Released: 15 May 2009 (Europe), 26 May 2009 (USA)
Genre: Power Metal, Melodic Metal
Label: Armoury Records
Number Of Tracks: 11 (12 on Jap. release)
Although veteran Timo Tolkki parted ways with Stratovarius, the Finnish metal band proves it still have a solid future with Polaris.
UG Team, on june 05, 2009 2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Sound: After a dramatic and tumultuous war of words between the members of Stratovarius, the Finnish power metal band is back with a new guitarist and bassist. Polaris marks the first album without guitarist Timo Tolkki, who before exiting was the longest-standing member (23 years) in the group. It's likely his absence will cause much debate about whether the remaining members all of whom joined the band in the mid-90's or after can really be called the true Stratovarius. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, Tolkki himself signed over catalog/name rights to his bandmates back in 2008, and the music created thereafter is certainly a fitting continuation to the band's legacy.
All eyes are likely upon new guitarist Matias Kupiainen and bassist Lauri Porra, both of whom prove from the first track are extremely competent musicians. Of course, it should be noted that their presence hasn't necessarily taken the band in an altogether new creative direction. For diehard Stratovarius' fans, it's probably a good thing that there wasn't a huge shakeup in the band's trademark sound. There is no shortage of classically inspired compositions and big vocals, and the chemistry is on point. The proof is provided in the first few minutes of the opening track Deep Unknown, which features some incredible arpeggios from both Kupiainen and keyboardist Jens Johansson. The track has quite a few impressive moments, particularly when you hear what sounds like one instrument (whether that be the keyboard or guitar) going on with a lightning fast solo. It soon becomes apparent that Kupiainen and Johannson were both shredding away, and those two parts eventually intertwine to harmonize.
Throughout Polaris, it brings to mind just how much of an influence Stratovarius has had on newer offerings like DragonForce. There are more than a few songs that strike similarities, with the uplifting, epic rock tracks Blind and Forever Is Today the primary examples. The band wisely injects their own unique nuances throughout, and Blind features a harpsichord intro (or keyboard tone made to sound like harpsichord) that allows that classical background to come to the forefront. Johannson is always a key player that garners just as much attention as Kupiainen quite like Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess trades shredding time with John Petrucci.
The musicianship is as strong as ever, but the song content of Polaris doesn't stray too far outside Stratovarius' usual style. The big standouts are, not surprisingly, the dramatic Emancipation Suite Park 1: Dusk and Emancipation Suite II: Dawn. The rock feel is set aside for a more cinematic, epic approach on those tracks, which always works to the band's benefit. Even the closing number When Mountains Fall, which is essentially more of a restrained, classical Renaissance song, shows the band doesn't need to breeze through electric arpeggios to make an impression. // 8
Lyrics: Considering the grand nature of the music, one might expect over-the-top lyrics about, oh let's say, dragons. While there might be one track on the CD that mentions castles (King of Nothing), it's still more of an introspective album. There are more than a few that deal with staying strong and fighting the good fight. Falling Star includes lyrics such as, Now I ride about the sky; It cannot hold me back. The majority of the playlist is more about self-exploration and emotions, while Deep Unknown states, Dive deeper into the ocean; You will find more about your emotions. It might all be too dramatic for some, but again, it works quite well for the larger-than-life compositions. // 7
Overall Impression: Some will be upset that primary player Timo Tolkki has called it quits, but Stratovarius' sound does remain in tact for the most part. Tracks like Falling Star are fairly lackluster when compared with the complex arrangements heard in Forever Is Today, but at the same time it's refreshing to hear the band take a step away from arpeggios and scales in a couple of songs. Polaris is not necessarily groundbreaking, but it should give fans faith in knowing that Stratovarius has a solid future. // 8
Amuro Jay, on june 05, 2009 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: If you're like me, then you might feel that the last few Stratovarius albums have been... well... disappointing. There was a major style shift from their legendary power metal style to something a little less powerful. They slowed down and went all prog-y. The reason, they said, was that they had already done everything that they could do without incorporating outrageous elements, such as a full symphony. So the band felt that there was nowhere to go without repeating themselves. So they went in a new direction, which arguably sucked.
No matter how much I didn't like their last few albums, I was crushed when I read on the UG news that Timo Tolkki had left Stratovarius. But I was excited to hear that he had formed his own solo project and that eventually, Stratovarius would continue onward.
