It's always sad to see a longtime member of the band retire, but last year, that is what Stratovarius drummer Jörg Michael did. Stepping away from such a position is never easy for the band and fans alike, so on their last tour, they gave Jörg an incredible send-off: a DVD/2CD album featuring his last show in Tampere, Finland, in front of an amazingly hype crowd.
The songs on Under Flaming Winter Skies span the six albums over sixteen years of the band's existence. What better way to say farewell than to not only play a final show in your homeland but to have an amazing memoir of that show? Let's face it, most people who leave bands don't get this kind of goodbye. But enough about this aspect, let's talk about the album.
Like my fellow reviewer Maryland Matt, I am usually not one for live albums for the same reasons. They're usually released as a way to fulfill a contractual obligation or because the band is in a rut or going through a change and needs to keep their name relevant. Yet, Under Flaming Winter Skies was not created for any such purpose. It was created with passion and sincere, heartfelt emotion. You can hear it from the opening notes of the the song for which it was named, Under Winter Skies. The album starts with a solid mid-tempo rocker and then steps on the gas, ripping through Strato's more uptempo, singalong numbers. Eagleheart. Speed of Light. The epic 10 minute odyssey Track Twilight. Father Time. Even their slower numbers here are engaging, which is usually not the case with power metal bands. Stratovarius makes it work so well, and proves that it is not Zee Germans who are the master race. It's the Finns. They're unstoppable.
Throughout this whole double live CD I did not hear one mistake, one flub, one "whoops", or bad note from anyone. The solos are short and to the point, no wankery at all. Jens Johnassen is, as always, a monster on the keys. I would like to make a special note about vocalist Timo Kotipelto, his performance here really is one in a million. Absolutely flawless, and singing for 2+ hours is definitely a challenge for anyone. He proves here that his name deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Bruce Dickinson when talking about metal singers.
And here I am kicking myself because I always found Stratovarius to be a bit on the boring side. Their studio recordings were always good but just didn't keep me wanting to come back. That certainly is not the case here. The precision and execution of these songs, combined with the sheer power of them coming through my speakers, will definitely have me spinning this many, many times. This one made a fan out of me. I hope that their next release with new drummer Rolf Pilve is just as amazing as what they did here.