There is no rock soul in the world unaware of the turmoil associated with Finland's brightest son Stratovarius. Their latest release, Polaris, came to us in 2009 after the final departure of Timo Kolkki, the man who masterminded the band for almost 25 years. Preconceived opinions distract attention from the facts. This EP is only the second Stratovarius outing without Kolkki and so will be their next studio album Elysium that is due for release in January 2011. Having said that, Polaris surprised me in a positive way, it may not have been the best set of tunes in the Strato-sphere, but it certainly was very Strato-worthy.
As they have done before prior to the new release, Stratovarius lifts a small part of the curtain by releasing a five track EP. Darkest Hours is the forerunner to whet the appetite (or, should I say, to support the cash man). The disc reveals 20 percent of the forthcoming album by hosting two new tracks from Elysium. Add one demo version and two live tracks from the Polaris World Tour and, voila, your track listing is complete.
Both new tracks would have fitted Polaris nicely which indicates that the band will progress in Polaris style on Elysium. Darkest Hours is a catchy and keyboard driven opener, it sounds very... Stratovarius. Infernal Maze is equally good but a touch faster and has a few progressive elements to it. The demo version of Darkest Hours brings nothing extra to the table since it's no more than a light version of the original. The two live tracks Against the Wind (from 1995's Fourth Dimension) and Strato-evergreen Black Diamond (from 1997 Visions) are a better addition, but would still not cause me to spent Euros on this EP. The new tracks would, but in that case, I rather take my chances with Elysium. Darkest Hours works well as appetizer, but I can't wait for the main course.