2017 has been a slightly quiet time for Stratovarius, but towards the end of the year they did a five-stop mini-tour in Finland, and we were fortunate enough to catch the show at Tavastia, Helsinki, on November 24th. Due to a scheduling conflict, regular bassist Lauri Porra was unavailable to play on this occasion, so Jari Kainulainen, the band’s former bassist, filled Porra’s and his own shoes, which made the gig special in a way.
Growing up listening to Stratovarius, along with their similar contemporaries Sonata Arctica, Rhapsody, Iron Savior, and Gamma Ray, my love for cheese, fantasy, and sci-fi was never higher. A hugely nostalgic band from early teens and one of my personal first introductions to the world of metal – power or otherwise – Stratovarius was a must-see.
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Jam along to the setlist, with the exception of “Eternity” (the third song):
Apparently a lot of people had the same nostalgic pull as me, since Tavastia was surprisingly crowded for a band with no warm-up act and a somewhat underwhelming domestic reputation. I noticed many younger concert-goers as well, so it seems Stratovarius has already
ensnared acquainted the next generation of metalheads, and if that’s the case, welcome victims friends. Balcony and beer – being the tried and true modus operandi – was the plan for the night and the ideal vantage point.
The intro kicked off around 21:30, the music being equally reminiscent of Hollywood orchestral soundtracks and Nightwish synthesizers, and the cheese was already palpable. Starting off with the somewhat typical ‘instrumentalists on stage, vocalist rushing onto the stage at the last second’ type of opening, “Forever Free” from their Visions (1997) album, was the opener and apparently the fear of no warm-up was unfounded. The crowd was already electrified and energetic during the first song and a lot of fists were raised. This was partly due to Timo Kotipelto and his vigorous performance: he was mounting the stage monitors, tossing the microphone between his hands, and overall being a fun performer to watch and listen to, except on the occasions when he was standing still at the mic stand. The presence of Kainulainen is not to be understated either, since he easily towered over his former bandmates and apparently was having a blast being under the spotlights again. There were some points during the set when the audio, either from Kotipelto’s or the mixing desk’s side, was too low and as such wasn’t heard in the audience (at least upstairs), but these minor technical difficulties aside, Stratovarius showed everyone their professionalism on stage.
Timo Kotipelto’s speeches were fun to listen to, being a combination of rehearsed showmanship and boyish charm. Teasing their replacement bassist about his Norwegianness and scolding fans trying to take a peek at the setlist, he seemed at home on stage and interacting with the crowd. Saving the crowd-pleasers for the latter half, the ensemble reminded everyone with “Speed of Light” from Episode why the Finnish word “tiluttelu” was first born, somewhat akin to the word “shredding”, but less serious. Let’s call it “tiluting.” Making eclairs without tools would probably be possible judging by the quickness of their playing. Quoting the frontman himself, the song, “was over before it kind of even began.” Unloading “The Kiss of Judas”, “Black Diamond”, and “Hunting High and Low” during their encore, like Roman emperors, the band judged the worthiness of the audience with a show of thumbs. The thumbs remained stubbornly horizontal though, so the audience were spared sentence for their efforts at least. The show thus over, it was time to head home and reflect on the evening.
Stratovarius, with their long career and impressive discography, is a line-up with heaps of experience, but still lacks that X factor. Functional, with hit songs to spare, but boring. In a scene where a certain sense of danger and rebellion should be ever-present, Stratovarius sadly lacks this. Though Kotipelto is a good leader for the band with charm and an apparent readiness for words and the rest of the band are masterful with their instruments, they however don’t possess that certain edge that gives metal its allure, the pull of something primal and sinister. Nonetheless, Stratovarius serves as an excellent jumping-off point for the wonderful soundscape of the metal scene, with its friendly rivalries and arguments on what constitutes which genre. Welcome neophytes, pick your poison.
1. Forever Free
2. Shine in the Dark
4. My Eternal Dream
5. Distant Skies
6. Speed of Light
7. Season of Change
9. Against the Wind
11. The Kiss of Judas
12. Black Diamond
13. Hunting High and Low
Photos: Miia Collander