Well, here we are with the second of the two Elements albums. Despite being named Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, being released around the same time, and having cover art with some half-person reaching up to a glowing ball, these albums don’t really have a lot to do with each other. While Elements Pt. 1 was a delve into broader and more symphonic territories, Pt. 2 shows Stratovarius returning mostly to a sound that’s more, hmm, Stratoesque.
Strangely, the few songs on Elements Pt. 2 that continue the band’s experimentation are also the ones that I find to be the most memorable. The album opener Alpha and Omega breaks the traditional Stratomold of leading with a short, upbeat number; its haunting atmosphere and slower pace make you feel as if you’re hovering above vast oceans and plains. This song absolutely NAILS the “epic” sound that Stratovarius whiffed on in the first part of the Elements project. Dreamweaver, too, is a solid track, being more of a midtempo hard rocker than a power metal song. The chorus to this one is great. And I know I’m in the minority here, but I really like Awaken the Giant. It’s slow, but still headbangable, and the distorted vocals actually work here for reasons that I will outline later. Regardless, all three of these songs strike the perfect balance between progression in the Stratovarius sound and typical melodic power metal.
Other than that, it’s business as usual for Tolkki and company. This means that the power metal songs are, erm, heavily inspired by earlier Stratovarius, and the ballads are forgettable. I Walk to My Own Song, I’m Still Alive, and Know the Difference will probably sound pretty damn familiar if you’ve hear anything this band has recorded before 2003. But therein lies the problem: it’s a little too familiar. The lack of originality isn’t as blatant as it would become later on (there are no recycled riffs or anything here), but these tracks are still very much alike to those you would find on Episode or Visions. That might appeal to you anyway, but be warned: the individual performances aren’t as good here. Save for the always steady Jorg Michael on drums, Stratovarius sounds like they’re just going through the motions. The once-mighty Timo Kotipelto, with less choirs and tri-vocal layering on this album, sounds weak and tired from the beating his vocal chords have taken over the years. He’s still hitting the notes, but sings with noticeably less power than on previous Stratovarius releases. Tolkki’s riffing is, again, repetitive, and his solos don’t add anything other than taking up part of the songs. Jens Johannsson appears to be playing his keyboard just because he’s in the band and Tolkki can’t figure out how to incorporate him in the songwriting. That’s more or less the impression that I’m getting from listening to the fast tracks. They’re solid alone, but underwhelming when all put on the same album.
On the surface, all of the ballads might seem pretty bad. Slow songs have never been Tolkki’s forte, even at the height of his creativity, but in truth, these aren’t so horrid. They aren’t good, but they aren’t bad either. Season of Faith’s Perfection and Luminous are just sort of there, but Liberty is actually a decent song with a catchy guitar solo, and I might have upgraded it a little more if it wasn’t another album closer (STOP ENDING ALBUMS WITH BALLADS!!! I swear…) I’m having a hard time saying anything else about these, so that should give you an idea of how effective they are.
So, there’s a lot of repetition, three of the songs are taking up blank space, and I still don’t like Tolkki. Then why the hell am I giving this three stars? Um, there really isn’t anything that’s BAD on Elements Pt. 2. Yes, there are only a few good songs that will stick with you, but there aren’t any moments where I’m inclined to hit skip or painfully rip out my headphones. It’s true that the ballads aren’t spectacular and the songs where Stratovarius usually excels aren’t that memorable either, but after filling their previous album with pointless and bland crap, Stratovarius have made an album with direction and some idea of what they’re doing. That, and it still might be of some value for the band’s hardcore fans because it actually sounds like Stratovarius this time.
Giving Elements Pt. 2 another leg up on its predecessor is the production. Again, it doesn’t sound a lot different than any Stratovarius albums except for Elements Pt. 1, but that’s mostly good news. Michael’s drums don’t sound nearly as triggered, and the whole thing isn’t as flat. Making more room for the actual METAL instrumentation, perhaps?
So I guess this isn’t the worst album you can get. It’s definitely not where you would want to start in the Stratovarius discography, and you still might prefer Elements Pt. 1 over this, depending on your tastes and tolerance for overlong and boring songs. Elements Pt. 2 is a fun listen, although pretty unfulfilling, and would be the last decent effort by the band for quite some time.