Stratovarius - Unbreakable EP Review

By Ashley Bailey

Stratovarius have had some cool artwork in the past (i.e. Polarius, Darkest Hours EP), but the covers for both the Unbreakable EP and Nemesis album take the biscuit. Thematically, they both depict a Valkyrie in the midst of an epic battle of Ragnarok proportions; and the contrast between the fantasy elements and real world warfare is beautiful. Though Unbreakable takes a more thoughtful, elegant approach, whilst Nemesis has jet fighters and nuclear explosions (and presumably Nordic men wrestling bears at street level).  

Unbreakable is the lead single of Nemesis, Stratovarius' fourteenth studio release - fourteen, count 'em, fourteen - and unlike most traditional singles, there isn't a B-side or a couple of live tracks tacked on for good measure. Instead, the EP serves as a mini retrospective of the band's history; featuring remastered tracks from the previous two albums - and 2000's highly rated Infinite. Making up the four classic tracks are: Falling Star (Polaris), The Game Never Ends (Elysium), Freedom and Why Are We Here (Infinite). The tracks are definitely superior to their previous incarnations - the clarity of the instrumentation having been vastly improved - and it's nice that you can actually hear Jari (Kainulainen)'s bass on the Infinite tracks.      

The single itself charts a fascinating new direction for Stratovarius: the musicianship is tighter and more focused than the previous two albums, which is something those albums lacked, despite rocking a progressive, grandiose sound. The band have married their melodic sound to heavier riff and hook laden guitar work. Everything unfolds at a brisk pace, whilst still retaining the 'epic' feeling characteristic of Strat's later albums: the chorus in particular feels very anthemic, and demands to be bellowed from the listener's lungs with full force. Jens (Johansson)'s keyboard work is particularly enjoyable and efficiently utilized: aside from the recherche intro, the keyboard only comes to the forefront during the choruses, allowing for a more straightforward sound. 

If Unbreakable is anything to go by, Nemesis is set to be a solid effort that builds upon solid effort, after solid effort. Its back to basics, but heavier approach should appeal to lifelong fans, as well as those who had avoided Stratovarius up until now: put off by their light, fluffy side and/or progressive indulgences. Rolf (Pilve) is a welcome addition on drums, but until the album is release it's difficult to determine just how well he fits in.  

Now, it must be stated that if you're a veteran Strat fan, you'll find little of interest here: remastered tracks aside, you probably already own the albums, so the majority of the EP's material will undoubtedly serve either as merely distracting fluff, or nice additions to compliment the single. Though, if you are a die hard fan and own a Stratovarius lunchbox and everything, then you'll probably still want it for your collection. For everyone else, this five track EP is as a rather handy, if brief, summary of Stratovarius' pre and post Tolkki eras. 

Devil Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \r