Finnish power metal favorites STRATOVARIUS soldier on following the colossal boxed reissue of their "Elements" coupling last year, now offering their fifteenth recording, "Eternal". If you're a fan of this band, you know what you're getting, and STRATOVARIUS skimps on nothing. Much of it is fast paced, the instrumentation contains its customary flash, and each song is full of grand design, layered with neoclassical mantles. All for Timo Kotipelto to survey and project in his usual, stately manner.
The album flies forth with the gusting "My Eternal Dream", six minutes of tireless speed and stuffed with all the usual STRATOVARIUS goodies: zippy guitar and keyboard solos from Matias Kupiainen and the illustrious Jens Johannson respectively, as well as choral and orchestral samples and a headstrong vocal attack by Timo Kotipelto. Having joined the band for their previous album, "Nemesis", drummer Rolf Pilve gives STRATOVARIUS an energetic throb on "My Eternal Dream" and the following track, "Shine in the Dark". The latter is one of the more conventional, rock-driven songs on the album. Pilve's tapping rhythm accents the dense guitar, bass and key layers as well as the thickened vocals, and "Shine in the Dark" hums like a champ before STRATOVARIUS vaults again on "Rise Above It".
As with any power metal album, the check down point arrives here on "Lost Without a Trace", a mid-tempo quasi ballad (quasi, since there are too many progressions going on to make it a pure ballad) where Timo Kotipelto sings practically naked to acoustic spools and Lauri Porra's dabbling bass plunks on the verses. Expectedly, the choruses rise from all stations and induce ear-pleasing harmony. Jens Johannson leads off the brisk, toe-tapping "Feeding The Fire" as Timo Kotipelto muses about the state of the world, and Johannson also glides into the following track "In My Line of Work", which asserts itself as a bass-drenched power packer.
While many of the album's songs restrict themselves to around four minutes, you're not off the hook that easily, as the album wraps with the eleven minute "The Lost Saga", one of STRATOVARIUS's richest, if indulgent, epics. As a choir announces the stomp-filled voyage, Rolf Pilve and Lauri Porra provide a massive engine to drive Matias Kupiainen's hectic strumming and Jens Johannson's scale flogging. A spike in tempo opens the door for Kupiainen and Johannson to freak out on their instruments, but expectedly, the song takes a lingering suspension from the full-on thrust to rebuild itself toward a massive finish and closeout hymn.
STRATOVARIUS engineers another detailed and often snappy album. There are no surprises to "Eternal", only by the numbers power metal soaked with the band's usual opulence and professionalism. Frankly, there are so many symphonic metal albums matching "Eternal"'s sense of aesthetics it's bound to get lost outside of the band's core followers. For all the work going into this collection, that's a shame.