Yada Yada Yada, Timo Tolkki, publicity stunt, out of the ashes, “Out of the Fog,” you know the story by now and if you don’t, it’s an entertaining and sad story that didn’t stop the band seven years ago, so I won’t stop this review to tell it. Eternal is the 15th album from Finnish power metal godfathers STRATOVARIUS (out September 18 via earMUSIC). Of course, eleven of those were written by a musician no longer in the band, and the longest running current member has only appeared on 12 of those 15 albums. I did the math and the average STRATOVARIUS band member (of which there have been about 17 over the years) stays in the band for 9 years and records 4 albums, so I could understand some skepticism when I tell you that, like it’s predecessor, Eternal is a gold standard for consistency.
In the last decade, STRATOVARIUS has put a bigger emphasis on technical playing in their music. There had always been shredding, and the band had some of the best, but Lauri Porra and later Rolf Pilve really raised the bar for what the band was able to, and be comfortable with playing. Nemesis in particular had some of the most (controversially) diverse musical palettes of the band’s career. That’s not entirely gone on Eternal, but the tone of the album is more in line with the band’s extremely popular, and recently toured Visions album. Even playing that, the band’s new blood was able to do a lot to liven up the material, and I think some of that carried into writing this record..
It would be inaccurate to call this album entirely faithful to the band’s 90’s sound. There was a distinct faithfulness to melodic sensibilities reminiscent of Ritchie Blackmore (particularly in RAINBOW), and a more rigid traditional power metal format. There are blast beats on Eternal. I’d still encourage the purists to forgive it for a few reasons. As I alluded to in the intro, this is an extremely consistent album, not just in quality (unlike Polaris and Elysium) but also in tone and overall genre.
At this point, it seems the band has decided that they are going to create mostly fast, uplifting, catchy pseudo-progressive power metal music on pretty much every song on the album. There’s one power ballad, “Fire In Your Eyes,” but even that builds to a rather impressive, full-bodied middle section with a great solo. Another song, “Man In The Mirror” has some rather spooky, dark lyrical content in contrast to the overwhelming bright pathos of say, “Rise Above It” (“What we feel, is right and true, what we have, is still inside our burning heart”) But those are just minor variations on a great formula that runs through the entire album.
My personal favorite song is the 12 minute-long album closing “The Lost Saga,” which stands comfortably with “Anthem of the World” or “Infinity” among the band’s best epic songs. There are a few technical elements here, the aforementioned blast beat, and more intricate rhythm guitar passages that create separation from those classics, but it’s structured closely to the song “Visions,” and built around the core sounds that have been staples of the band for years.
Of the four albums released since the split, this is the most likely to win back scorned fans from the 90’s. It’s not individually as strong as Nemesis, although there’s nothing I’d point to about this album that the band did “wrong.” It’s a bit less musically ambitious (and as a result more focused), but the step back is merely a consequence of just slightly less outstanding material. A couple of the songs certainly hold their own, and there’s nothing on here worthy of skipping. I can only hope the band keeps this up for years to come.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “The Lost Saga”, “Man In The Mirror”, “My Eternal Dream”, “Lost Without A Trace”