Stratovarius are serious veterans of good ol’ fashioned Euro Power Metal and despite the never-ending rush of silliness that surrounded this band for roughly the last three years–they have still managed to put out an album of middling quality in time. A record of middling quality, you say? Why yes, says I. All Stratovarius records are of middling quality, some are just more middling than others. Some say that this band is the pinnacle of all Finnish power metal bands–but if one listens to Polaris they’d never know that.
For those who are not familiar with Euro Power, think “natural extension of 80s glam rock.” Add double bass, irritating vocalists who wish, wish, WISH they were David Coverdale, mix in English as a Second Language lyrics and blend together a little bit of German 80s thrash (like Helloween), and ta-dah! You’ve created an abomination! Now that we have that out of the way I can proceed to the critiques.
First, let’s start with Timo Kotipelto–aside from being a midget, this man is actually “classically trained,” if you believe his bio (and trust me, I believe bios!). Not only is he classically trained, but he famously put the band on hold at one point so he could go get more training. What I’m confused about is who exactly trained him to sound like a mouse caught in a door? This guy can’t sing, he sounds like ass. So even when the band is doing awesome, interesting things, there’s this seriously annoying squeeking over every song which just destroys the moment. He has his moments, but aside from sounding like he’s going flat sometimes and having what I do consider to be some of the most annoying power metal vocal tone I’ve ever heard, he just doesn’t have the kind of command that one would expect from such a lauded vocalist.
But vocals aside, the music on Polaris is mediocre, lacking the kind of power one would expect it to have and is just generally boring. I know that these guys had their sound stolen from them by Sonata Arctica and I’m aware that the mastermind behind the band also left in a huff after the silly drama that swirled around them for the last few years, but I don’t think that these things are excuses. Koltipelto and Jens Johansson at least have consistently put out music in other venues, how is it that musicians of this professional calibre who have been at this for so long can’t write more than three or four moments throughout the whole record that jump out at you? That is, in essence, the fundamental problem with this record. It’s not bad. The musicianship is good, the production is good, but the song-writing is lackluster, the feel isn’t there and just all in all I want to shut it off.
There are some higher points, to be Generous Metal Guy for the moment; for example, the opening to the track Emancipation Suite Pt. 1 is an absolutely killer groove that had me rockin’ out. Earlier on in the album there were other sort of German Hockey Metal moments that I enjoyed–but for the most part the passionless music, silly lyrics and squeeking Finnish mouse made me decide that four listens was probably enough. It really is beyond me that these guys ever became anything more than just a no-name power metal band that faded into the obscurity of the million bands that sound just like them.