"It takes a certain talent for bands to satisfy both diehard fans and those seeking something different. In 2008, Stratovarius underwent a transformation after the critically destroyed self-titled release from 2005 and the subsequent "Revolution Renaissance" demo. Then there was the departure of founder/guitarist Timo Tolkki and the series of bizarre events that followed, including the infamous internet letter relinquishing the band and its back catalog to singer Timo Kotipelto, keyboardist Jens Johansson, then bassist Jari Kainulainen, and then drummer Jorg Michael.
From the point the band finally regrouped, it sought to quickly reinstate past glory with a vengeance, releasing “Polaris” followed by the stunning “Elysium,” which would prove tough to beat. However, "Nemesis" is a "black diamond" of pristine perfection in every way and the band's best effort since 1997's “Visions."
When the new release was announced, the band commented about being more mature in the song writing and the tracks having a “darker and more modern" edge. The guitar sound is noticeably crunchier and the album scores a complete victory in the song writing. To the non-symphonic metal fan, my incessant glorification of the genre may result in the combination of eye rolling and the nondescript "whaa-whaa" of any adult in a Peanuts cartoon. To Stratovarius fans, “Nemesis” is a collection of the band's greatest hits that you never heard until now. The soaring and emotionally charged choruses are more fetching than ever and the guitar work has more hooks than Kim Kardashian’s closets. You have to admire guitarist Matias Kupiainen, who has stepped in, stepped up, and has outshined Timo Tolkki in every aspect (no disrespect to Timo). At the time of “Polaris,” I had no worries about how vocal great Kotipelto or key legend Johansson would fare, but Matias came in and elevated their play to a levels unheard especially with “Nemesis.”
The most noticeable difference on this album is Johansson’s brilliant and refreshing key work. The album is filled with keyboard pops and over the top bombastic finger play shown in “One Must Fall,” “Fantasy,” and especially “Halcyon Days.” Many fans have been lulled into the prototypical Stratovarius sound from Johansson over many years, and now he has raised the bar. There is a jolt of excitement to every song, sort of an amalgamation of Olof Morck’s work in Amaranthe and a splash of “Rage for Order” era Queensryche. This shouldn’t scare away any longtime fans of the group, it’s the most upbeat and exciting that I have ever heard the band.
Tracks that rise above include the speedy opener “Abandon,” which sets the perfect tone for the entire album, “Unbreakable,” the perfect choice for a first single,” and the three tracks with the most glorious choruses in Stratovarius’ illustrious history: “Out of the Fog,” “Castles In the Air,” and personal favorite “Stand My Ground.” However, these tracks do not overshadow any of the others; there simply is no filler, no boredom, and no mistakes.
With effortless delivery, “Nemesis” is markedly superior to “Elysium” and makes the great “Polaris” look like a demo. Stratovarius has stormed out to an early and big lead in the race to the best of the year, one that on paper appears to be filled with so many potential winners. There is little doubt that an album that instantly ranks among this Finnish band’s all-time best should be able to withstand much of the competition.
Highs: Simply put, one of the finest releases in the band's history.
Lows: Really none, but it may not appeal to non-symphonic metal fans.
Bottom line: Stratovarius takes back the throne by evoking the divine goddess of retribution." - Metal Underground