This is remarkable in at least two aspects. Let's start with Michael Kiske. Few people have created such a legend around themselves, become such an untouchable icon, been the object for so many frustrated wishes - after such short time in the limelight. Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Michael Kiske ... The only difference is that Kiske is alive, just every now and then stating that he will not have anything to do with metal anymore. To a fan of Helloween's Keeper-era that makes him just as good as dead. Still he is resurrected over and over again; with Gamma Ray, with Avantasia, with Masterplan and now with Timo Tolkki's Revolution Renaissance.
That is about the smartest thing you can do when it comes to marketing. Make Kiske sing metal again and you will have at least twice as many articles, downloads and whatever you want in attention. It's like if someone has seen Elvis alive. Make Kiske sing on five tracks, and you will have almost everyone's attention. I have always considered this a strange phenomenon. The Keeper-records have some worn out hits and a few really crappy songs (mainly Kiske's contributions) and Kiske's constant high pitch vocals were monotonous, over the edge to annoying, in my opinion. So why this glorification of a man lost for the metal community for almost 20 years now (it went downhill already on Pink Bubbles right?)?
Nevertheless, Kiske is much more mature and varied as a singer now. He has a fantastic voice, when he uses the full range of it. And he has the ability to create a certain feeling - if he gets the right compositions to work with. It is perfectly clear by now that he cannot write those himself. Timo Tolkki can. The Stratovarius mainman still has it. And he makes a perfect match with the German diva. It's like they are on some kind of same level; both a bit strange and egocentric, but with a great heart for their art. I must say I have never heard Kiske perform better, in more harmony with the music. He does three of the more catchy tunes and two ballads. And they are just as made for him.
One should add here that Pasi Rantanen (previously in Thunderstone) also does a great job on three heavier tracks (probably too dangerous for Kiske). Actually those sounds equally designed for Rantanen. Last and least Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia) appears on two tracks. Not only are those songs more of standard power metal, Sammet doesn't sound all too engaged into the whole thing. According to Kiske he had the first pick of songs, so I guess Sammet had the last
The other aspect is of course Timo Tolkki himself and the story of Stratovarius. New Era was written as, and for long supposed to be, the next Stratovarius album. But problems within the band and with the record company put the recordings on hiatus. Tolkki was also busy with his rock opera project Saana. A side story of this was that he had an 'open' feud with the record company Frontiers regarding the Saana project, which ended with Tolkki ripping the contract to release the record with his own company. Just a few days later he announced the Revolution Renaissance project - together with Frontiers. At the same time we got to know that Stratovarius was no more. According to Tolkki this was a decision made last fall. According to the rest of the band they did not know about the guitarist's plans. The argument was conducted openly on the internet, of course, as usual nowadays.
So Tolkki put together a group of guest musicians and recorded New Era. Then he started to look after permanent band members to fill in for the coming tours and albums. As of this day he has just revealed every position of RR except the bass player; a collection of young, rather unknown musicians from Brazil and Azerbaijan. The opposite of what is performing on this record, so to speak. I cannot help grieving a bit that the constellation Tolkki/Kiske will not go further than this (Kiske also appeared on Tolkki's solo record Hymn To Life, 2002, by the way). At least not for now. As stated above, not of nostalgic reasons at all, but all on these new merits.
When an artist states that he will 'go back' to a classic era of his career (in this case Stratovarius highlight albums Visions and Episode) it usually doesn't mean anything else than that he dreams of the same success and hope to engage some curious former fans again. But New Era is a glimpse of Tolkkis best. In fact, the best he has accomplished since at least since Infinite (2000). It is catchy, it is melodic, it is varied and it has more hooks than an ABU Garcia store. Just listen to the ballad Keep The Flame Alive, a mix between A Tale That Wasn't Right (Helloween) and the Celtic pipes on the Titanic soundtrack by James Horner. Or as simple as genius hits such as I Did It My Way or the theme track Revolution Renaissance.
So, I never liked Kiske that much and it was a long time ago I gave up all hope on Tolkki as a composer. Add to that, that I almost grown sick and tired of the whole melodic power metal genre lately. Therefore it is with my own surprise that I just cannot stop listen to this. It really made me remember why I listened so much to bands like Stratovarius, Helloween, Freedom Call, Edguy and Masterplan in the past. Although it will probably stay a parenthesis in the metal community of today at large, it is a small wonder to me. Now Tolkki will rush into the making of the second album with his new band. And my fears are that New Era will be very hard to top. But let not that stop you from experience one of the best melodic metal albums in the 21 Century.