– In Paradisum
This might be an odd start to one of my rambles about a record, but bear with me. I’ve got to say I kinda like the graphics of the album this time around. Normally I’m a huge disliker of this genre's “must”, Derek Riggs-like graphic-that-looks-graphic, with unnaturally bright colors and huge amount of shining, and just something embarassing and clichéd on the cover. Crowns, kings, skulls, angels, devils... you name it. The worst in here for me is that these are made to look computer-made for purpose, and I don’t like that look, the shininess and lightness in them. These covers are like a still shot from a shitty Pixar movie that has its own conventions and try-to-be-humorous, forced jokes nowadays, not an honest Disney drawing that used some of the best voice acting and all-round imagination that I’ve ever seen anywhere, and that absolutely played with colors and sounds and gave children (and adults) everything they ever hoped to get from a tv show. Apparently, almost every new power metal record in the last few years has been pretty much the same to power metal what Pixar is to Disney’s legacy: conventional, trying to be power, but the spirit and vision are just not quite there. Whether this is one of those albums in my opinion remains a secret until you read this ramble for a little longer.
Why I surprisingly like the album graphics is the contrast of this clear blue sky and untouched universe above a pollution cloud of a polluted but livable urban metropolis. These are exactly the two sides this album’s music represents to me. Almost all the time the expression is clean and clear like the sky itself, but then again there are those dirty little solos and intros especially that give some edge to this album. I’d have liked to hear more of that side, since those were basically the only things that were new or surprising on this album! As if Tolkki still has something up his sleeve he hasn’t shown us before, some even groove-metaly side steering that awaits to be discovered.
Alright, this part was supposed to be the ending rant, but I think I’ll write it out now. With this kind of line-up, they should’ve been able to offer us something seriously new, not that tired Revolution Renaissance
shit. Timo still used way too much of his overly used song billets, which I can only think meaning that he just cannot plain compose anything new anymore. However, there WERE new elements. Mikko Härkin especially took a lot of liberties to produce some pretty sweet solos, and so did Timo Tolkki
on the guitar solos. Those two combined a pair of surprising mixes, and that’s what I liked about this album way the most. Those were the pollution cloud and the crowded city. That part needs to be awakened to its full prosperity in the coming releases if those are going to happen. Andre Matos
can sing anything, yet he ONLY used his clean highs in this album! I think that was ridiculous – Tolkki wanted yet another Kotipelto or Kiske there. Just where was the roughness and creativity in Andre’s singing he’s shown elsewhere lately, especially on his solo album Time to Be Free? And why (if not the arm injury) was Uli Kusch used like a generic session guy, which he by no means isn’t? I think he was supposed to imitate Jörg Michael's drumming or something. Maybe just be out of the way, just play some generic "something" on "just" the drums. "You're just a drummer, we play the melodies here. Yours, Timo and Mikko" Either Mr. Kusch has completely lost his vision or his ideas were just silenced, or his arm was just too bad. Forevermore is the only song I hear even a glimpse of the Uli Kusch I know from Helloween
Now let’s finally go to the point. What I waited this album to be is yet another struggle from Timo Tolkki to contrivedly reclaim his throne in power metal music, a throne he definitely once possessed. He’s had his manners recently – somewhere after the album Stratovarius
and around The New Era by Revolution Renaissance, he completely couldn’t compose anything new into his style of power metal music anymore. Apparently he did such in Age of Aquarius, but I think that’s completely for some other audience, or just a deep mood album I never had a chance to get into. That album appeared to me mostly as a very boring harp, with too long middle tempo songs with not much content.
You could say there are similar problems with In Paradisum. The songs don’t feel that long this time, but almost every song’s structure is set in stone. Often, a song starts differently – the first time in God knows how long in Tolkki’s music – but then the promising start fades into a generic power metal verse with nothing own or special in them. I’ll go song-by-song to give you – and myself, basically – a better view of what’s happening In Paradise.
Fields of Avalon. Will the Sun Rise?-like riff. As if Jörg was on the drums; nothing Uli-like in Uli's drumming. During the first verse I got some cool classic Angra vibes though, when Andre sings one of his many definitely familiar-sounding vocal melodies – only those South American folk instrument sounds are missing. Still, this whole song keeps up the certain samba feeling in my opinion, and if the chorus was a bit boring in the first listen-through, it got better after that. I actually also love the Manowar
-esque quick riff there is in the verses – one of those rare polluted city-like images I got I was talking about earlier. There’s some dirt in this particular song almost all the way through, and it’s actually one of my absolute favorites from this album, if not the very favorite. Also a good quick opener that showcases this band means business. The ending stretch of Andre Matos did bring goose bumps to my skin. Combined with a classical Stratovarius ending from waaay back, from the song We Are the Future or something, but with a true master high n’ clean singer, and with great harpsichord sounds in the background, I actually gasped my breath in disbelief and thought, “Wow, does this line-up really mean business?” I only felt that the song was a little plastic somehow, maybe it’s the current production conventions or I don’t know, but a bit tame. Still a great opening track!
