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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Metal Chick of the Month – Caterina Nix

Wake up, this is my dream… Just let me sleep… In my loneliness, high above of me I fly.

The Republic of Chile might be known worldwide for its astounding attractions such as the arid Atacama Desert, the ski resort of Valle Nevado and the beach resort of Viña del Mar, as well as the country’s rich culture which has already provided the world the beautiful poetry of Pablo Neruda, for example. However, it’s time for the world to also know more about one of the most talented Chilean singers in heavy music, the gorgeous Caterina Nix, born Caterina Torrealba in Santiago, Chile and also known as Cati Torrealba, a solo artist better known for her partnership with the iconic Finnish guitarist Timo Tolkki in the Power Metal projects Chaos Magic and Timo Tolkki’s Avalon.

Caterina’s interest in singing and in music started at an early stage of her life, when she joined several rock bands during her adolescence at school and in the choir, discovering Heavy Metal during that period and falling in love for it. She started listening to classic bands such as Metallica, Pantera and Iron Maiden as a kid, expanding her metallic horizons a little more with bands like Tool and Fear Factory, before getting completely in love with female-fronted groups such as Lacuna Coil, Nightwish and After Forever. With metal and rock flowing through her veins, Caterina was always motivating her friends at school to play rock tunes when they were around 12 years old, which years later led to the creation of her first band, named Aghonya. In addition to that, our metal diva has a soprano vocal range and has received both classical and pop singing training, showcasing her versatility in music. Well, she mentioned in one of her interviews that her biggest idols in music are the unparalleled Freddy Mercury and Bruce Dickinson, and that singing along with them is like being in a master class, learning a lot by playing their music and imitating them. That alone says it all, don’t you think?

As aforementioned, Caterina’s first professional endeavor in the world of heavy music was with Chilean Gothic Metal band Aghonya, with whom she recorded a demo in 2006 and the full-length album Oxygen, in 2008, which she wrote all lyrics and vocal lines. Although the record was released independently, the band and Caterina garnered critical acclaim, leading the band to open for renowned acts like After Forever, Edguy and Within Temptation. In addition, Caterina believes that, as Aghonya started as a cover band for Nightwish, that helped shape her style to become the singer she is today, which you can see in songs such as Lead Me Into You (also check this nice live version at an extremely cheesy TV show from Chile called Sin Dios Ni Late) and the title-track Oxygen. Unfortunately, as it happens with several bands worldwide, Aghonya came to an end sometime in 2010, when each band member took a different path in life. The band’s drummer, Javier Guzman, moved to Australia; bassist Sergio Silva and guitarist Sebastián Coulon both got other jobs; and keyboardist Andres Cruz moved to a small town in the north of Chile.

Although it was only in 2015 when Caterina and Timo Tolkki joined forces to form Finnish/Chilean Symphonic Power Metal band Chaos Magic (together with Finnish drummer Jami Huovinen), our metal diva had already met Timo many years before that at a meet-and-greet at a Stratovarius concert in Chile, and they kept in touch after that. Years later, she sent Timo her material and they started to think about recording music together, which ended up happening when Frontiers Records came up with the idea of having a female vocalist to have a solo project written and produced by Timo, who opted for Caterina among three names, culminating with the release of their self-titled album Chaos Magic in 2015. The name Chaos Magic was chosen by Caterina herself, aiming at portraying our positivity and spirituality towards the universe, with each one of us being just one piece of energy altogether. You can feel the energy proposed by Caterina and all her passion for Melodic Metal in the classy tunes One Drop of Blood and A Little Too Late, as well as in the official video for I’m Alive (which you can see at the end of this tribute to Caterina). However, when asked about her favorite tracks of the album, she said she has a special place in her heart for Seraphim and Passionflow, as both are sexy and put a woman in a position of power, making her dive into the femme fatale character and sing from a powerful point of view.

