Album of the Week 34-2014: Stratovarius – Nemesis

One of the best developments in recent Power Metal history is the fact that Stratovarius is once again in the hands of a guitarist. This is an important thing, seeing as the departure of original guitarist and chief songwriter Timo Tolkki lead to the most guitar unfriendly record the band has released so far in the shape of ‘Polaris’. Tolkki’s replacement Matias Kupiainen basically took over his role as both the producer and main songwriter to the band, which breathes new life into the band’s tried and true formula. Predecessor ‘Elysium’ was promising, but ‘Nemesis’ is the first Stratovarius album since ‘Elements Pt. 1′ that fully adopts all of the Finns’ benefits.

It has to be said: while this is still instantly recognizable as the highly melodic band that single-handedly shaped the Finnish Power Metal scene, Kupiainen has a slightly rawer approach to the riff writing as well as the production. It may help that Kupiainen was a fan of the band before he joined; as such, he knows which elements to keep, because make the band what they are (the soaring neoclassical melodies, the strong and infectious choruses and the interaction between the guitars and Jens Johansson’s keyboards) and which elements might need a little tweaking (the three albums before he took over production lacked some serious balls in especially the riffing department).

While ‘Unbreakable’, the first single from the album, failed to impress me upon first release, the song makes a lot more sense within the context of the full album. It’s still a somewhat plain, but enjoyable Power Metal tune. More impressive is opening track ‘Abandon’, which probably has the most aggressive opening riff of any Stratovarius song. It’s a perfect amalgam of the powers of Kupiainen and new drummer Rolf Pilve, who surprisingly is every bit as good as the semi-legendary Jörg Michael.

The other highlight of the album has to be the closing title track, which works its way through a surprising number of climaxes and a couple of fantastic riffs, including an awesome twin riff, always a guarantee to make me smile. Other key moments on the album are the back-to-back stately Power Metal classics ‘Out Of The Fog’ and ‘Castles In The Air’, the latter of which contains a sick Fusion-style solo courtesy of Kupiainen, the bombastic ‘One Must Fall’ and the controversial ‘Halcyon Days’, which contains some electronic beats that in my opinion don’t sound out of place at all. It gives the song a fresh edge.

It’s surprising that a band that has stuck quite close to its formula over the last still gets such amazing performances out of its musicians. In fact, Timo Kotipelto gives the vocal delivery of a lifetime here. While he stays clear of the top heights of the likes of ‘Father Time’, but his tenor still has the strength it had when he was in his early twenties. Combined with a stellar production and the best set of Stratovarius songs in over a decade and you’ve got yourself a winning Power Metal album. It’s recently been re-released with an inessential, but still enjoyable documentary. Whichever version you choose, it’s a wise choice for fans of melodic Power Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nemesis’, ‘Abandon’, ‘One Must Fall’

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