Andre singing that high didn’t come as surprise to me. I had the impression the guy can sing basically anything right now. But how easily he seems to get even those long high screams out and how effortlessly he sings in the upper register almost all the time (too much overally) surprised even me. Even though the Finnish Soundi magazine even tells that, according to Tolkki, Matos completely lost his singing voice just before the recordings, and even cortisone didn't help him out. The voice came back when Tolkki forced him to sing a song very loud (Soundi 3/2011). But people, after that, Matos' voice might be at its very best and eclectic right now, and that’s saying a lot! Too bad Tolkki isn't using it even nearly up to its full potential.
I should mention how good a job Timo Tolkki has done with this album behind the producer’s desk. Yes, it's a bit plastic, but so is most post-mid-90s power metal. Nothing special, but, even if they were too clean and ordinary, I still like these sounds. They’re pleasant. They’re not as sharp and rolling as you’d often hear with Italian power metal bands, but close to them... I’d say around Kamelot
when they were at their best. Just pleasant-sounding, if you get my meaning. Works well with the ultra cleanness in the vocals and goes well together with the album cover's heaven part. The sounds blend well with this usually light atmosphere (light, as in the opposite would be dark). There are also a few spots on the album where they’re using that very long, yet subtle delay effect for the singer that I especially like. The first of them is on this song, 1:57 in, when Matos stops a high note.
Come By the Hills is one of those tracks that open very normally, nothing too special, except the lead. It’s from Germany I think, which is unusual for Timo's songs. Brought to my mind Gamma Ray
– Valley of the Kings, Masterplan
– Lost And Gone and for example Heavy Metal Perse
– Talonpoikaisralli in Finnish music. Don’t remember Tolkki using that before though, or hadn’t noticed from new RR albums even if he did. I’m really not a fan of those.
This second track of the album is actually the key example of the pleasantness I find in these less heavy songs of the album. This one would actually be a very boring track if it wasn’t for that pleasant “sky” feeling I'm constantly getting while listening to this album and looking at its cover. All the cleanness in this album is just very clear sky-ish. :) Also, a very short roaming solo and a chorus hook following it is a good change to that repetitive and boring keyboard melody and tempo, and anemic chorus. Towards the end, there was actually a fill from Kusch that was a ghost of his former self, but it was there nonetheless. Overally nothing special though. The song is a letdown after a good opening. But pretty pleasant. Did I say it already? I kinda think of this as a too straightforward, boring, repetitive song that has too little content in it – but it’s still pleasant! Somewhat the only hook of the album, after the post-solo chorus starts "late", doesn't save it.
No comparison, the next track, Santiago, is EASILY the best track of the album! That guitar is going somewhere to Amon Amarth waters or something. Not at all near, of course, but you know what I mean. There is some ANGER and SPIRIT in Tolkki’s playing. THAT needs to get out in the future and become whole songs. This song is close. But why is Matos not using his rasp and is singing barely audibly more aggressively than before? This track demands some roughness to it, dammit! And I've heard Matos sing even like that in the recent years - but for some reason not here. Just cleans, cleans, cleans all the time. And high register.
The chorus is pretty blah, very similar to the opening song. One of the most disturbing sides of this album in my opinion are the choruses, how "basic" they sound and how much they often resemble each other. You always come to expect much from choruses in power metal, but this isn't a good album example of very biting choruses. But I actually like the verses of Santiago. There are some cool singing melodies, a pretty aggressive riff and some other melodies to it, unlike in less heavy songs of the album.
Definitely the best part comes when the songs silences into the acoustic part. That interlude sounds as much a separate part as any separate part can ever sound, which is not good. But when it stops and the solo starts, it’s the goddamn greatest harmony solo Tolkki’s created since... the Strato song Liberty? And then the song suddenly changes into that roaming, aggressive being again, and the craziest and best shredding solos of the album go off. These few minutes alone prove to me that Tolkki still has something to give to the metal scene, but he’s just have to let it all come out. That segment right there surely was tough as an urban metropolis at night. We were truly tossed off the sky for how long that lasted! Again, Andre sang the following chorus too cleanly, though, and didn't support the surrounding atmosphere. If they did that kind of things with passion and less elegantly, God, this might be a good band...
