For many longtime Stratovarius fans it was a very bitter pill to swallow when Tolkki left cause although he wasn't the founding member, he was considered the soul of Stratovarius. But we must not forget that although he wrote 95% of Stratovarius material, it was the five-piece that made the songs what they are. I am certain that every member brought their own little thing to each and every song although the songs were composed by Tolkki. As much as people seem to "hate" and love to bash Timo Tolkki there is no denying that as a composer he was and still is one of the best there is. For a while it seemed even to Johansson, Kotipelto, Michael and Porra that Stratovarius is no more. At least according to them. No one really knows how they felt after Tolkki left the band. It surely didn't make things easier that's for sure. But then after couple of left-turns, few back, three forward and one right, they confirmed that Stratovarius has a new guitarist Matias Kupiainen and a new album coming. And on May 2009 it happened and Polaris hit the recordstores. This is supposed to be a review right? So how is the album then?
I wish it would be all that easy...just to pick up the cd, listen to it and review it. The pressure behind Polaris was huge...not to mention the expectations. First album without the mastermind, a new guitarist, everyone now participating on songwriting. So many possibilities to make Polaris fail. I don't think they failed. I think considering the circumstances Stratovarius delivered a good album. Should we first chew Kupiainen before moving on songs? Gladly.
Junior is very good. But honestly...did anyone expect them to choose a crappy guitarist? We are talking about worldclass musicians here c'mon. But Matias is a very good guitarist. He also has his own project called Fist in Fetus that has released one EP. For Polaris Matias has contributed on 3 songs (Deep Unknown, Higher We Go, Somehow Precious). Perhaps in the future if he composes songs alone we can really tell more about his composing skills. But as a guitarist he is very good.
There are many recognizable elements in Polaris. Perhaps biggest of them being the keyboards of course. Jens Johansson simply has the sound to recognize and of course skills to match. There are many "duels" between Johansson and Kupiainen and those are always fun to listen. Jörg Michael and Lauri Porra makes a perfect rhytmsection. A bit surprisingly the negative feedback this time goes to vocalist Timo Kotipelto. Singing itself is very good as always but somehow it seems that he was missing the "pusher" in studio...that being Timo Tolkki. For instance there are few parts in the album where his pronunciation is quite bad and those would have never gone through with Tolkki. And also few stretched words are missing the last letter. Well the ones that usually criticized Timo's pronunciation were Finns and I guess this time isn't exception either :)
Sounds on Polaris are top notch. Again...as always. Then let's talk about the songs a bit. Here I just have to pick up one interview where Kotipelto said that Polaris is that good old Stratovarius again...excuse me? Maybe he was referring to something else besides songs cause this surely isn't the good old Stratovarius. You can put Episode, Visions, Destiny, Infinite or even Dreamspace on the same line with Polaris and it would be like putting Ferrari and Lada on comparison. But I think it's useless to talk about good old Stratovarius cause those days aren't coming back. Metallica said that Death Magnetic was like Master Of Puppets...right. Well it wasn't the Master Of Puppets I have heard.
Album opener Deep Unknown which was also the single release and the song for video. Well it's a good one really. Perhaps the chorus is a bit tacky but all in all it's a very good album opener. Falling Star is a mid-tempo song with a catchy chorus. King Of Nothing is my personal favourite on this album. Jens Johansson plays some amazing tunes on this song. And although you can recognize it as Stratovarius, it also has something new. I just can't put my finger to what it is...should I try my fist? Then comes Blind, what a horrible "let's-just-fill-something"-type of song! This song is a textbook-example that no matter how well you play it simply isn't enough if the song has absolutely nothing. And the fact that it comes after King Of Nothing makes it even close to blasphemy. A total ear-bleeder. Winter Skies is the next one. Along with Deep Unknown and Higher We Go, Winter Skies has managed to break on their setlist too...but I wonder why though? It's an ok ballad but on the long tradition of ballads in Stratovarius, this really doesn't move in any way. I would prefer Winter from Fourth Dimension over this in any day. Forever Is Today is probably closest to the good old Stratovarius. I think this song would have fit any Stratovarius album easily. All the elements are simply there. Doublebass, melodies, keyboards, the package. And the lyrics do offer a good lesson..."Forever is today so don't delay". Kupiainen also plays a very good solo on this song. And it was nice to see that this song was composed solely by Lauri Porra. Higher We Go is an ok song but again I wonder why this particular song is on their setlist? But definately a song worth having on this album, a bit clichee but then again...it's Stratovarius :) Somehow Precious is a very good ballad. Kupiainen plays very beautiful melodies on this song. And the chorus is very good. The comes the Emancipation Suite in 2 parts: Dusk and Dawn. Again solely composed by Lauri Porra. At first I didn't like these 2 songs but it required few listenings and they started opening up. Not the best on Polaris but definately worth having. And I have to admit that part 1 has one of the best guitarsolos I have ever heard. Very good indeed. Closing the album with When Mountains Fall. Only vocals, acoustic guitar and strings. Touching lyrics. Somewhere said it's the Forever of this millenium...bullshit but however a very beautiful song. And again...solely composed by Lauri Porra...Lauri you are an animal! The only minus in a beautiful ballad is that it sounds like Kotipelto sings "Now I am shitting by your grave and I sing this song for you"...not very romantic.
All in all Polaris didn't bring much new to the scene but it delivered. As a closure I have to criticize their setlists a bit...on the first part of their tour Stratovarius only played 3 songs from the new album. And in my opinion they chose entirely wrong songs from Polaris...with Deep Uknown there should have definately been King Of Nothing and Forever Is Today. I saw them (well heard them mostly cause I was enjoying beverages with my gf in the drinking area) in Sauna Open Air in Tampere and it is understandable that people freaked out for all the classics but it was equally sad to hear people being confused about the new songs. We are far from the days when Stratovarius played their entire Infinite album from beginning to an end and only after that came other classics. But as one concert review from Sauna Open Air said...Stratovarius is an excellent tributeband.
Review: 8 / 10
Tracklist of Polaris:
- Deep Unknown
- Falling Star
- King Of Nothing
- Winter Skies
- Forever Is Today
- Higher We Go
- Somehow Precious
- Emancipation Suite Part I: Dusk
- Emancipation Suite Part II: Dawn
- When Mountains Fall
Timo Kotipelto - Vocals
Jens Johansson - Keyboards
Matias Kupiainen - Guitars
Lauri Porra - Bass
Jörg Michael - Drums
Stratovarius on internet: