent, with its lyrics and especially chorus being  a tribute to Heavy Metal fans all around the world (“Hellbent for Metal / That’s what we are / Hellbent for Metal / Straight from the heart”). Kai Hansen is not only always amazing on vocals and on the guitar, but he’s also one of the best Heavy Metal poets of all time.

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Empire of the Undead CD Jewelcase

And Empire of the Undead continues in a very enjoyable way, with the excellent Pale Rider with its totally Judas Priest-ish riffs and another awesome performance from the whole band; and Born to Fly,  a very traditional Gamma Ray tune with a great chorus. The following two tracks are not exactly new, as they featured in the Master of Confusion EP, released in the beginning of 2013, but who cares? Both Master of Confusion and Empire of the Undead are powerful songs, with the latest having those classic riffs and guitar solos that explain why Gamma Ray are so fuckin’ awesome. Moreover, I had the pleasure to see them playing both live already last year, and those songs kick some serious ass.

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Empire of the Undead LP

In order to give us some air, Kai & Co. come with the smooth ballad Time for Deliverence, with its beautiful lyrics, and Demonseed, which despite its weird intro and headbanging riffs, is not a very entertaining track; however, the band gets back to their roots with Seven, another classic tune that will surely please all of their fans. And to end this pretty cool album, we have the song I Will Return, which starts with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous “I’ll Be Back!” quote, but doesn’t keep up with the same energy level as the previous tracks. And if I were you, I would buy any of the special editions of the album (each with a different front cover color), because all bonus tracks and other stuff are worth the extra money.

In terms of the musicians, kudos to drummer Michael Ehré, as although he had some big shoes to fill he nailed it, and of course to Mr. Kai Hansen, the creator of Power Metal, Helloween and Gamma Ray. Kai is the “Midas” of heavy music: everything he touches becomes GOLD, and that’s valid for Empire of the Undead, another very good release from one of the most influential German bands of all time. May the amazing empire of Heavy Metal built by this great guy “hellbent for Metal” live forever more.

Best moments of the album: Avalon, Hellbent, Pale Rider and Empire of the Undead.

Worst moments of the album: Demonseed and I Will Return.

Released in 2014 earMUSIC

Track listing
1. Avalon 9:21
2. Hellbent 5:23
3. Pale Rider 4:24
4. Born to Fly 4:32
5. Master of Confusion 4:55
6. Empire of the Undead 4:26
7. Time for Deliverence 5:11
8. Demonseed 6:39
9. Seven 5:07
10. I Will Return 6:56

European bonus track
11. Built a World 4:23

Limited Edition Digipack bonus tracks
12. Avalon (Live from Studio) 9:52
13. The Spirit (Live from Studio) 4:19
14. Empire of the Undead (Live from Studio) 4:27

Band members
Kai Hansen – lead vocals, rhythm & lead guitar
Henjo Richter – lead & rhythm guitar, keyboards
Dirk Schlächter – bass
Michael Ehré – drums