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Music / Stratovarius

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Left to right: Jens Johansson, Timo Kotipelto, Lauri Porra, Rolf Pilve and Matias Kupiainen

Stratovarius are a Finnish power metal band, est. 1984 by drummer/vocalist Tuomo Lassila, guitarist Staffan Stråhlman and bassist John Vihervä, under the name Black Water.

In 1985, guitarist Stråhlman left and was replaced by Timo Tolkki, who also took up vocal duties from Lassila. The band was renamed to its current moniker at Tolkki's suggestion—it's a combination of "Stratocaster" and "Stradivarius", a reference to Tolkki's neo-classical metal sensibilities. They recorded a demo, sent to various companies until CBS Finland picked them up in 1987.

Their first album, Fright Night, was released in 1989. Their second album was released three years later, but the band was dropped by CBS Finland. Jari Kainulainen became the new bassist in 1994, halfway through recording of their third album Dreamspace. Around this time, Tolkki's voice began to fail, and auditions for a new vocalist landed Lappajärvi native Timo Kotipelto. Fourth Dimension was recorded with him and released in 1995, to much success.

Following this, Tolkki massively overhauled the band's sound, getting rid of Lassila and keyboardist Antti Ikonen. In their place came, respectively, Jörg Michael from Germany and Jens Johansson from Sweden. This new lineup put out Episode in 1996, a major breakthrough for the band with a full string orchestra and choir in some songs, with such classics as "Father Time", "Will the Sun Rise?" and "Speed of Light".

They released three more albums over the next four years: Visions, Destiny and Infinite. They also toured extensively in this time, and recorded their first live album Visions of Europe in Greece.

After this, the band took a brief hiatus before the big project in their plans. To sate fans's wishes for new material, four new tracks were recorded for the compilation Intermission, which also had B-sides and bonus tracks from the previous albums. When they returned in 2003, Elements did not disappoint—with a peak in their new style of symphonic metal, it was the most epic thing Stratovarius had ever done, to the point it was split into two albums.

Unfortunately, after touring for Elements, Tolkki had a grueling Creator Breakdown that came with some absurd publicity stunts (like inexplicably replacing Kotipelto and Jörg and "converting" to Kabbalah); he was diagnosed with chronic depression and confined to a mental hospital.

Band issues were resolved by January 2005, with Kotipelto and Jörg back in the fray. By June, Jari Kainulainen amicably left the band, burned out from the constant touring at the time, and passed his spot on to Lauri Porra. With him, they recorded a self-titled album that spawned the single "Maniac Dance" and did a world tour in 2005 and 2006, where they visited the USA and Canada for the first time.

In 2008, after a long period of silence from the band, Timo Tolkki announced Stratovarius's breakup on the official website, citing too much internal tension. However, the rest of the band wasn't willing to throw in the towel just yet, and so Tolkki signed over the rights to the name and left for good. He'd written about 95% of the band's repertoire before this, so his leaving would mark a major change in the band's style.

The next year (2009) saw the release of Polaris, recorded with new guitarist Matias Kupiainen, and its single "Deep Unknown", followed two years later by Elysium and the "Darkest Hours" single. During this time, Jörg Michael discovered a malignant tumor and had to be temporarily replaced while he got treatment; he recovered, but ultimately retired from drumming after a farewell mini-tour.

In 2012, 23-year-old Rolf Pilve joined as their new drummer and has stayed ever since; with him, the band has released Nemesis in 2013, Eternal in 2015 and Best Of in 2016, with the new track "Until the End of Days".

The lineup as of 2013 is:

  • Timo Kotipelto - Vocals
  • Jens Johansson - Keyboards/Piano
  • Rolf Pilve - Drums
  • Lauri Porra - Bass guitar
  • Matias Kupiainen - Guitar

Former members:

  • Timo Tolkki - Guitar (Left the band in 2008 due to tension between the band members since 2004-05), also vocals until 1994 (though he continued to sing backing vocals after that)
  • Jörg Michael - Drums 1995-2012, left the band after a battle with cancer
  • John Vihervä - Original bass guitarist, left in 1984
  • Staffan Stråhlman - Original guitarist, left in 1985
  • Tuomo Lassila - Original drummer and vocalist, replaced as vocals by Tolkki and then kicked out in 1994
  • Jyrki Lentonen - Bass guitar from 1984-1989
  • Antti Ikonen - Keyboards from 1988-1995
  • Jari Behm - Bass guitar from 1989-1993
  • Jari Kainulainen - Bass guitar from 1993-2005, left due to personal reasons (though there was no drama involved)
  • Sami Kuoppamäki - Session drums from 1994-1995 due to Tuomo Lassila's arm injury
  • Anders Johansson - Replaced Jörg Michael briefly in 2004, though never featured on an album
  • Katriina "Miss K" Wiiala - Replaced Timo Kotipelto on vocals in 2004 briefly, though she was never featured on an album

Stratovarius are mainly known for their symphonic and classical tendencies (hence the genre of the band), often using choirs or orchestras as well as traditional metal instruments. They are also well-known for Timo Kotipelto's distinctive high-pitched singing voice.

