Here we have another between-studio-albums gap filler from melodic power metal stalwarts, Stratovarius. Releasing a compilation during their Nuclear Blast days, 'Intermission', back in 2001, I guess 'Intermission II' has been a long time coming. But, here it is, and it's comprised of three brand new tracks, some "very rare material", and orchestral versions of four established songs from their back catalogue... all clocking in at a whopping 75 minutes of music.
Of the three new offerings - 'Enigma', 'Burn Me Down' and 'Oblivion' - they're all strong compositions, with perhaps 'Enigma' and 'Burn Me Down' edging it. Each of the songs showcase these Finns doing what they do best - catchy hooks, succulent melodies and sing-along refrains, all delivered through a power-driven metal impetus. 'Oblivion' is more of a slower paced affair and a likeable track in its own right, although doesn't have the accessible immediacy of the other two. Certainly a grower, though.
Then we have the supposed "very rare" stuff. I'm unsure just how rare this material actually is, but press blurb indicates that at least two of the tracks - 'Kill it with Fire' and 'Castaway' - were previously exclusive Japanese bonus tracks. Ah yes, the exclusivity of the Japanese bonus tracks that so many labels seem to adhere to... an enigma in itself! Whatever the source of the rarities, undoubtedly the diehard Stratovarius aficionados would've already tracked down and at least heard, if not owned, this material, in one form or another. Still, I guess it's nice to have it all collated in one place, and with the best possible quality, rather than streams or bootlegs or whatever. And it seems 'Hallowed', 'Last Shore' and 'Old Man and the Sea' are appearing for the first time ever on the CD format here, if label claims are true. It's all pretty much standard Stratovarius fare, and it's not as disparate as you might believe as the majority of these rarities are from recent years (ie. the last decade). However, 'Old Man and the Sea' is a very nice surprise, eschewing power metal in favour of musical minimalism, with Timo Kotipelto's warm toned vocals over acoustic guitar accompaniment... which is beautifully performed.
The four orchestral versions of prior material - specifically, 'Fantasy'; 'Shine in the Dark'; 'Unbreakable'; 'Winter Skies' - close this compilation. I expected a sense of refined grandeur... after all, Stratovarius' melodic-driven compositional prowess would surely lend itself ever so well to the orchestral treatment. I'm sure that would be true if execute differently, but these are some very peculiar arrangements. The final piece here, 'Winter Skies' works best. The orchestra is allowed to flourish and shine in the mix. And a Malmsteen-esque acoustic guitar solo three quarters of the way through is sheer bliss. However, it's the prominence of acoustic guitar in the mix during many passages of the other three songs that detracts from the orchestrations - sounding at odds, rather than integrated, with. This is at its worst in 'Unbreakable'. And the percussion in 'Fantasy' just sounds a bit naff. Wow... a missed opportunity here.
'Enigma: Intermission II' ultimately provides a very mixed bag. The new stuff and rarities are all very solid pieces, and some are rather very fantastic indeed. But the much touted orchestral versions, with the exception of 'Winter Skies', are a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. Still, I'll look forward to 'Intermission III' in the year 2035!
ENIGMA: INTERMISSION II
Review by Mark Holmes
28th Sept 2018
1) Enigma; 2) Hunter; 3) Hollowed; 4) Burn Me Down; 5) Last Shore; 6) Kill It With Fire; 7) Oblivion; 8) Second Sight; 9) Fireborn; 10) Giants; 11) Castaway; 12) Old Man and the Seas; 13) Fantasy; 14) Shine in the Dark; 15) Unbreakable; 16) Winter Skies
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"The new stuff and rarities are all very solid pieces, and some are rather very fantastic indeed. But the much touted orchestral versions, with the exception of 'Winter Skies', are a bit of a disappointment..."