Stratovarius // Elysium
Rating: 3.0/5.0 —Needs more brute, less fruit
Label: EarMusic/Edel Records
Websites: stratovarius.com | myspace.com/officialstratovarius
Release Dates: EU: 14.01.2011 | US: 01.18.2011

Stratovarius is a name synonymous with European power metal and right up there with Gamma Ray and Helloween. Over the course of their long recording history they’ve created stellar examples of the style and several of their albums reside on my all time power metal playlist (Destiny, Visions, Episodes, Fourth Dimension, Infinite). Along with these past successes, Stratovarius had their share of ups and downs, including their infamous and acrimonious split with founding member/guitarist/chief songwriter Timo Tolkki (Revolution Renaissance). Both before and after this split, Stratovarius released some uneven albums and went through a phase where they indulged in bloated, overly orchestrated symphonic styles and for many long time fans, this was regrettable (Elements Parts I  and II). While 2009’s Polaris seemed to right the ship, Elysium shows considerable backsliding toward these past missteps. While still a decent album with some great moments, it fails to rise anywhere near the level of past triumphs and ultimately bogs down amid ponderous pacing and overwrought orchestration.

Things start off quite well with “Darkest Hours” which, while mid-paced and laid back, sports enough metallic energy to keep things manly enough. Helping drive the song are the always excellent vocals of Timo Koltipelto (AMG thinks Mr. Koltipelto is somewhat less than excellent [AMG thinks that Mr. Koltipelto sounds like a mouse trapped between the door and a wall. AMG]) and a huge, catchy chorus that hooks into the cranium immediately. Follow ups “Under Flaming Skies,” “Infernal Maze” and later on, “Event Horizon” all speed things up and it’s like the good old days of hyperspeed Strato-power again and these tracks are winners (check out the nifty guitar/keyboard soloing at 2:55 onward in “Infernal Maze”). Then, trouble rears its symphonic head once again and far too many tracks sink into the same slow paced morass that hurt the Elements albums.

Tracks like “Fairness Justified,” “Lifetime in a Moment” and “Move the Mountain” all have decent moments but all tend to drag along and meander about without much energy. That’s a real shame since few people like meander metal. This type song isn’t what Stratovarius is known and loved for. Then there’s the matter of the eighteen minute plus title track. Extra long metal songs are always a gamble and I can count on one hand the truly successful songs that ran for nearly twenty minutes. While the song has a lot of different moods, it suffers from the same laid back, ponderous style discussed above, drags intermittently and is simply too long. To be fair, there are engaging moments too, like the synth and guitar duel at 9:27, the excellent extended soloing at 14:34 and of course, Timo shines [squeeksAMG] throughout (quiet AMG!). However, the over-sized choral arrangements and all that muckety muck just make it feel too over-blown and meh. Making matters worse, throughout Elysium the keyboards/synths frequently overpower and suplant the guitars.

As I was writing this review and listening and re-listening to Elysium, my iTunes went from the end of this album into their Episodes album since it was next in the queue. Hearing the first moments of that album really highlighted the stark contrast between old and new Stratovarius and sadly, new doesn’t hold a candle to the old. They were so energetic and aggressive back then, so full of piss and vinegar. Now, like a tired old man, they’re mostly just full of piss. I don’t mean to be harsh to a band I’ve loved for so long and I really wanted to give this a 3.5 but I just couldn’t do it. While not on par with their glory days, half of Elysium is quite good, nearly old style Stratovarius. The other half just kinda lay there.