Studio albums to date:

  • Fright Night (1989)
  • Stratovarius II (1991)
  • Twilight Time (1992)note 
  • Dreamspace (1994)
  • Fourth Dimension (1995)
  • Episode (1996)
  • Visions (1997)
  • Destiny (1998)
  • Infinite (2000)
  • Intermission (2001)
  • Elements Part I (2003)
  • Elements Part II (2003)
  • Stratovarius (2005)
  • Polaris (2009)
  • Elysium (2011)
  • Nemesis (2013)
  • Eternal (2015)
  • Enigma: Intermission II (2018)
  • Survive (2022)

Stratovarius provides examples of:

  • Arc Words:
    • "The times are changing" (or a variation of that) appears in a lot of their lyrics, like "The Kiss of Judas", "Destiny", and "Under Flaming Skies".
    • "The things will be alright" appears a few times as well.
  • Audience Participation Song: "Distant Skies" has Kotipelto telling the crowd "Destination unknown" and the crowd responding with the song's title.
  • Casual Car Giveaway: Happens in the music video of "Hunting High and Low", where the protagonist gives his car to a pair of hobos, as part of spiritual liberation from his former life.
  • Call-Back: The pelican that's on the cover for Elysium also appears on the cover for Infinite in the background.
  • Chronological Album Title: Stratovarius II is the second album, Fourth Dimension is the fourth, and Infinite is the eighth album and the infinity symbol represents a sideways 8.
  • Cover Version:
    • Included on the Intermission album are covers of "Bloodstone" by Judas Priest and "Kill the King" by Rainbow, as well as a live cover of "I Surrender" by Rainbow.
    • The single for S.O.S. contains a cover of "Blackout" by Scorpions.
  • Distinct Double Album: Elements Pt. 1 and 2 were conceptualized together but were released as standalone albums several months apart.
  • Epic Rocking: Over the 7-minute mark we have:
    • Fright Night has "Fright Night" (8:13).
    • Stratovarius II/Twilight Time has "Madness Strikes At Midnight" (7:20).
    • Fourth Dimension has "We Hold The Key" (7:53) and "Twilight Symphony" (7:00).
    • Episode has "Babylon" (7:09) and "Night Time Eclipse" (7:58).
    • Visions has "Visions (Southern Cross)" (10:15).
    • Destiny has "Destiny" (10:15) and "Anthem of the World" (9:31).
    • Infinite has "Mother Gaia" (8:18) and "Infinity" (9:22).
    • Elements Pt. 1 has "Soul of a Vagabond" (7:22), "Fantasia" (9:56), Papilion (7:01) and "Elements" (12:01).
    • Stratovarius has "Back to Madness" (7:43), "Götterdämmerung (Zenith of Power)" (7:13) and "United" (7:02).
    • Elysium has "Elysium (18:07).
    • Eternal has "The Lost Saga" (11:39).
    • Survive has "Voice of Thunder" (11:10).
  • Fake Shemp:
    • All the bass parts in Stratovarius II were performed by Timo Tolkki, as despite appearing in band photos and being credited as the bassist, Jari Behm had already left the band before recording the album.
    • Session musician Sami Kuoppämaki played drums on four tracks for Dreamspace, due to Tuomo Lassila coming down with an arm injury.
  • Longest Song Goes First: Destiny opens with "Destiny" (10:15).
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • Elysium closes with "Elysium" (18:07).
    • Eternal closes with "The Lost Saga" (11:39).
    • Survive closes with "Voice of Thunder" (11:10).
  • New Sound Album: The Self-Titled Album Stratovarius was, ironically, remarkably different from the usual Stratovarius sound, more in the veins of riff-driven hard rock than the melodic and speedy power metal. It didn't stick, and the follow-ups returned to the power metal sound.
    • Nemesis includes notable influences from electronic music.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: In a few of their songs. Kotipelto also seems to be fond of doing this live.
    • "The song is called... S! O! S!"
    • "Tokyo, tonight, you! Hold! The! KEY!"
    • "At! The! Speed! Of! Light!"
    • "Zero! Three! Zero! Three! Six! Six!"
    • "And the wisdom to know! The! Difference!"
    • "Legions" has "Raise! Your! Hands! For! US!!"
  • Shout-Out: "Know the Difference" quotes and paraphrases Desiderata, and the chorus is a paraphrase of the Serenity Prayer.
  • Talky Bookends: "Event Horizon" combines this trope with Last Note Nightmare: alarms and an automated voice warning about approaching a black hole.