After I heard that they were making a new album, I was quite weary. I thought "these guys are so old and washed up, I can't see them putting out anything good again" because it's the same case I've seen repeated so many times before. A legendary band attempting to make a comeback.
But they proved me wrong. And it's a pretty good feeling to be wrong this time.
After listening to this album, I am convinced that Tolkki leaving the band was the best possible thing that could happen to Stratovarius, and I guess now I'm not so sad that he left. This album is a breath of fresh life from an old band that seemed to have nothing left in them. But by the looks of it, they still have a little bit of fight left in them.
While still retaining some of the more progressive elements they've picked up over the years (the better ones), most of their sound shifts to their older style of power metal. Not only that, but the album sounds much more inspired and agressive than the last few Stratovarius albums. The riffs are definitely more interesting. The orchestration in some parts are genius. The solos are different and refreshing.
Having someone other than Tolkki write the songs did wonders for this band. Seriously, the newest CD from his solo project Revolution Renaissance sounds like an uninspired Stratovarius clone. It's just Tolkki doing the same thing he's always been doing (no disrespect inteded, he's still one of my favorites).
But this record is different. It's a different sound (not totally unique, but still refreshing). It's what they've always been doing, but in a new and better way. Just listen to the riffs in Forever is Today or the piano break and subsequent solo in Winter Skies. You'll see what I mean. And for the record, Winter Skies is the first slow Stratovarius song that I really like.
Their new guitarist (whose name eludes me) has a different style than Tolkki does. It's still the whole neo-classical power metal deal, but it's different. That alone makes this album worth it. // 10
Lyrics: Timo Kotipelto's vocals are the perfect example of a stereotypical power metal singer. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Or listen to it, rather. I really liked the vocals when I first got into this band, but I sometimes find the whole high pitched thing can wear thin after a while. But hey, if you're a hardcore power metal guy, you'll probably love them.
The lyrics themselves are average in writing quality, but that's only because they're simple. They're not bad, but they're not flashy either. But the singer's skill and the amount of fun you'll have singing along to the backing vocals make up for it. // 8
Overall Impression: This is definitely the best Stratovarius album to be released in recent years; since Infinite, really. The band may be twenty years old, but man, this record is certainly refreshing. Once again they've managed to make a truly epic album. It doesn't matter that it is the same basic formula that they've always been using. The fact of the matter is that they can pull it off.
The only thing that I don't like about the album is when certain songs get slow and soft. You're power metal! You're supposed to be fast and heavy! Oh well, I can't really complain though. The slow songs do serve as a good break from the constant pound of the bass drum. And some of the slow songs are really good. For instance, check out Winter Skies. That's a good one. If you want proof that Stratovarius is still alive and kicking the proverbial bucket, listen to Blind and Forever is Today. These are the same kind of epic anthems that Stratovarius will always be known for. // 10
Haunt3dAng3l, on june 05, 2009 0 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: For many melodic metal fans, Stratovarius need no introduction. They have had a long and successful career. The new album "Polaris" marks the beginning of a new era in strato history. Matias Kupiainen (forgive my spelling) has replaced long time guitar player and songwriter Timo Tolkki. This is Matias' first album with Stratovarius. The sound on here is the typical Stratovarius "power metal" with progressive elements. Really there is nothing at all new in sound. Although Jens' keyboard takes the spotlight more than ever. // 7
Lyrics: The lyrics are the usual stuff. Space, Having a fighting soul, etc. I'll say it, Timo Kotipelto's vocals can totally suck sometimes. This is obvious when he tries to hit those really high notes to make the music more "epic". When he does this he usually sounds a bit out of key. (Specifically on the chorus to "Forever is today") I would like Kotipelto more if he would avoid the high notes. It's really quite annoying. I've come to expect better from Timo. His singing just isn't as good on this album as in the past. // 6
Overall Impression: "Forever is today" (Minus the chorus) "Deep Unknown", "King of Nothing" and "Higher We go" are great tunes that really stand out. The others are pretty boring though. I found myself wanting to skip through the other tunes because they just don't hit me with that blast of power like the older stratovarius tunes. Overall most of the melodies aren't very exciting and they don't stick in your head. Many of the rhythms and chord progressions lack power. At the end of the day, Polaris is not a bad album though. It certainly has some great moments and if you're a stratovarius fan you won't want to miss out. Polaris is a disappointment though, because Stratovarius' full potential does not shine this time around. // 6