Much was made of Timo Tolkki's awkward exit from Finnish power metal institution STRATOVARIOUS, in 2008, amidst a series of bizarre incidents ranging from physical assaults to on-stage urination (don't ask!), which he later admitted to have fabricated for no apparent reason. The band's founding guitarist and chief songwriter went on to confuse fans even further by first announcing the band's imminent breakup, then signing away their trademark so that his erstwhile band mates could carry on without him.
Perhaps he underestimated their ability to do so, or felt the damage done by a string of mediocre albums had finished off STRATOVARIUS already, but things turned out quite differently than expected. But while Tolkki's subsequent career has generally floundered in a number of short-lived, halfhearted projects, the members of a reconfigured STRATOVARIUS led by vocalist Timo Kotipelto, guitarist Matias Kupiainen and keyboardist Jens Johansson unexpectedly managed to reinvigorate the band's trademark, via two, much improved albums in 2009's "Polaris" and '11's "Elysium". Which is to say, both were filled with entirely predictable, but significantly refocused power metal, the likes of which STRATOVARIUS fans obviously still hungered for, and should likewise be appeased by with 2013's ensuing "Nemesis".
Aside from introducing new drummer Rolf Pive in place of long-time journeyman Jorg Michael (bassist Lauri Porra completes the lineup), "Nemesis" does virtually nothing to upset STRATOVARIUS' power metal apple cart. And why should it? Despite the band's assertions to being inspired by "darker emotions" throughout the album's long creative gestation (culminating in four, painstaking months assembling it in the studio), there are still plenty of pop-metal singles ("Fantasy", "Dragons") and outright ballads ("If the Story is Over") to go round.
What's more, as commercially aware and song-oriented as it is, "Nemesis" doesn't fail to deliver the sort of semi-symphonic, quasi-progressive material ("Halcyon Days", "Out of the Fog", "Castles in the Air"), filled with hyperactive instrumentation (dominated by Kupiainen and Johansson's ever-thrilling guitar and keyboard jousting), that established STRATOVARIUS in the first place.
And what of the rumored folk elements in "Out of the Fog"? The supposed medieval melodies adorning the title track? No, not really. At least not by folk or, errr... medieval metal standards, but we're sure they're buried in there somewhere, just like you say, Mr. Press Release.
In sum, while serious innovation obviously has no place on STRATOVARIUS' present songwriting agenda, there's little point in castigating the band for delivering such an undeniably infectious and expertly executed collection of pure power metal tunes. Don't forget that taking their eyes off the prize almost led to STRATOVARIUS' utter ruin just a short time ago, so it would be folly for the band to attempt reinventing their wheel and risk alienating their loyal fan base a second time on "Nemesis".
As tried and true power metal goes, STRATOVARIUS are clearly still a force to be reckoned with.
- Eduardo Rivadavia