Review: Stratovarius – Enigma: Intermission II

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Can you claim to be even a casual fan of power metal if you’ve never listened to Stratovarius? I did for years. And that was wrong.

When it comes to power metal I never really actively listened to Stratovarius, leaning more toward bands like Blind Guardian, Edguy, Galneryus, Rhapsody, and the occasional Helloween track here and there. However, I knew that the group is one of the respected old guard and as such when I spotted a new album I jumped at the chance to actually try them out with some fresh material. I’m glad I took that plunge.

Enigma: Intermission II features a handful of new songs, some new orchestral arrangements of old material, and almost an hour of previously rare songs by the group. In other words it’s the perfect primer for someone like me who needs a strong intro to the band’s work. I’ve had an absolute blast listening to this record, especially with standout tracks such as “Hallowed,” “Hunter,” “Kill it With Fire,” “Oblivion,” and “Winter Skies.” Some of the orchestral tracks show the shortcomings of power metal style vocals, but it’s more than made up for in the quality of the arrangements.

During a season where it’s been oh so easy for me to keep digging deeper and deeper into the bleak and grim it’s been a blast to dig into something on the more uplifting and quite frankly cheesy. But it’s cheesy in a good way. High quality, well-crafted cheese. The effect I’m talking about is seen most clearly on the track “Hallowed,” with the whining pitch-bending howls on the synth that actually function well as a texture part, but anywhere else would stick out like a sore thumb.

When I talk about the shortcomings of power metal vocals when it comes to the orchestral tracks, I’m not calling Timo a bad singer. Rather, because the vocal style is usually bolstered by the backing of a metal band, his voice is brighter, doesn’t taper much at the ends of phrases, and there’s not much dynamic contrast. These are all fine for a metal band, but when it’s just an orchestral arrangement, he doesn’t blend with the orchestra and the colors of his voice clash with the ensemble instead of mixing in. The best blend and mixing vocal-wise with these new orchestral arrangements is seen on the song “Unbreakable,” which was released as the single for Intermission II.

Stratovarius have offered a catchy and energizing primer to everything they can do. I’d highly recommend it to old fans as well as newcomers to the group such as myself. Already in heavy rotation for me and I’m sure it will be for you too.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Enigma: Intermission II is out now through earMUSIC

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