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Stratovarius - Stratovarius Review
by Dan Upton

Ahh, those crazy Finns... as I hear the opening tones of "Maniac Dance," sounding like they came straight from an NES, I'm a little confused--yeah, they're supposed to be progressive, but surely there's a limit that comes somewhere before sampling video games? But never fear, Stratovarius fans: once you make it past 15 seconds of blips and boops, we're back to the expected power metal.

And what fine power metal it is. Well, if power metal's your thing, anyway. Guitarist Timo Tolkki has, as usual, written most of the songs, although vocalist Timo Kotipelto contributed lyrics on a few of the songs and keyboardist Jens Johansson collaborated on the vocals for one song as well. There's a decent amount of variation in the writing on this disc, from the bouncy groove of "Maniac Dance" to the Soilwork-esque guitar and keyboard riffing of "Fight!!!" to the majestic balladry of parts of "Back to Madness" or "The Land of Ice and Snow." And let's not forget the requisite keyboard and guitar soloing either, nothing new and exciting but sure to please. For the most part, the vocals are comparable to Dream Theater's James LaBrie, although staying mostly in the upper range and hitting more of the majestic, soaring passages of power metal. "Back to Madness" has some major disappointments in the vocal department, however; first, a "vocal solo" comprised of over-vibratoed and under-autotuned (read: horrendously off-key) wailing, and then a spoken word section at the end that I'm still not sure what to make of. The lyrics aren't quite as over-the-top, Dungeons-and-Dragons as some power metal can be, but anyone looking for deep meaning may as well look elsewhere.

I'm inclined to ask, "How can you not love power metal?" but I guess for some it has to be at most a guilty pleasure, as anyone appearing to take it seriously is guaranteed to draw some funny looks. This probably won't win over any new fans, but when you feel like you need to set sail in the North Sea or slay a couple of dragons, this won't disappoint.

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