Album Review: STRATOVARIUS Survive

A little more than seven years after Eternal, the legendary Finnish power metal band Stratovarius are back with Survive. The current lineup has now been together for a decade. No original members remain, with vocalist Timo Kotipelto (1994) and keyboardist Jens Johansson (1995) the longest tenured members.

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Survive is an apt title for a band that has existed for nearly 40 years. The opening title track is about survival, and Johansson says it all just seemed to fit. “It fits with the history of the band, too, because we managed to survive as long as we have,” he says. “This band has been through some strange days!”

After the long gap between records, there’s no rust as Stratovarius aims to reclaim their position as one of power metal’s elite acts. One thing that’s been the case for their entire career and remains evident on Survive is that the band knows how to write catchy songs. The album is packed to the gills with giant hooks and singalong choruses.

That includes the aforementioned opener. “Survive” is a burst of adrenaline to get the album rolling on the right note. It’s melodic, atmospheric and ridiculously catchy while keeping the heaviness where it needs to be. “Demand” is another radio-ready single that’s streamlined and memorable, as is “Firefly.”

There are several tracks with a more epic and cinematic vibe such as “Frozen In Time,” whose backing choirs and symphonic flavor never overshadow the accessible melodies. “Glory Days” (not a Bruce Springsteen cover) is also bombastic and urgent with backing choirs which expertly combines heavy guitars and atmospheric orchestral sections.

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Power metal is not a subtle genre. There’s always a danger of going over the top into the land of cheesiness and self parody. Stratovarius don’t come anywhere near that line, sounding very authentic and hitting all their marks. A lot of different emotions are utilized, from struggle to triumph, and the musicianship is flawless.

Kotipelto is one of the best vocalists in the business, and he’s in fine form throughout the album. He sings with power and emotion and still has plenty of range after nearly 30 years at the helm. While certainly well known, especially among power metal fans, Kotipelto to me is still an underrated singer, especially outside of Europe. One of his best performances is on “Breakaway,” a dynamic song that allows him to show his expressive side during the mellow beginning before things kick in and he’s able to belt it out.

Though there’s no disputing the catchiness of this album, the production is so polished that is somewhat sanitizes the proceedings and removes any edge. The final track “Voice Of Thunder” lingers too long, not bringing much new to the table in its 11 plus minutes. But in the larger scheme of things, these are minor issues. Survive is still a very enjoyable power metal album and a welcome return for Stratovarius.

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