Friday, March 22, 2013

Stratovarius - The Chosen Ones (1999)

Thanks to penfriend Jeffrey, who travelled all the way to New Zealand with a number of cds, I first heard Finnish power metal band Stratovarius and decided that I should own an album by them. But which to buy? Well, this one seemed the best choice because not only is it sixteen of their chosen "best" tracks, but it also had a free cd of various other bands included with it. Alas, the flip-tray mechanism sucks, and I accidentally damaged it flipping it over, so now I am scared it is going to snap out altogether. Ick.

The cover is rather entertaining, depicting a band of mooses. Meese? Modelled after the musicians, I imagine. Very toony, very funny. Inside, a little letter from Timo Tolkki himself (the guitarist) explaining how the band formed in 1984 and that this is the end of one era for them - and the start of another. It marked their switch from Noise to Roadrunner. Also included are the lyrics - something of a luxury in "Best of" albums, which tend to avoid including them for some reason.

There is a possibility of two different vocalists on this album - Timo Tolkki was vocalist from 1985-94, with Timo Koltipelto from 94 onwards. He is the longest currently remaining member of the band. Tolkki left in 2008.

The album opens with the cascading keyboards of "Black Diamond". Keyboards soon symphonise with guitars creating a feeling of power and rising force, bringing with it goodwill. It is a triumphant and powerful piece, with the keyboards a constant and prevalent present. Timo #2's voice is strong and high, a fine tenor.

This is followed up by "Twilight Time" in which Timo #1 is the vocalist. His voice is very similar, with a slightly sharper edge, tinted just slightly with the hint of a whine or a scream. This piece is heavier, and slightly more dramatic, with more of a build up to the chorus through which Timo's voice swoops and soars.

A tick-tock-tick from speaker to speaker marks the start of "Father Time". Does this band have a time fascination? Faster paced, with rapid drumming and a soaring and inspirational bridge.

"The Hands of Time" is next on the agenda. This is one of their earlier songs - taken from 1992's "Twilight Time" album (along with the title track above). It has a rawer, energising feel to it. Good vocal melodies, pounding drums.

Following up is the power ballad, "Dream with Me" in which Timo #2's voice is gentle but strong and reassuringly haunting. Accompanied by piano-esque keyboards and light guitars, as we rise into the chorus. Filled with power, passion and emotion. Bonus track from "Destiny" (1998).

There's almost an 80s vibe going for "Paradise" - which is funny because it's from 1997. It's a great song - with strong melodies and thought-provoking lyrics:
"Many rare species will perish soon.
And we'll be short on food"
(I don't think he's condoning the eating of rare species, btw).

Jubuliant keyboards lead us "Out of the Shadows" as it erupts into power metal glory, with a taste of speed.

Violin and haunting, melancholy brings "Forever", one of the most beautiful and mournful but romantic songs I know of. Timo #2's voice bleeds emotion. There's flute too. I wrote a song fanfic based on this track (don't judge my writing too much, this is really old).  It is one of those songs about how death is not the end of love, and how:
"I'm still there, everywhere, I'm the dust in the wind. I'm the star in the northern sky. I never stayed* anywhere, I'm the wind in the trees. I will wait for you - forever..."

The electric-acoustic opening of "Full Moon" brings with it a whole different mood. Fleeting, mysterious, a little eerie but not too scary. It has a tribal and ghostly feel to it. This was a bonus track from 1994 with Timo #1 is on vocals.

A rather more rock and not overly complicated piece, "The Kiss of Judas" touches down with a solid bass line and strong vocals. The bridge soars and the guitars give their flourish, before the chorus takes over in full melodic glory. There's a nice keyboard solo in here too.

In "S.O.S", Stratovarius have reached their full complex progressive-heading-towards-symphonic structures. Powerful with a rich cornucopia of instruments (keyboard, guitars, drums) into a glorious, triumphant melody.

"Dreamscape" is haunting, a little intense, the poignant edge to Timo #1's vocals given it a melodically melancholic edge and the music twisting and turning down strange and eerie passages. There's a touch of insanity here - taunting, taking over, enveloping the narrator and dragging him away into another world.
"Am I safe in here? Nothing left to fear. I will close my eyes, and float away with stream."
Pounding guitars, punctuated with falsetto screams turn to darker, lost lyrics.

We rip-roar into the speed metal inspired "Against the Wind", a track from 1995 (and Timo #2's first album). Fast of pace, frantic rhythms, desperation in the vocals. Building, building, to climax into a grand and triumphant anthemic chorus. Listen to those guitars go - you can just visualise the hair wind-milling, the vocalist rushing about the stage. This would be a great way to open a concert (it's the first track on the album "Fourth Dimension" not surprisingly).

"Speed of Light" follows with similar speed metal and anthemic qualities. The drummer is going wild. Meanwhile the guitarists are thrashing their instruments towards broken strings - this song is rushing towards the speed of light. Even the keyboardist joins the race. Frantic, restless energy - very invigorating. You should never try to dance to this song, you'd hurt yourself!
"Every day, my life goes by...  at the Speed. Of Light."
A final flourish, and then collapse.

Of a less manic pace and a rather more progressive feel, "4000 Rainy Nights" brings with it a deeper mood of loss and melancholy. The vocals bleed with raw, wounded emotion.

"Will the Sun Rise?" brings us powerful and dramatic closure. The keyboards steal the show here, weaving and blending with one another into a rousing symphony. This track is also from "Episode".

The one Stratovarius song I feel this album is missing is "Anthem of the World". Otherwise, it is a fine blend of the old and the new and, when listened to carefully, it is easy to hear the transition from the more progressive and somewhat experimental days of Timo Tolkki on vocals, to the anthemic glory of Timo Koltipelto's later days. It is a generous album displaying a rich blend of the powerful and stirring, intermingled with the darker and more melancholic - and even slightly creepy. As a cross-section of their career, it is a worthy one and deserves an 8/10.

I am now going to go on and discuss each of the tracks in the sampler included with this cd, but I'm going to do that in the next entry.

* This would sound better had he said "strayed" but still...

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