Hard to believe Strato has been around for almost 30 years, and in that time they've seen the music world change around them many times. For many of those years, the band has been defined by two main elements- the soaring vocals of Timo Kotipelto and the keyboard wizardry of Jens Johannsen. And yet, they have had other members, both original and long-time, come and go, most recently drummer Jörg Michael after his battle with thyroid cancer. He retired from the band last year in splendid fashion, playing his last show for the live double album Under Flaming Winter Skies - Live In Tampere.. It was this live album that rekindled my appreciation for Stratovarius, as I felt they had been a bit flat for most of the last decade.
So how does a band that's been around for so long keep themselves energetic and vital? New drummer Rolf Pilve certainly helps, bringing back some of the faster tempos the band had been lacking. Overall, Nemesis is still a mostly mid-tempo album but the heavy grooves, the double bass, the occasional thrash rhythm really sets this miles ahead of anything they've done in years. Johanssen even experiments with some more modern keyboard sounds, most notably in the track Halcyon Days... OK, it sounds like something you would hear on a Skrillex album but it's brief, and in context, it works.
The riffs are tight as hell on this. The guitar work is compelling and clear, never overdone. Matias Kupiainen nails the guitars down with style and swagger. Former Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen co-wrote two of the songs, and the influence as a whole is audible in the slightly downtuned guitars and heavy picking. The balance between the instruments on Nemesis is pretty close to perfect. Maybe the bass could have stood out a little more, but it competently weds Pilve's punchy drumming to the rest of the music. Timo's vocals are crisp and clean, and never self-indulgent. We know he can sing, he doesn't have to hit the high wails anymore. The backing vocals are exceptionally strong and give just the right amount of accent to make the choruses extremely moving and deep. Some of the lyrics are a bit cliche, which is a common flaw in the genre.
Nemesis shows that a band is never too old to revolutionize their own sound. There is a confidence about the record that is infectious, hard to shake, and even contagious. The running time is perfect, it gets out of it's own way and never begs for approval. This is modern power metal with that progressive edge that will have your fist banging all over again.