Stratovarius were formed in 1982 by drummer Tuomo Lassila in Helsinki, Findland. The band did not record its debut album, Fright Night, until 1989, after which Lassila departed. Following 1995's Fourth Dimension, the lineup shifted to include vocalist Timo Kotipelto, guitarist Timo Tolkki, bassist Jari Kainulainen, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen keyboardist Jens Johanssen, and drummer Jorg Michael. For the longest time I never heard this band's music, although I had heard about them. A few years ago I came across a couple of used copies of their albums and became an instant fan. I must say that their albums are a bit expensive, as most are only available as imports.

Froght Night Stratovarius-Fright Night (Columbia/Sony-Finland) 1989

1. "Future Shock" (4:36)  
2. "False Messiah" (5:20)  
3. "Black Night" (3:43)  
4. "Witch-Hunt" (3:22)  
5. "Fire Dance" (2:20)  
6. "Fright Night" (8:13)  
7. "Night Screamer" (4:48)  
8. "Darkness" (6:57)  
9. "Goodbye" (1:14)

Excellent classically influenced, yet razor sharp metal. Loads of speedy riffs and smoking Yngwie-esque guitar solos. I was actually surprised at how much I liked this album since I had heard some of their awesome later day stuff first. What is cool about this early stuff is that the music is heavier as the band focuses less on technical prowess and sophisticated writting and just lets it rip. The only slight (and I mean slight) downfall is that Timo Kotipelto wasn't on board yet, so Timo Tolkki was handling the vocals. He does a capable job, but I'll bet with Kotipelto behind the mic, this album would have been just that much better. Still, an excellent cd that graces my cd player often.

Twilight Time Stratovarius-Twilight Time (T&T) 1992

1. "Break the Ice" (4:39)
2. "The Hands of Time" (5:34)
3. "Madness Strikes at Midnight" (7:18)
4. "Metal Frenzy" (2:18)
5. "Twilight Time" (5:49)
6. "The Hills Have Eyes" (6:18)
7. "Out of the Shadows" (4:07)
8. "Lead Us into the Light" (5:45)

More straight forward heavy metal, not unlike the debut but with a touch more finese. Loads of speed, killer guitar solos, and enough double bass to show up any death metal band. It was this disc that started to gain the band a huge following in Japan. I can't undestand why it didn't do the same in the States.

Dreamscape Stratovarius-Dreamscape (T&T) 1994

1. "Chasing Shadows" (4:36)  
2. "4th Reich" (5:52)  
3. "Eyes Of The World" (6:00)  
4. "Hold On To Your Dream" (3:38)  
5. "Magic Carpet Ride" (5:00)  
6. "We Are the Future" (4:36)  
7. "Tears of Ice" (5:41)  
8. "Dreamspace" (6:00)  
9. "Reign of Terror" (3:33)  
10. "This Ice" (4:31)  
11. "Atlantis" -instrumental (1:09)  
12. "Abyss" (5:06)  
13. "Shattered" (3:30)  
14. "Wings of Tomorrow" (5:15)

Another fine speedy metal extravaganza from Timo Tolkki and Co. Vocalist Timo Kotipelto is still not on board for this one, but Tolkki pulls off every note just as well. The symphonic elements begin to creep in a bit on this one, although no where near as much as in albums from "Fourth Dimensions" onward.

Fourth Dimensions Stratovarius -Fourth Dimensions (T&T/Noise) 1995

1. "Against the Wind" (3:48)
2. "Distant Skies" (4:10)
3. "Galaxies" (5:01)
4. "Winter" (6:32)
5. "Stratovarious" (6:22)
6. "Lord of the Wasteland" (6:10)
7. "030366" (5:47)
8. "Nightfall" (5:09)
9. "We Hold the Key" (7:53)
10. "Twilight Symphony" (7:00)
11. "Call of the Wilderness" -instrumental (1:30)

Fourth Dimension is a fabulous neo-classical metal disc. The guitar work is stellar and the vocals are clean, high, and operatic. For some reason, this album brings back memories of Warning-era Queensryche, especially on songs like "030366" and the hooky "Nightfall."

Episode Stratovarius-Episode (T&T) 1996

1. "Father Time" (5:01)
2. "Will the Sun Rise?" (5:06)
3. "Eternity" (6:55)
4. "Episode" -instrumental (2:01)
5. "Speed of Light" (3:03)
6. "Uncertainty" (5:58)
7. "Season of Change" (6:56)
8. "Stratosphere" -instrumental (4:52)
9. "Babylon" (7:09)
10. "Tomorrow" (4:51)
11. "Night Time Eclipse" (7:58)
12. "Forever" (3:08)

Released on June 30, 1996, "Episode" is absolutely stunning. Somehow Stratovarious managed to take the speed and aggression of German bands like Blind Guardian and mix it with the neo-classical sounds of Yngwie Malmsteen, yet they still sound amazingly original. If I am not mistaken, this is the album that ex-Yngwie Malmsteen keyboardist Jens Johanssen was added to the line-up. Japanese copies have a bonus track - "When the Night Meets the Day."