Unfortunately the ballad Alayna gives us a quick lift back to the clouds, in a bad way. On the other hand this is a good song and on the other hand not, imo. Let’s face it, this is Tolkki's Angel Ballad #3, but it’s not as shamelessly obvious as it was when we compare thew song Angel by Revolution Renaissance to the original Angels Are Calling he composed to a Finnish Idols winner Ari Koivunen
... This is definitely off the same mold – again. Tolkki’s lost it with composing new ballads. Except that there is at least something different in this one, some more content this time. A quick guitar solo for example. And there is actually some sort of evolution in the song’s progression. Sadly that isn’t characteristic to the most tracks of this album. Most songs are even too non-progressive all the time. But at least something happens in this one. The song might grow, or jump into a quick shredding solo, or the ending Santana
-style solo, except not even close as good. I don’t know why but I think the ending guitar note is fucked up. It doesn’t fit that supposed fragile atmosphere at all! This album's Angel song is luckily a bit extended, and in a pretty good way, but on the other hand it brings to my mind a below-average Scorpions
I’d like to say how Angel #3 shit that chorus is, but I still find it kind of beautiful, mostly because I’m stunned of how fucking good Andre Matos just is. I think he sounded a little more fragile on this song than elsewhere on the album, and it was all fitting and good. As if his voice wasn't perfectly under his control, as if he was fucking some parts up on purpose. Great for a change, finally!
Forevermore starts like a modern Stratovarius song X that I don’t remember, from the album Elysium. Or actually I think it’s the song Blind from Polaris. Might be just coincidental. I don’t think so, though, since this is Tolkki we’re talking about. You guys should know how many Finnish oldies, for example, he has borrowed in his music, or parts from early Queensrÿche
, or Ritchie Blackmore...
The idea is lost in this song. Separate “Blind part”, then the generic power metal verse, and the chorus that once again is very similar to that of Fields of Avalon and offers us absolutely nothing new. I mentioned Kusch getting a bit responsibility here, and that's a big plus. If only they used him nearly to his full potential all the time. Anyway, Härkin’s organ followed by Tolkki’s crazy shred solo is once again a really bright moment on the album. Or actually, not really bright, but the opposite. A descent to a darker, dirtier world from the bright clouds. Even Matos' voice might be least clean in this song, which is good again. I don’t know but I feel certain deliberation during those unlikely aggressive solos from Tolkki. Why he still keeps his compositions very strictly in order and doesn’t loosen like in the solos elsewhere in these songs is beyond me. Also, Härkin’s solo after Tolkki’s is great. Matos sings like an angel, but would that be news?
Pilgrim Road is a cheap track that seems to build around that simple "folk" melody. I don't know what country's folk it tries to be, but it sounds like Turisas
far worsened. There are other main parts in this song though, but the pre-chorus and chorus are combined very long and dull - nothing even seems to change between them, maybe I should only talk about one boring chorus here. The long repeat of the words "pilgrim road" are delivered with exactly the similar key and height as with "just follow me" are in Fields of Avalon, and this stupid recycling I can't stand. Also, he already used this "let's-build-a-song-only-around-a-folkish-sample" in the song Into the Future by Revolution Renaissance! :)
Then it's time for your must-have "epic big song" of the album that usually quits the albums, or, in Stratovarius' case recently, are still followed by a ballad. Granted, this one is in the middle of the album, so it's even a bit surprising. But it definitely doesn't feel like a big song of the album. Or maybe it does, but c'mon, I don't want to hear THIRD SOULS OF A VAGABOND! Tolkki completely ripped his original song off in Revolution Renaissance, the song, already, and now he's using the same trademark melody for the THIRD time! Basically the same that happened with the Angel/Alayna ballads, but it's even clearer here. The verses are a bit minimalistic, like the one on Elements the song, but kind of fresh, and I freaking LOVE Matos' vocals that shine on the Paradisum choir! This canon singing somehow reminds me of Elements, the song, but Matos' stretches here are longer and also very clear, beautiful! The bad part at this point of the album is that we've heard very much of that ultra-cleanness already, and it's starting to get on my nerves. Just more changes would be good. Then this harmonic and bombastic feeling is once again interrupted with insane, quick, fiery keyboard and guitar solos. This once again makes me think that they should use this spirit elsewhere in the album, too. Then in comes the serene part of this most progressive on the album, luckily. It's beautiful. Prior / at the beginning of it some children are speaking some lines through a sound effect that sounds as if they're on the phone. I think this is straight from the Arjen Lucassen album Guilt Machine
- On This Perfect Day. (Not that this album was necessary the original one using this, but I don't know of any others using this. The idea and "on the phone" sound effect sounds completely same, at least.)
Matos' singing is at its cleanest, which is saying something, and he sounds unbelievable throughout the song. This guy sings like a freaking angel! Some say not an angel, but that he meows like an alley cat, and that's also a good analogue...
