Press blurb states that Stratovarius are releasing their "long awaited 'Best Of' album". Hmmm... I guess if they hadn't waited long enough then they wouldn't have such a vast back catalogue of albums to draw from. As such, they now have fifteen studio albums to their name (not including 2001's 'Intermission' compilation), from 1989's 'Fright Night', right up to last year's 'Eternal'. However, a "best of" compilation, 'Black Diamond: The Anthology', was already unleashed by Nuclear Blast in 2006, featuring cuts from the band's first ten albums, and Noise Records released a"best of" compilation ('The Chosen Ones') when they jumped labels back in 1999. So, yes, "long awaited" is a little misleading in that sense, as two different labels have already assembled a series of fan favourites during the course of the band's history. But, with five new albums since the last compilation, and now signed to a new label since 'Black Diamond: The Anthology' appeared, I guess Stratovarius can just about justify having another 'Best Of' to their name.
All the songs have been remastered by Finnvox Studios' Mika Jussila, so I guess the older material has a little extra sheen that might make this compilation just that little bit more attractive to longtime Stratovarius fans who already own all the tracks on their original homes. As will the addition of a brand new song that opens the compilation, 'Until the End of Days'. However, with the 28 other tracks handpicked by the band themselves (presumably, the current members), it's no surprise that Stratovarius' first three albums are barely represented here ('Wings of Tomorrow' from third album, 1994's 'Dreamspace', and 'Break the Ice' from second album, 1992's 'Twilight Time'), considering vocalist Timo Kotipelto, who joined the band's ranks for their fourth release, 'Fourth Dimension', is their longest serving member. Either way, "best of" albums are always going to engender a few debates as to precisely what tracks should constitute them... each and every fan will have their own favourites, such is the subjective nature of everyone's individual perception and enjoyment of music.
All that said, the 29 tracks that've been selected here (17 on disc one; 12 on disc two) are a fairly representative diachrony of Stratovarius' career to date. I'm sure some will criticise the lack of chronology across both discs, as the track order incessantly jumps around in time, seemingly in an arbitrary manner, but that's kind of akin to a band's live set, so I'm sure not too many listeners will find this jarring or annoying in any small way. Quite the contrary, it serves to make more emphatic the stylistic nuances in Stratovarius' compositions over a long period of time, by juxtaposing, for example, 2000's 'A Million Light Years Away' with 2011's 'Under Flaming Skies'. It also distances the stylistic similarities between certain songs by placing them a long way apart in the tracklisting, such as 'S.O.S.', 'Hunting High and Low', and 'Eagleheart', which, structurally and melodically, are all a little too similar.
A bonus, third CD is also included with the limited edition of this 'Best Of' set, which contains the audio from an hour long live performance at Wacken 2015. The eleven tracks (including the opening 'Intro'), some of which appear on the first two CDs, are a nice addition in that it showcases the combined live talents of Stratovarius' current lineup. Bassist Lauri Porra, guitarist Matias Kupiainen and drummer Rolf Pilve only joined the band's ranks in 2005, 2008 and 2012 respectively, so they're not represented as heavily as Kotipelto or keys man Jens Johansson on the first two discs, thus it's nice they feature on an entire disc. If last year's 'Eternal' is anything to go by, they've already proved they're more than capable of continuing the Stratovarious legacy long into the twenty first century.
Overall, I have to say, this is a rather impressive compilation. I'm sure that the hardcore Stratovarius fan will want to own this regardless, but it also offers a representative retrospective for the casual listener who might've only dabbled with these Finns' output over the years. And newcomers, too, will be able to discover just why Stratovarius have long been regarded as one of the melodic power metal subgenre's best loved acts for so many years.
Review by Mark Holmes
20th May 2016
DISC ONE: 1) Until The End Of Days; 2) My Eternal Dream; 3) Eagleheart; 4) Speed Of Light; 5) S.O.S.; 6) Forever Free; 7) Wings Of Tomorrow; 8) No Turning Back; 9) Break The Ice; 10) Distant Skies; 11) Will The Sun Rise?; 12) A Million Light Years Away; 13) Under Flaming Skies; 14) Darkest Hours; 15) Winter Skies; 16) I Walk To My Own Song; 17) Maniac Dance
DISC TWO: 12 further studio tracks
DISC THREE: Live at Wacken 2015 (11 Tracks)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a rather impressive compilation."