Polaris by Stratovarius
Release date : May 2009
Reviewed by Eric Stephens
On April 2nd, 2008, guitarist Timo Tolkki announced that Stratovarius had folded in October 2007 as the result of underlying tensions. Vocalist Timo Kotipelto, keyboardist Jens Johansson, bassist Lauri Porra and drummer Jörg Michael issued a joint statement on May 7th, arguing that Tolkki's prime motivation was greed. Allegedly, the group's label at the time, Sanctuary Records, had suffered from severe financial problems from 2005, culminating in a lawsuit which began during 2007's beginning. The lawsuit reportedly left the group financially strapped, and in 2007's summer, the quartet allege that Tolkki presented Stratovarius demos the group had financed and recorded to Frontiers Records, and inked a record contract for a solo project dubbed Revolution Renaissance for $154, 000. The quartet also stated that Sanctuary had agreed to settle during early 2008, something which was ruined by Tolkki's announcement. Debt was slated as being $54, 000, with total loss estimated at $346, 000. On May 20th, Tolkki signed an official waiver giving up all rights to the Stratovarious name, and his share of royalties from the act's back catalogue.
In late August, Helsinki native Matias Kupiainen was revealed as Timo Tolkki's replacement as Stratovarius' guitarist, the news being broken by Finland's Soundi magazine. Convening at a summer cottage in Lappajärvi in September, Stratovarius wrote material for almost a month in support of a twelfth studio album. In the fall of 2008 at Hästholmen and 5by5 studios in Helsinki, Finland, the album was recorded, whilst mixing was handled by Mikko Karmila. During mid October, a two and a half minute video blog featuring footage from writing / recording sessions surfaced.
Polaris was disclosed as being the title of Stratovarius' twelfth studio album during February 2009. Slated for issue during mid to late May across global markets, Edel imprint earMUSIC would handle the album's issue throughout Europe, whilst the group's longtime Asian record label JVC would handle its issue within that territory. Behind the scenes footage from the music video shoot in support of Polaris' inaugural single, “Deep Unknown”, surfaced during early March. For Village Road Film, the music video was directed by Owe Lingvall. Designed by Gyula Havancsák, the album's cover artwork was unveiled several days later, as well as its track listing. Armoury Records, a division of Eagle Rock Entertainment, would handle Polaris' North American release.
Upon the announcement that an album, namely Polaris, would be issued during May 2009 under the moniker Stratovarius, the immediate question was how the album's tracks would musically differ from Stratovarius' past full lengths. Central songwriter Timo Tolkki, who had been Stratovarius' guitarist since 1984, left the fold in 2008. The group's fans shouldn't fret, since Polaris' celestial cover artwork even remains faithful to Stratovarius, not to mention Progressive Metal. If anything, Polaris is where Stratovarius employs a richer, more progressive sound which reaches beyond the times which spawned records such as Infinite (2000). Not unlike past albums, Polaris bears a nice mixture of upbeat progression, symphony, and slow, harmonic Metal.
In the vein of classic Stratovarius, yet without a super high-pitched vocal, “Blind” shreds away at a rapid pace, and reaches into Finnish Metal's very soul. “Blind”'s guitar work is led via a classical harpsichord movement during its inaugural moments, a movement which resurfaces during the track's concluding notes. Yet another cut introduced courtesy of a quick pace, “Forever is Today” features several splendid guitar solo runs which help in cementing the fact that Stratovarius can exist without having Tolkki amongst its ranks. Kotipelto's vocals take a dominant stand upon “Forever is Today”, and drive onwards with a purpose-driven intensity, another defining aspect of the track.
Split into two separate tracks, “Emancipation Suite: I Dusk” and “Emancipation Suite: II Dawn” both signal a flaw within Stratovarius' revamped lineup. Sadly, the vocals upon these two numbers fail to maintain the same power prevalent upon former tracks. Paired against the swansong composition “When Mountains Fall”, the music suddenly becomes more symphonic, and lessens towards a gradual crawl. Given the fact that so much dynamism and speedy tempo occurs during Polaris' beginning, these last several tracks affect the album's overall quality somewhat, something in contrast to Polaris' initial excitement.
Generally speaking, Polaris is a full length where much delight and expectation is generated at its very beginning, yet so much so that Stratovarius seemingly left Polaris' concluding tracks by the wayside. However, what's most apparent is the fact that Stratovarius' latter day lineup can pen quality material without the aid of Tolkki. Polaris might not feature the Stratovarius which fans have grown to love, though its tracks warrant listening, and will nonetheless cause pleasant surprise amongst most fans.