A brief history, Tolkki got tired of Stratovarius, the money situation was awful, and the band was getting dry. He released his metal opera (And I say metal only because that’s how Tolkki advertised it, I’m not even sure if it qualified as a rock opera) titled “Saana: Warrior of Light Pt. I”. With good reason, Pt. II never saw the light of day.
The next 3 albums were all recorded with TT’s new band, Revolution Renaissance. New Era was recorded by an “All star cast” which, outside of Tolkki consisted of two easily recognizable names, and the only people really pulling their weight on the record were the members that TT borrowed from Thunderstone. After this, TT got a real band together, of experienced but mostly unknown musicians from all around the world.
Age of Aquarius took a darker direction previously unseen in TT’s music, but suffered from being rushed to the studio and many of the songs seemed incomplete or unpolished. In 2010, Tolkki announced that Revolution Renaissance would do one more album and disband. This caused a lot of fans to not even bother with “Trinity”, and I can’t say I blame them for ignoring a record from a band that’s already announced it will disband. This is a shame though, because Trinity was really the best of what RR was capable of. The vocal performances finally started to really improve, Tolkki’s guitar solos were stunning (Plagiarism controversy aside, that’s another story, but really, it isn’t a story at all), and the tempo and energy was both cranked up, something AoA lacked.
Strangely enough, right around this time, rumors surfaced about a lineup of a new band consisting of Andre Matos, Jari Kainluainen, Bob Katsionis, Uli Kusch, and Timo Tolkki. The name “Symfonia” was attached to the project. Given that it was only a forum post with nothing to back it up, it was regarded as a sort of pipe dream. Kusch and Matos had no previous association with Tolkki, and as far as the world was aware, Kainluainen and Tolkki weren’t exactly on speaking terms.
Oddly enough, the only part of the rumor that turned out to be false was the involvement of Katsionis, which is the part I thought was most logical. But here we are, with the release of “In Paradisium”. In case you didn't know, Symfonia features Andre Matos (A veteran of Angra and Shaaman, as well as his own solo career) on vocals, Timo Tolkki (A veteran of Stratovarius and Revolution Renaissance) on guitar, Mikko Harkin (Sonata Arctica, Mehida, Wingdom, a few others) on Keyboads, Uli Kusch (Gamma Ray, Helloween, Masterplan, others) on drums, and Jari Kainluainen (Stratovarius, Evergrey, Others) on bass. Now you may note that the summary mentions little of the career troubles of the rest of the band. While Uli Kusch and Andre Matos in particular have intricate histories, ultimately the success or failure of this band will be pinned on Timo Tolkki.
---Review starts here---
Lets get to the basics. Symfonia is a cheesy name for a band. In Paradisium is a cheesy name for an album. The artwork features purple angels and a shiny city. Somewhere, Luca Turilli is pouting that he didn’t think of that first. Oh, and this is maybe Tolkki’s most “Metal” record since Infinite or Elements Pt. II.
The record is full to the brim with songs like “Fields of Avalon”, “Santiago”, “Forevermore”, “Rhapsody in Black”, and “I Walk in Neon”, powerful, with crunchy, Episode style guitars, soaring vocals, and brilliant solos. Uli Kusch lays down a monstrous drumming performance, and Matos is in really good form for his age.
On a lot of songs however, the real star is the most unknown member, Mikko Harkin. After an entire song of straight crushing power metal, Tolkki does something strange on Santiago and plays some very fruity and clean guitar solos. It’s a pretty nice contrast, but very strange. Right at the end of the solo, Tolkki’s guitar starts crunching again, and Harkin rips a keys solo aimed directly at the throne of Jens Johansson. Tolkki’s rebuttal is inspiring, it’s also one of the tightest solos he’s played in years. Something about this crop of new blood has really got him back on top of his game.
Come By the Hills is in this same mold. Tolkki showed some signs of really ripping on Trinity, but this is a more polished approach, that people are listening to, and its free of controversy. The solo isn’t that long, but he does a lot with it.
Rhapsody in Black is another really well done track in the mold that we haven’t seen from TT in a LONG time. The main riff is a killer, and it really pays tribute to the idea of head banging, something that Stratovarius never quite did. This was originally supposed to be the single, but I think the band ended up making the decision to release the title track for radio play instead. That was a mistake.
In Paradisium, the 9 and a half minute title track, was the first we heard from the album. Coupled with the artwork, this foreshadowed all sorts of awful things for the band. The song would have felt right at home on the “Destiny” record, except since that already had “Destiny” and “Anthem of the World”, it really had no place. The problem is that the song is at some parts, too repetitive, and others, really confusing. The intro choirs are a nice touch, but I would have preferred to start with a riff. There’s also the issue of the sound clips in the middle of the song, which seem to just feature children talking about how awful their lives are. What the fuck? It’s not an awful song, but it really suffers from some mistakes that (Fortunately) the rest of the album does not.
After In Paradisium, the band released an extended sample of the song “Pilgrim Road”. It’s very happy, with a slight tint of folk, and a hefty serving of cheese. It’s only 3 and a half minutes, a good deal shorter than the average song length on the record, which seems to float at a healthy 5 minutes. What’s important here is that Tolkki again proves that an old dog can learn new tricks, with quite the crafty, squeal-y, shred-y, guitar solo.
The last parts of this record to address are the “Obligatories” The two songs that appear on every Timo Tolkki or Timo Tolkki influence record in the last 15 years. The acoustic ballad, and the power ballad. In the “Power” category, is Alayna. These have always been hit or miss for me. Sometimes, there are songs like “The land of Ice and Snow”, which are pulled off beautifully, with precision and care. Other times, you get bloated monstrosities like “4000 Rainy Nights”, which practically collapse on themselves with the pretentious cheese.
Having Matos sing these are risky business. His voice is far more nasally and potentially whiny that Kotipelto’s. I am glad though, that Alayna is restrained enough to not let anything really bad pass. I would say it’s no better or worse than “Fairness Justified” from Elysium. However, where I would usually say that the record could have gone without it, this one, especially the guitar solo, feels particularly inspired.
I was really hoping that “Don’t Let Me Go” would be a return to my favorite Tolkki standard, his inspiring classical acoustic parts. What always separated him from his peers in power metal was his ability to play a really beautiful acoustic ballad, only Blind Guardian was really on par in that department. The guitar parts are mostly just strumming, and its Matos’ Melodica that gives the song its character.
So in summary, I have to compliment this record on a lot of things. There is a lot of balance between some serious talent, the composing team of Tolkki and Matos is excellent, and with hopeful future contributions from Uli Kusch and Mikko Harkin, it will only get better. The band did stumble on the title track, and the overall presentation could use some work, but the music, for the most part, speaks for itself. Symfonia is here to stay.