It is written that man greatly displeased his finicky but beneficent Creator, and thus did God come to curse Mankind with various and sundry plagues of pestilence, locusts, skinny jeans and metal super groups. Over time some of these curses have proven more tolerable than others, but I’ll take a good locust swarm over the typical half-baked, so-called super group. Of course, there are exceptions, and one of the less boil-ridden star clusters of the past decade was Cain’s Offering – a pairing of Stratovarius vocalist Timo Kotipelto and ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen. Their 2009 Gather the Faithful outing was a solid mix of their respective band’s styles and it left quite a positive impression on yours truly (even the terminally jaded AMG admitted liking it, with all the expected caveats, of course). Six years later and following another project between Timo and Jani called Blackoustic, we finally get a follow up in Stormcrow. And as if they weren’t super enough before, now they boast the well traveled Jens Johansson (Stratovarius, Mastermind, Dio, etc.) on keyboards. But is their musical progeny truly super or do we risk angering the powers that be, thereby inviting an old testament smiting of buttnormous proportions?
The band still sounds like a mash up of Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica, but Stormcrow is better than anything either of those bands has released in years. The songs are better, more memorable and interesting and several will be in contention for best of 2015. While Gather the Faithful had an air of melancholy draped over many songs, that’s lacking here as apparently all personal shit was sorted out last time, and the boys came to rock. This time the music is heavier, faster, more urgent and memorable. The opening title track is classic Euro-power, done as it should be with speed, verve and pompous grandiosity. Timo sounds great [Insert rabid anti-Timo screed here, AMG] and the song builds to a towering chorus of glistening cheese that could only be sung in a windstorm replete with birds and pink-hued lightning. Big stuff.
The hits keep coming with gems like the Acrtica worship of “The Best of Times” which is catchy as all hell and packs another killer chorus. “A Night to Forget” borrows a page from Timo’s softer solo work but the chorus is bigger than Jesus and sticky as molasses mixed with Crazy Glue™. You know things are going particularly well when even the sappy power-ballad knocks you flat, and “Too Tired to Run” does just that with its emotional excesses. Timo brings his A+ game and delivers a great performance, making the kind of song I usually skip a must hear. Yes, it’s maudlin, but in the same way a lot of the best Arctica stuff is, and before you know it, you’re caught up in the pathos, swaying to and fro with lighter in hand.
Other choice cuts include the very Nightwish-y symphonic diaper explosion of “Antemortem” (try your best not to hear “Storytime” as this one spins by), the textbook Euro-speed of “I Will Build You a Rome” and the fist raising thunder of “Rising Sun.”
The standards remain quite high throughout, but the front half of Stormcrow is definitely stronger and more memorable. The instrumental “I Am Legion” could have used trimming and its take on Trans-Siberian Orchestra braggadocio wears thing after four minutes, though it’s quite the impressive wank-fest for Jani and Jens Johansson. Another issue is the production, which is too compressed and squashed. It doesn’t ruin the material, but it does become quite noticeable when the music gets really busy.
Although certain metallic overlords don’t share my affinity for Timo Kotipelto’s singing style, he has the classic Euro-power vocals down cold after a lengthy career with Stratovarius and he does some of his best work here, expressing power and emotion as needed. Jani also acquits himself well with some inspired and fiery playing and there’s no denying the strong Arctica influence he imparts to the material. as for Jens Johansson, he runs utterly amok whenever given a chance and his keys are plentiful, noodleful and way over-the-top in a fun, power metal way.
If we must suffer the endless parade of super groups, may more of them be this super. When these Finns get together, you can count on something worthwhile and this may be one of the finer power metal outings of the year. Don’t stone this crow.