Revolution Renaissance - New Era
Stratovarius has been in sort of a deep freeze mode since "Infinite" in 2000. That's eight long years to be floundering in stagnant waters. Their releases have been steadily average, just good enough to placate the fanbase, but not entertaining enough to be worthy of mass praise as "Visions" and "Eclipse" were.
The Revolution Renaissance brand came to life as a Stratovarius disc, and was supposedly the attempt at bringing back the metallic joy of those prog/power albums that made the 90s so much more memorable. Tolkki put the fatal stab in Strato's heart while tinkering in his indulgent Saana project and legal feuding with his record company. Now that Strato has thoroughly been drowned and buried, most of us will take whatever bone that Tolkki will throw us. So we approach "New Era" in a haze of apprehension. Is it truly a throwback to sunnier times?  

The answer is a steady "Yes" tinged in just the slightest bit of disappointed misgivings. Stratovarius sound is now pumped out for the voices of Pasi Rantanen (ex-Thunderstone), Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween) and Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia). Nevermind that Michael Kiske said he was done with metal years ago...he can never make up his mind it seems, dollar signs keep luring him back to the genre. Even though he may be there for the buck and not for the merits of the music, that does not effect the fact that Kiske has a fabulous voice that is ten times better than his Helloween days. And even *then* he was considered a vocal god, albeit a lost one nowadays.

Kiske claims he was offered first pick, and it's quite blatantly obvious. The rest of the material is just not up to those standards and Tobi was shoved on some rather mundane pieces, and while his voice fits the material, it barely raises these above the average mark. The singers are varied enough to let the album still flow and not tripping it up too much. The high points are incredibly good, culminating in the terrific thunderclap of Rantanen's "Eden Is Burning", Kiske's emotional plundering ballad "Keep the Flame Alive" and the firespark of the flairing flare of the band name titled track (debunking the myth that songtitles named after a band's monicker are not *always* stinking piles of musical refuse).

Rantanen's "We Are Magic" is somewhat cheesy in its lyrical content, as it conjures Dio's old mythical empowering songs ("We are magic, we are starlight", etc). The synthesizer crank along and the melodies flow like the space dusting tail of a shooting star.  An uplifting tune for sure, but one that has enough cheesy quirks to make you embarrassed to blast this in a public setting.

"Heroes" and "Glorious and Divine" are both typical Strato speedy stuff, and Tobi sounds passable. It's interesting to hear him fronting a Tolkki composition, as Edguy themselves took a good chunk of their inspiration from those landmark 90s releases. These are fast, pure power metal speed workouts. They lack the personality of Strato fast favorites as "Black Diamond" but are still better than anything similar from "Elements". "Glorious" especially seems much like an Edguy tune, one that dates back to the simplier streamlined approach of "Vain Glory Opera".
"I Did It My Way" is obviously a statement from Tolkki to the world, and has that melodic punch and sleek power that defined Strato's sound. Kiske's "Angel" is a cross of Strato's "Forever" and Helloween's "A Tale That Wasn't Right". So cold, so beautiful, like a frozen winterland melting from the warmth of a heart's passions. Tolkki's guitar is an arrow to the soul, and just as sorrowfully devestating. U.S. Guitar World recently ranked him as one of the greatest guitarists of our time and this swelling of emotion is why.
Truly worthy of adoration are the striking "Eden Is Burning" and the doom-lite lumber of  "Born Upon the Cross" both are awash in the same slower pompous thump as "Nighttime Eclipse" from ten years past, with the majestic sweep of "Eden" getting the upperhand. The standout bass in "Cross" is a powerful hook clinging device that gives it a punching rumble. Sabbath meets Strato at the gates of hell? The album finishes up in a Kiskey trio, "Keep the Flame Alive" is simple and achingly sweet. A flash of celtic pride, a smattering of raindrops, and the spotlight open for Kiske to bask in.
"Last Night On Earth" has a gleeful ring to it, an addictive guitar rhythm melody that thunders through. Guitars are heavy, cranking and crowd the atmosphere which becomes stifling in the heat pouring off those lightning quick strings. Not as marvelous as some of the others on here, but definitely besting others by a head and a tail. "Revolution Renaissance" finishes the disc off on a symphonic epic high point. It's gorgeously indulgent, a symphonic epic achievement that cranks out several flavors of progressive/power styles. The verse building into the earthquake clap chorus just transports you to Strat of old.  

This is essentially a one off. The lineup announced for Revolution Renaissance shares none of the musicians from this album. This has been a disappointing sticking point for many people and the hooplah involving Tolkki and his battling against the world (or so it seems) dangers to banish this disc to obscurity. Therefore this will likely stand as the best Stratovarius album ever released that is not a Stratovarius album - atleast not in name. It certainly is in spirit. Not every song is grade A material, but the songs that are, certainly seem inspired enough for many replays in the future. Someone will unearth it years down the road and then everyone is going to wonder why they didn't know of it the first time around. "New Era" is a fine album, and a fitting closure to the Stratovarius legacy, although not labeled as such, it should be remembered that way, since it began life intended as a Strato finale. 

Written by Alanna
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
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Comment by gizmo (Member) - Friday, August 22, 2008
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Comments: 140
Ratings: 4
I am a bit surprised by this album.

I have lost all respect for Timo Tollki long time ago but this album is actually quite good, much better than expected. Way better than the 3-4 latest Strato albums.

Posted by gizmo
Friday, August 22, 2008

Comment by Alanna (Staff) - Saturday, August 23, 2008
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Comments: 245
Absolutely. Stratovarius has been quite spotty the past few years - and they were always a rabid favorite of mine. Watching their decline over the years has been a painful, bitter experience. Fortunately this album doesn't suffer as dearly as those last Strat discs did. Though I do miss Koti's voice here.

Posted by Alanna (Staff)
Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review by Alanna

Released by
Frontiers Records - 2008

01. Heroes (Sammet)
02. I Did It My Way (Kiske)
03. We Are Magic (Rantanen)
04. Angel (Kiske)
05. Eden Is Burning (Rantanen)
06. Glorious And Divine (Sammet)
07. Born Upon The Cross (Rantanen)
08. Keep The Flame Alive (Kiske)
09. Last Night On Earth (Kiske)
10. Revolution Renaissance (Kiske)

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