rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Survive
02. Demand
03. Broken
04. Firefly
05. We Are Not Alone
06. Frozen in Time
07. World on Fire
08. Glory Days
09. Breakaway
10. Before the Fall
11. Voice of Thunder

Seven years might seem like a long time between albums, even for a veteran band like STRATOVARIUS, but the poor Finns had been bashing out albums at an impressive rate and touring relentlessly for 30 years when the sturdy but unremarkable "Eternal" came out in 2015. Second only to HELLOWEEN when it comes to pioneering the European power metal sound, they clearly deserved a lengthy hiatus and have clearly benefited from it, as "Survive" is easily the strongest and most unashamedly entertaining STRATOVARIUS album since "Infinite", 22 years ago. A showcase for a rejuvenated creative process that they have stated has been much more collaborative and spontaneous than previously, the quintet's 16th studio record has the irrepressible energy and imaginative zing of an authentic fresh start.

If anyone needs evidence that STRATOVARIUS have given their songwriting a fresh sense of purpose, the opening title track should be more than sufficient. It's been a long time since they have written an anthem with such depth, and with the seemingly ageless Timo Kotipelto sounding as casually flawless as ever, "Survive" (the song) is like a state-of-the-art gift from the old-school power metal gods. "Demand" is equally great: melo-death heavy and tinged with neo-classical shred, it's another defiant, rabble-rousing chunk of perfection.

STRATOVARIUS were never content to churn out straight-ahead bangers, of course, and "Survive" (the album) offers countless detours and diversions, either with the Finns' more progressive tendencies on full display, or deep in the world of dark, theatrical balladry. "Broken" is a bit of both: an intricate, symphonic splurge, its simple but devastating chorus will tenderize the hardest of hearts. In contrast, "Firefly" combines gleaming, '80s metal tropes with the multi-harmony sheen of the finest AOR, keyboard maestro Jens Johannsen's endlessly inventive embellishments adding a dash of magic sauce to the (expertly cooked) meat and potatoes. Another no-nonsense wall of melody, "We Are Not Alone" is the sound of one of power metal's greatest bands delivering the goods, again, but somehow more so.

"Survive" has two grand, dramatic peaks. First, "Frozen In Time": another giant melodic refrain with plenty of radio-rock DNA collides with a barrage of bombast and melodrama, culminating in a languorous, meandering solo from guitarist Matias Kupiainen and the unexpected bonus of Timo Kotipelto hitting notes that will send sensitive dogs absolutely batshit. Second, the closing "Voice Of Thunder" fulfils its climactic epic remit, but with one foot firmly planted in progressive rock's kaleidoscopic waters. The result is a finely honed progressive metal master class, with Kotipelto reveling in acres of sonic space, armed with razor-sharp hooks and an infectious sense of adventure.

All of STRATOVARIUS's most classic traits are as integral to "Survive" as they were to any previous album, but here fresh inspiration has led to new and vivid colors being woven into that enduring blueprint. Not so much a glorious comeback as an imperious show of renewed strength, this is the sound of Finland's power metal masters at their classy, clangorous best.

Author: Dom Lawson
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