Euro-power is in a bit of rut lately, with very few releases really grabbing my jaded ears with the proper blend of bombast, cheese whizardry and over-the-top exuberance. Stratovarius was once a no brainer when I needed such sonic excesses, but the past few albums have been hit or miss affairs, especially 2013s Nemesis where the band explored a more commercialized, and dare I say it, poppy style. With long-time front man Timo Kotipelto delivering one of his best performances on this year’s Cain’s Offering album, I resisted the urge to get my hopes up over Eternal, because nothing kills quite as swiftly as unrealistic expectations (except rating a White Wizzard album 5.0). After some quality time with Eternal, it’s obvious Stratovarius felt the need for a course correction after Nemesis, as this is a heavier, more aggressive album, returning to their older sound and plying the listener with one speedy power anthem after another. The writing is closer to the classic Stratovarius template and everything seems ratcheted up a few notches toward the mystical realms of 11. And here I was worried they didn’t have it in em’ anymore. Silly Steel!
Opener “My Eternal Dream” initially had me thinking I was in store for Nemesis II, as it opens with tons of cheddar flavored, cheap-sounding symphonics and fluff. Luckily, it quickly dials down into classic Euro-power speed and provides all the guitar wanking and keyboard noodling any fan could hope for. It’s actually a very lively tune full of classic Strato-power and it sends the message the boys are back to their old tricks. First single, “Shine in the Dark” also sounds like tried and true material; mid-tempo but full of epic vocal lines. The lyrics sound like they were borrowed from a 13 year old’s love note, but the music itself keeps the testicle wattage high enough to stay respectable.
And the rest of Eternal follows suit admirably, with one zippy, easy to digest power ditty after another. “Lost Without a Trace” has a nicely brooding and emotional vibe and delivers big come chorus time. Other standouts include “Man in the Mirror” with its uber memorable refrain, classic keyboard/guitar duels and punchy attitude; “Few Are Those,” which sounds like a lost cut from Episodes or Visions, and the fist pumping simplicity and speed of “Rise Above It.”
Things end with the nearly twelve minute “Lost Saga” and though I’d prefer the band didn’t attempt these big showpiece tracks, this one isn’t bad at all. Over its lengthy runtime it mixes heavy riffing with 80s synths ripped from the Rocky IV soundtrack. As the music wanders through various peaks and valleys, it sometimes sounds like a heavier version of Kiske/Somerville, but it holds the listener’s interest and it doesn’t feel as long as it is.
There are no bad songs, and though I could do without the obligatory power ballad “Fire in Your Eyes,” even that is done well. This is a much more “metal” album than Nemesis and though the highs were higher on Elysium, this is much more consistent from song to song and doesn’t suffer from that album’s occasional energy deficit.
AMG will doubtlessly disagree, but Kotipelto sounds great here, making the most of the above average songs with his classic Euro-power singing style (and no, he doesn’t sound like a mouse trapped behind a door). He’s backed up well by the frenetic keys of Jens Johansson (Cain’s Offering, Mastermind, et al) and the heroic fret-board noodles of Matias Kupiainen, with the tandem providing a goodly amount of tasteful yet overblown solos and interplay. There’s quite a lot of interesting music here, all contained within memorable, straight forward songs which stick almost immediately. It’s like a big wad of cotton candy with a hidden layer of prime rib, and that my droogs, is a tasty confection indeed.
This is the best and most complete Stratovarius album since Infinite and it feels good to see these vets back on the right track after a few less than stellar outings. They may never recapture the power and glory of albums like Destiny, but this shows they’re still a major player in the Euro-power sweepstakes. Keep on trucking, Stratovarius, no matter how much it annoys AMG!