Finland’s melodic power metal powerhouse Stratovarius’ new live 2-CD set Under Flaming Winter Skies – Live in Tampere, released in North America on August 28, says goodbye to departing drummer Jörg Michael, who was part of the group for over a decade. No, the band isn’t breaking up. In fact, they are returning in 2013 with a new album. But this two-hour release is still all about Jörg, and features a live recording of one of five concerts the band held to say farewell to him.
Right off the bat, I should be clear that it takes a lot for a live album to impress me. And I have high expectations from my epic metal. I want atmosphere. I want to be taken into another world. I want to escape. And I want technical skill. And it seems that, while Stratovarius have buckets of the latter (which they highlight with entire tracks titled “guitar solo”, “keyboard solo” and “drum solo”), it seems to me that there is a little something missing on the atmospheric front. This may seem like a “careless whisper” (okay, enough with the George Michael jokes) to a hardcore fan, but in the end, Under Flaming Winter Skies simply doesn’t hold up so well for a casual listener.
As someone who regularly gets excited at the prospect of 20+ minute epic metal tracks, I found myself holding back yawns with this one. That being said, there is a lot here for existing fans. Here is a mix of songs that more or less span Stratovarius’ career with Jörg. They are recorded with quality and put into the form of a collector’s item, and I do have to admit that the energy in this release is slightly electric. Just be warned that, as a casual listener, the highlight of this release for me was the cover of Deep Purple’s “Burn”, which was then unfortunately followed by an impossibly sappy cover of “Behind Blue Eyes”.
The real treat – for fans, anyway – may be the DVD release of Under Flaming Winter Skies – Live in Tampere, which features a documentary about the band’s history, exclusive interviews and special comments from Jörg regarding his departure. So if you’re a big fan, if you are interested in the band’s history, or if you just have a love for dragged-out, synth-y keyboard solos, buy the DVD, which already hit #1 on Finnish charts. If not, try to make sense of the rest of their discography before delving into this one. You don’t gotta have faith, after all (whoops, that one just slipped out).