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Our Chilean bombshell can also be seen in different bands and projects as a guest vocalist, including  Finnish Symphonic Power Metal project Timo Tolkki’s Avalon (yes, her partnership with Timo started before Chaos Magic was born), where she sang in two songs from their 2014 album Angels of the Apocalypse together with Simone Simons (Epica), Elize Ryd (Amaranth) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish), those being High Above Of Me and Angels of the Apocalypse. You can also enjoy her sweet vocals in the gentle ballad Believe In Me, from the 2015 album Post-Apocalyptic, by Croatian Heavy/Power Metal act Undercode, as well as in the song Lost Innocence, from the 2016 album The March of the Fallen by Chilean Power Metal band Triboulet. In addition to that, Caterina is also part of Vivaldi Metal Project (you can see a short clip of our diva introducing herself to the fans of the project HERE), and has been working hard as a solo artist, consistently performing live in several venues and cities. For instance, she had the chance to open for Nightwish in her hometown Santiago in October 2015, being chosen by the production of the show among hundreds of applicants. As a few excellent samples of what Caternia has been doing for metal music in her career, you can see her singing together with members from the bands from Delta, Resilience and Witchblade in a cover version for Dio’s all-time classic Rainbow in the Dark during The Metal Tour 2016 in Chile; delivering a passionate performance of Queen’s No One But You together with Ronnie Romero (Lords of Black, Rainbow); presenting an acoustic version of a new song called I’d Give it All; showing her heavier and groovier side in the excellent Throw Me To The Wolves; and kicking some serious ass at Chile Rock Festival 2016.

Furthermore, Caterina has a law degree and currently works as an attorney specializing in liability cases. She mentioned in one of her interviews it’s tough to earn a living as a musician in Chile, although she always wanted to be an opera singer (which her parents were against). She went to college, got her degree and works as an attorney (for a loss adjustment company specializing in liability) for the money, but her true passion is music. I guess that’s not too different from many of us, don’t you agree? Caterina mentioned that, if she could dedicate herself to music 24/7 that would be a dream come true, but that’s unfortunately not the reality for her, at least not yet. Furthermore, our Chilean diva said being an attorney somehow helps her being more aware if someone is not being honest with you or if someone is trying to do shady things behind your back, but also that so far nothing bad has happened and her record label has treated her with the utmost respect and transparency.

In regards to her favorite places in the world, Caterina said she had a blast visiting cities like Florence and Venice, in Italy, and the Sedlec Ossuary, the church made of human bones located in Kutná Hora, in the Czech Republic, not to mention an amazing AC/DC concert she had a chance to attend in Paris after many years waiting for a chance to see the most important Hard Rock band of all time. She’s also an animal and nature lover, being the proud owner of cats, a turtle and some birds, going outside to connect with nature when searching for inspiration, staring at the sky and having that instance of being alone with nature. Those seem to be very basic things, but Caterina consider herself a very simple person who loves singing and creating music, being in love and being loved, spending time with her family and with her pets, working out, eating different types of food and, obviously, shopping.

Her taste for music couldn’t be better, as she enjoys listening to several types of rock and metal music such as Tool and In this Moment, her youth classics Korn, Pantera, Black Label Society and Fear Factory, and of course female-fronted bands like Lacuna Coil, Amaranthe and Nightwish. When asked about the metal scene in her homeland, she said everyone knows how Chileans are completely passionate about Heavy Metal, with fans smashing each other to see their biggest idols playing live. However, when it comes to the local metal scene, Caterina said Chile is very different from Europe, for example, with local bands lacking the necessary resources to be known or listened to, with things slightly improving nowadays with the use of several online tools. It’s a case similar to her own, where you have to do music in Chile because you love it, not because of the money. Well, Caterina, your passion for heavy music is truly inspiring, and we’re sure it will encourage numerous bands and musicians, including talented women like you, to keep the fire of metal music burning bright in your charming “Land of Poets”.

Caterina Nix’s Official Facebook page
Caterina Nix’s Official YouTube channel
Caterina Nix’s Official Instagram

“I’ll do my best to bring people beautiful strong music and I’ll keep on screaming that no one should ever give up on their dreams. We all deserve a chance. We all deserve to give ourselves that chance.” – Caterina Nix