It’s hard to talk about Stratovarius with out bringing up the recent departure of Timo Tolkki, the bands lead guitarist, head drama king, and main songwriter.  He left(and or was removed, sources are not very clear on what happened) in 2008 and continue to pursue his other projects such as Renaissance Revolution.  So, what’s a band to do now they’re missing a major key component of their structure?  Well, hire another amazing guitarist and keep on trucking.

Since the departure of Tolkki, Stratovarius has released two full length albums. Polaris came out in 2009, and while a great album, lacks the punch of earlier albums with Tolkki such as Visions, Destiny and the Elements albums(contrary to what many fans say, I find the Elements albums quite fun and enjoy the symphonic implementation).  The second one to come out since the departure of Tolkki is 2011’s Elysium, the album I will be talking about today.  So, does the band become comfortable with their new guitarist, do they continue to write super catchy choruses, do they advance their sound while sticking to the style that has made them what they are today?  Well, in my own opinion, YES.

The first thing I’d like to point out, that this is one of Stratovarius’ most diverse albums without a doubt.  And I believe that comes from the recent lineup change.  More-so on this album the the others, all the members contributed to the songwriting process  and it really shows.  On Elysium you get the super fun classic power metal cheese shredding, thundering riffs, symphonic elements, keyboard solos done by an octopus, soaring vocals, and a sweet power ballad.

Another thing I noticed on Elysium is just how sick of a musician newcomer Matias Kupiainen is.  Boy, can that guy shred like there’s no tomorrow. While Tolkki is the faster and more technical guitarist, I feel more emotion in Kupiainen’s playing.  He also puts a lot of input into the songwriting as well as the production.  Not to bash the original Stratovarius axeman Tolkki, this new guy has a lot more enthusiasm and brings a needed fresh feeling to the band, a welcome addition.

Onto the songs, there are 9 of them on Elysium and they clock in at around 56 minutes total running time.  Elysium starts off with one hell of a bang.  Cutting straight to the chase, the first track, “Darkest Hours”, makes a point to say, in the words of Rowdy Roddy Piper, “Hey, we came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and we’re all out of bubblegum.”, and that attitude continues throughout the next couple of songs.  The third song on Elysium,  the aptly titled “Infernal Maze”, is one hell of a doozy.  It brings you through its labyrinthine leads, and twisty tempo changes accentuated by a killer chorus and a bombastic guitarist vs. keyboardist showdown.

Following this trio of high paced songs comes my only real gripe with Elysium, the ordering of the tracks.  While not a bad song at all “Fairness Justified” doesn’t have the impact it should following 3 blistering songs.  As an experiment, I started the album off with this song and it has much more of an impact when it’s not grinding your auditory clutch.  It’s a much more slower paced anthem and would have followed a mid paced song much better.  And this mistake happens a couple more times in the middle of the album.  But, like I said, that’s a minor gripe, what matters is that the songs kick ass, and kick ass they do.

Another great track is “Lifetime in a Moment”.  What it has is something that is not very traditional of Stratovarius, bass lead, grinding, headbanging riffs and a haunting futuristic landscape keyboard intro, but in the end, you can definitely tell that it is a Stratovarius song.  A huge win in the experimentation department.

Elysium closes with the epic 18 minute title track.  This song is all over the place, and each member really has their moment to shine on their own on different moments on this song and also showcase how well they work together on others bringing it to a very complete(and very fun to listen to)whole.  Like this they show that when we work together, the biggest and grandest things can be accomplished.

In the end Elysium is an excellent album that should not be missed.  If you never listened to Stratovarius much or ever before, or haven’t been into them in a long time, now would be a good time to start paying attention.  After all the strife they have gone through in recent times, Elysium is a well deserved accomplishment. I hope that they keep strong and heading in this wonderful direction.

P.S.-I really dig the album art on this one!!