The next song, Rhapsody in Black, is the "rough song" of the album. I like the strong, but maybe a bit ordinary riff, and strength and foot that start the song. The verses, though, tune this roughness down and leave just basic mid-tempo groove there. The roughness comes back in the chorus, which is otherwise sung in pretty dull melodies and doesn't really contain a memorable climax. This song has promise, but isn't quite there. Reminds me of newer Stratovarius stuff like Awaken the Giant and Leave the Tribe, which I find these kind of roughest moments on their respective albums. This song feels pretty big. If they only let this one grow and go to its own ways, make it freely progressive like the song Fantasia from Elements Pt. 1, this would've been a real monster. With its released form, though, Rhapsody in Black is just shaking, memorable track finally offering some variation to album's repetitive pattern of songs. Just that it isn't anything more. Uninspired chorus and too strict progression (or the lack thereof) water it down.
I Walk in Neon for me is completely uninteresting filler. Maybe cool, Strato-esque, cheesy lyrics, but otherwise this is almost exactly the same as the second track Come By the Hills was. I don't get it. Can't Tolkki even compose an album of even NAMELY different songs? He's way too stuck in his patterns. I say let the songs grow, do not restrict them, and use a bit more of that energy there are on many solos. And use the musicians to their potential. And, if you cannot compose, let Andre and Uli, for example. I need more variation even for my power medulz! Even though that genre isn't known of that much variation. Stupid track. The first part of the chorus is cool, but then it doesn't end there, but repeats it, even when it already got boring in the end of the first part. Argh!
A song named Don't Let Me Go serves as a must-have final ballad of the album. It has a calm atmosphere. These kind of songs are what mostly could've used this album's calm atmosphere, all in all. Unfortunately this ballad doesn't offer anything special, similar to most tracks on this album. Again, the chorus gives me "fourth Angel song" vibes a little too much. Maybe it's just me stuck in my own thoughts and presuppositions, not seeing Tolkki is actually doing some strong, unique music here. I only hear him deep in his own patterns and clichés. So deep he can't get out. Only some progressive parts like those on In Paradisum, Alayna and especially Santiago seem fresh for me. And the fiery solos following a calm chorus was a fresh change at start, but even that got old when the album went on long enough. I'd use two words to describe this album throughout, pretty much: nothing special.
Alright, I understand some people may actually like the album In Paradisum a lot. I mean, I kind of like it. It’s decent. It’s so basic, a bit plastic, cheesy, very clean, and its songs are very predictable songs (except for some progression and solos, and even the latter got familiar in the middle). Way too predictable for my tastes. No inner variation at all in them, basically. And good power metal has always had a hint of that. Not much happens in the songs at all, and when it does, it’s as if those were completely separate parts from the body of the song. The playing stops, the new part starts, period. Not much epicness really in that, there are mainly no passages to new content within a song – and there’s rarely even new content. Most of the choruses sound the same generic power metal; the climaxes of these album tracks are very alike, and they're not touching when you’ve heard enough already. Either I’m not a fan of music this straightforward or I know Tolkki’s past music just too well to find anything of interest in this worse album. BUT, as I said, I still kind of like it. While I think this album shouldn’t be so goddamn unpredictable and plastic and clean, its overall appearance is pretty calming actually. The album to me is a peaceful one, with a fiery solo here and there to wake me up, "to descend from the skies" every now and then. In Paradisum is like Elements Pt. 2 with much less inspirational and more repetitive songs. The album's graphics go very well together with the elegant appeal of the music. Especially the sky and universe part. And the pollution cloud represents the dirtier (solo) parts of the album that are stirring. If only the whole songs stormed wildly like those solos!
Come next album, they’ll have to descend completely into that smoky metropolis and deliver us a dirty good old kick-ass metal album. No fancy pants Stratovarius wannabe (that doesn’t work), no Symphony X
, no Luca Turilli
. They need to experiment, since they have Uli Kusch who can hack the hell out of his drums almost against the sense of rhytm, but still being in rhytm; they have Mikko Härkin who surprised with a pair of twisted and low-key solos; they have Timo Tolkki who surprisingly did pretty much the same a few times in his solos, and let these impurities take a (too) small step into his “heavenly paradise album” anyways; they have Jari Kainulainen who... apparently is a pretty good bassist that just doesn’t have a lot to say; and Andre Matos who in the last few years has demonstrated he can be very dimensional, rough, dirty, and I’d even like him to try something like Jon Oliva-like approach to REALLY deliver us the experimenting descend from heaven down to that polluted city below, or maybe even into its shitty sewer system. Or, to hell with, straight to hell, if you will! There is a glimpse of fiery melodies there, and they just need to break free from Timo’s very strict power metal mold to do that. They sure have musicians who could pull it out, and in a surprising, new way. They can still be positive for all I care and sing about important things in life, but let’s hope they do that with more heavy metaly passion the next time, right?
6/10 or 2/5 for being just too basic, yet pleasant.
(I always think 3/5 is closer to 8/10 than 6/10 somehow... weird. Thus 6/10 and 2/5. :D)