Thursday, February 21, 2013

Stratovarius - Unbreakable (EP) (2013)

We are not privy to what goes on at labels, or in band meetings. We don't have any insider information, at least not with bands as big and as popular as symphonic power metal Gods Stratovarius. So when it comes time to promote a new album, as the Finnish five piece are doing, how does the decision get made to release a five song EP containing only one new track, as opposed to a single? What it creates is an EP geared more toward the rabid fans the band has the world over, those who drool and fawn over any piece of material they might not already own. Yes, that includes all of us in the office here. But audiophiles and collectors aside, there is only one piece of music on this effort that truly matters. Serving as the lead single to "Nemesis," the new album due this March, "Unbreakable" is a aging band at their youthful best.

Never short on enchanting keyboard work, "Unbreakable" is now different. Beginning with a tickle of the ivories, and building into an electronic driven stomp, this is the sound you have come to expect after decades of work. The vocal melody ties the entire band together, bringing the guitars, drums, bass and keys into one solid unit. It is hard to pick out one element that is more catchy than the next, with each member adding their own spice to an already overflowing mix. But it becomes clear that the vocal chorus, voiced by the man himself Timo Kotipelto, that remains engrained in your head for hours on end. Triumphant and moving at the same, this is Stratovarius at their best. Padding out the five tracks are four newly remastered versions of some of the best tracks from albums past. The skilled hands and ears of Mika Jussila bring you new versions of "Falling Star," from the Polaris album, "The Game Never Ends," from the most recent album "Elysium," as well as "Freedom" taken from “Infinite,” and "Why Are We Here" from the classic album “Intermission.” While the remixed version may sound identical to the casual listener, Jussila brings a clarity and cleanliness that many engineers only wish to achieve.

It is difficult to summarize and subsequently grade an effort when there is really only one track to be had. With "Nemesis" on the horizon, it makes perfect sense for the band to want to give the world a little taste of what is to come. The decision to go the EP route, rather than a traditional single, however, is a point of contention that many would argue for days at a time. While the remastered tracks that form the bulk of the album are nice, they are more for the collector than the average fan. That aside, you get exactly what you would expect from Stratovairus, which is, not coincidentally, exactly what you want. The high flying masters of symphonic power metal give you a track that not only bodes well for a full length, but for the next five albums.  Now that the waiting game begins, it will be nearly two months before we know if "Unbreakable" is the best that a band at this stage has to offer, or merely the first shot fired.


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