Here’s a bit of a late year oddity that you may have overlooked or missed out on. Blackoustic is an all-acoustic set featuring Timo Kotipelto, the voice of Stratovarious and Jani Liimantainen, the former guitarist of Sonata Arctica. The two legends of Finnish power metal run through a set composed of classic material from their respective bands and a few covers of classic rock tracks like Deep Purple‘s “Perfect Strangers” and “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who. While a super stripped down, “two-men one guitar” set seemingly left over from the glory days of MTV Unplugged may not seem all that compelling, Blackoustic ends up being a pretty satisfying and surprisingly moody listen that puts a somber and darker stamp on some typically upbeat Finnish power metal classics. I didn’t expect to end up spinning this as much as I’ve been the past few weeks and its definitely a grower worth checking out.
As with any recording with just a singer and acoustic guitar, this is a very sparse and simple affair that really depends on the talent and appeal of the musicians to keep things interesting. Johnny Cash pulled it off with his recordings for Rick Rubin, but it’s no easy feat to be sure. Since I’m a long time fan of Timo’s vocals, I found his more sedate and understated delivery here very pleasant and enjoyable (AMG however, would likely detest this since he famously described Timo as sounding “like a mouse trapped in door” [It's true! I meant every word of it! - AMG]). On tracks like Gary Moore’s “Out in the Fields,” he sounds convincingly emotional and lends a nice gloss to a classic rock song. On Stratovarius staples like “Black Diamond” and “Hunting High and Low,” his approach is so different than on the original recordings, it makes these versions both interesting and entertaining to experience. His delivery during “Black Diamond” in particular is worth hearing for its sullen, emotive quality.
The high points for me include the aforementioned “Out in the Fields,” the universally covered “Perfect Strangers” (though Jorn does it WAY better) and the traditional finnish folk song “Karjalan Kunailla.” Of the bunch, only “Behind Blue Eyes” left me a bit flat, mostly because I’m sick of people covering it. While I enjoyed the cover of Sonata Arctica‘s “My Selene,” it certainly wouldn’t have been my choice from their catalogue and I was surprised it was the only Sonata tune they recycled. What about chesnuts like “My Land” or “Full Moon?” Strange choice indeed.
As far as the guitar-work from Liimatainen, he’s obviously a very competent player, but little stands out in his playing from a technical or emotional standpoint here. He sounds good with Timo accompanying him though, and that’s all that really matters on a recording like this.
I realize this will have a very limited appeal to the dark legions since its essentially the metal equivalent of dinner party music by John Tesh or Yanni. Still, it’s a pleasant, light listening experience and not too shabby at all for when you need to dial down the aggression from its usual setting of 11 (because it goes to 11). If you enjoyed Timo’s work with Stratovarius or his solo output, this should be a worthwhile listen. For the rest of you metal elitists, who the hell knows? I do know AMG will be giving this a wide berth, that’s for shit sure! He’s such a hater. [Actually, I liked Cain's Offering despite Kotipelto's terrible vocals. - AMG]