Visions Stratovarius -Visions (T&T/Noise) 1997

1. "Kiss of Judas" (5:41)
2. "Black Diamond" (5:49)
3. "Forever Free" (6:00)
4. "Before the Winter" (6:07)
5. "Legions" (5:44)
6. "Abyss of Your Eyes" (5:38)
7. "Holy Light"(5:46)
8. "Paradise" (4:21)
9. "Coming Home" (5:37)
10. "Visions (Southern Cross)" (10:20)
11. "Black Diamond" -demo (5:08)
12. "Uncertainty" -live (6:14)

Visions is a concept album based on the prophecies of Nostradamus. The music is neo-classical metal at it's finest. I actually found this disc, along with "Fourth Dimension," in the used bins for $5.93 each in perfect condition. Imagine my surprise when I got home and discovered that this had two bonus tracks not listed on the back. According to Stratovarious' web site, only the Japanese version has these two tracks, but my copy is from T&T/Noise USA.

Destiny Stratovarius-Destiny (T&T/Noise) 1998

1. "Destiny" (10:15)
2. "S.O.S." (4:15)
3. "No Turning Back" (4:22)
4. "4000 Rainy Nights" (6:00)
5. "Rebel" (4:16)
6. "Years Go By" (5:14)
7. "Playing With Fire" (4:15)
8. "Venus in the Morning" (5:35)
9. "Anthem of the World" (9:31)
10. "Cold Winter Nights" (5:12)

Stratovarious are nothing if not consistent. Their progressive, neo-classical metal sound has progressed over the years with each album, but not into new musical territories and certainly has followed no trends. This, to me, is admirable in and of itself in a time when most bands are trying to follow the trends rather than striving to be innovators. Stratovarious certainly are leaders in the neo-classical metal movement with many bands attempting to sound like them. "Destiny" is album number seven for the band and is filled with stunning musicianship and outstanding, technical songwriting. My bet is that these guys are doing well in Japan and Europe where good musicianship is as important as hype, if not more so. Should also mention that drummer Jörg Michael has performed with Rage, Running Wild, and Unleashed Power, among others. My copy is the European release, the American release apparently has a cover of the Scorpions "Blackout" in place of "Cold Winter Nights."

The Chosen One Stratovarius -The Chosen Ones (Noise) 1999

1. "Black Diamond" (5:41)
2. "Twilight Time (5:52)
3. "Father Time (5:05)
4. "Hands of Time (5:37)
5. "Dream with Me (5:14)
6. "Paradise (4:28)
7. "Out of The Shadows (4:11)
8. "Forever (3:09)
9. "Full Moon (4:33)
10. "Kiss of Judas (5:50)
11. "SOS (4:19)
12. "Dreamspace (6:00)

The appropriately titled "The Chosen Ones" track listing was determined by fan balloting, although I am not sure anyone would call this a hits package as Stratovarious is one of the most unfairly overlooked metal bands of the '90s. They are a band whose phenomenal neo-classical metal has stormed the charts of their homeland and has taken Japan by storm yet up until recently they haven't even had an American label to put out their music in the States. This is a great overview of a band that I wish I had more music from.

Infinite Stratovarius -Infinite (Nuclear Blast) 2000

1. Hunting High and Low (4:08)
2. Millennium (4:09)
3. Mother Gaia (8:18)
4. Phoenix (6:13)
5. Glory of the World (4:53)
6. Million Light Years Away (5:19)
7. Freedom (5:03)
8. Infinity (9:22)
9. Celestial Dream (2:31)

This album has one of the coolest covers I have seen in a while. The music contained is also great. "Infinite" is one of the first Stratovarious discs to be readily available in the States, so I was able to pick it up for a decent price new. It's a good metal disc with an array of fast and slow material, perhaps the finest I have heard from the band yet.

Intermission Stratovarius-Intermission (Nuclear Blast) 2001

1. "Will My Soul Ever Rest in Peace?" (4:56)
2. "Falling into Fantasy" (5:13)
3. "The Curtains Are Falling" (4:24)
4. "Requiem" -instrumental (2:54)
5. "Bloodstone" (3:54)
6. "Kill the King" (4:36)
7. "I Surrender" -live (3:46)
8. "Keep the Flame" (2:47)
9. "Why Are We Here?" (4:43)
10. "What Can I Say" (5:12)
11. "Dream With Me" (5:13)
12. "When the Night Meets the Day" (5:26)
13. "It's a Mystery" (4:04)
14. "Cold Winter Nights" (5:13)
15. "Hunting High and Low" -live (4:55)

An odds and sods album that is only partially new. Some of the material on this disc are various bonus tracks that were only available on the Japanese versions of their albums. The two cover songs, Rainbow's "Kill the King" and Judas Priest's "Bloodstone" were recorded for tribute cds. Despite this being recorded at various times throughout the last 5-6 years, the disc flows together quite well. Much of the new material is mellower than I expected, but still excellent. Another excellent cd from Stratovarious.

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