Elements, Pt. 2

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Scandinavian prog-power-metal specialists Stratovarius begin their sequel to 2002's Elements, Pt. 1 with a neo-classical dirge called "Alpha and Omega," which showcases their melodic muscle and top-notch playing. Musically, the group are masters of fantasy-metal excess, but bereft of the Dungeons & Dragons hyperbole employed by similar artists. The series as a whole draws from blueprints laid out by Helloween's Keeper of the Seven Keys series, borrowing liberally from their nursery rhyme choruses, ferocious double-basslines, and operatic vocals -- lead singer Timo Kotipelto channels Helloween crooner Michael Kiske throughout -- without the thematic focus. There are some inspired moments -- the brutal "Awaken the Giant" -- and anthems like "Season's of Faith's Perfection," and the soaring "Liberty," succeed with bombast and Queensr├┐che-like melodrama. Elements, Pt. 2 may disappoint some fans with its lack of epics and torch-heavy balladry, but there's a strange charm to these songs that serves as a testament to Stratovarius' offbeat sincerity, though it is hard to forgive lyrics like "I know your name, it's called Mr. Mean/One thing I've learned you don't know beans."

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