Elysium is the 13th entry of the illustrious Stratovarius. A band that needs no introduction, and has amassed critical acclaim, incredible success, and die-hard fans the world around. It's also the follow-up to the band's most excellent comeback album Polaris. As Stratovarius gets used to life and releasing albums without former writer Timo Tolkki, it's pretty clear that they're not only around to stay, but that they can and will get better.
Elysium represents another stage of evolution in Stratovarius's career, and the band's skill at songwriting and arranging is as evident here as it ever has been. In some ways, the band is reaching into uncharted territory for themselves, while still managing to sound like the same band that we've all known for years. There's a hefty touch of grandeur on Elysium that sounds somehow more “epic” than previous Strat releases to these ears. This is nowhere more evident than on songs like “Infernal Maze” and “Lifetime in a Moment.” The band continues to forsake some of the more mellow moments from albums like Elements in favor of a bit more punch, darkness, and general interest. Even slower songs like “Move the Mountain” seem to be fresh and interesting (this song has a good melody line, lots of piano for ambiance, and an interesting synthesizer solo to boot), so much so that despite my original estimation, I find that Elysium is perhaps on par with its predecessor Polaris after all, despite my initial thoughts.
If there's a difference to be had, it's that Elysium is perhaps a little less immediately accessible (with the notable exception of the driving single “Darkest Hours”) than Polaris, but has a slow growth upon repeated listens that ensures enjoyment sooner or later to any fan of the band's work. This is due at least in part to the reduced importance of the guitar lines and the returned prominence of keyboard player Jens Johansson. Vocalist Kotipelto is just as good as he's ever been and has some very good melodies that allow his distinctively clear voice to excel. I'm not the greatest fan of the timbre of Timo's voice, but he's certainly got some decent range and performs enough vocal acrobatics to impress any critic.
The title track is a long, 18+ minutes giant of a song that dwarfs anything that the band has written in the past. To me, this was immediately cause for concern. I tend to feel that power metal bands that take a sudden interest in long complex song lengths and progressive pursuits end up losing vision and suffering in quality. Mercifully, the titular track is completely listenable, featuring some really emotive and powerful guitar playing, on top of one of the best vocal performances of Kotipelto's not-insignificant career. There's even a bass solo!
This is bound to be an album upon which people will be somewhat divided, and many more qualified than I will review it as well. Concisely, it is a fairly complex (for Stratovarius) album that sees the band honing their songwriting skills and masterfully scouting new territory, all while maintaining their classic charm and superb musical talent. Elysium is Stratovarius's logical next step in growth, and this is right up there with Polaris and a number of their older albums in terms of outright quality.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.0 out of 10