stratovariusnemesisThere seems to come a time in many a long-standing Power Metal band (Helloween, Rage etc.) that you have a stab at “a slight change of direction”. This invariably is instigated by having new band members, buyer apathy or a guitarist deciding that down-tuning is the future. In Stratovarius’ case it involved all three. Terms like “more modern elements” and “darker” have been bandied about for this release so when invited I decided it was time to revisit Stratovarius and see what’s changed.

I was a Stratovarius fan in the mid ’90’s – ‘Episode’, ‘Destiny’ and ‘Visions’ were some of the premier Power Metal releases of the time, then for me the band got a bit samey and predictable. By the time their 2nd ‘Elements’ album arrived I was rather bored with the band. Each Stratovarius CD seemed so similar to the last one. Such a shame for a band that 10 years earlier were spearheading the genre.

At the time I blamed the controlling, slightly unhinged antics of guitarist Timo Tolkki (and eventually so did everyone else – including the band and even Tolkki himself!), so when he departed a few years ago I promised I would find the time to check out their new stuff…but in the end ‘Nemesis’ is actually the first release I’ve heard from their post-Tolkki era. If there’s been a gradual change over the last three records, I get to judge the end result. Bonus! Here we go then….

The album opens with a much more urgent Speed Metal style, immediately making me take notice…and then it is typical Stratovarius really. The musical talent is still very evident, with Timo Kotipelto’s vocals as professional as ever. The vocals are a touch lower than they used to be, which nicely suits the heavier guitar style, but apart from that opening (and intermittent) riff, it doesn’t seem to be that different from the band I remember. This should please older fans, and that opening track is the most interesting I have heard the band in a long time.

As ‘Nemesis’ unfolds the new style becomes clearer – Stratovarius have down-tuned/heavied up the guitars and stuck a more “modern” keyboard intro on the majority of the songs (if your idea of a modern keyboard sound is what In Flames and Lacuna Coil were using 8 years ago). I’m afraid I do still find the band a little bit predictable, for all their old reasons AND some new ones. There is still a formula, but nowadays it’s Modern quirky keyboard intro (rather than harpsichord!) with chunky guitar riff, vocals over usually bass and drums for the verse, introduce guitars for the bridge, then the big bombastic chorus. Thankfully there is now not ALWAYS a solo in the middle (as there used to be) and only one of the songs on offer here has a cheesy key change before the end.

This CD has plenty of highlights; ‘Stand My Ground’ has a real Communic/Nevermore feel (before playing it too safe on the chorus). ‘Fantasy’ is a great, immediate, catchy track – one of the best songs I’ve heard from the band in years (even if it does follow the EXACT formula I’ve just mentioned). It makes me think of how ‘If I Could Fly’ fits into Helloween’s ‘The Dark Ride’. ‘Castles In The Air’ is another winner with it’s sticks-like-glue chorus, and ‘Out Of The Fog’ is a fine example of how to write an interesting Power Metal song for anyone new to the genre, with nice time-changes, a bit of folk and heavy progressive patches. This is probably the most varied track on ‘Nemesis’, an album that also benefits from having only one ballad – it makes the mellow interlude much more effective.

Loyal fans of Stratovarius should enjoy this release immensely – rating it at least an 8/10, as will any Power Metal fans new to the band. I had high hopes after the intro for the opening track, and ‘Nemesis’ certainly held my attention longer than ‘Infinite’ did 12 years ago, but personally I don’t really hear anything more “modern” than what Angel Dust for instance were doing over 10 years ago. There are some great elements (!) on this release – memorable riffs, hooks and ideas. Maybe if these were delivered in some braver arrangements we could have something quite special on our hands here, instead the band invariably play it safe and I’m left wondering what might have been.

(6/10 Andy Barker)