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Clear Strato-spheres

Sometimes the name of the band says it all. Brilliantly named Stratovarius has not strayed from their melodic heavy line, though many blitz-groups playing over-speed, death, last judgement and grunge-crap have been tearing the scene apart. Strong guitarist Timo Tolkki has been pushing the group's 15-year career from almost the beginning, from the Smoke On The Water -riff to the current, impressively up-heading Strato-rolling. Together with gloriously singing Timo Kotipelto, powerfully roaring line-up, and the producer Karmila, Tolkki brightens the gold glittering under his rainbow. The latest record Visions is a hell of a strong selection of great catchy melodies, really tight riffs, and classical elements magnificently intersecting with drum battering.

"I started playing classical with nylon stringed guitar when I was 7", begins Timo. "I remember liking Abba even before that. Also surf music was close to my heart. Of course I had to have some kind of tune ear, because my cousin had a guitar and I learned to tune it with open strings. Those six notes just were in my head. By the way, the first song I played was Hepokatti maantiellä poikittain..."

"Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple was the first significant song. I heard it on the radio, probably a Made In Japan live version. I've been keeping an eye on that band, though I think they could've as well quitted, as they don't have the same kind of life after Ritchie Blackmore left. The first record I bought was Rainbow On Stage, which I bought again on CD, because the original double is all wore out. I have also a video of the gig after Stage. You can only admire Dio's singing. No echos, anywhere", adores Tolkki.

"All that can still be heard in the music of our band, even though there's faster tempo. Melodies and the song structure is from there. They're all what I miss in the most of today's music. For me grunge style represents some kind of everyday crap, and new stereotypical bands are coming out one after another. Queensrÿche is the biggest disappointment, I used to really appreciate them. The influence of classical music can also be heard, and especially baroque is the right period for me, especially songs in minor key."

"My first big gig was Rainbow's 'Difficult to Cure' -show, and I saw all the others as well. Whitesnake / Ozzy Osboune was one of the first ones as well. David Coverdale impressed me as a person and a user of a microphone stand. Ozzy had cut his hair, and I remember my reaction: Who the hell is that? I've seen Iron Maiden as well. But the biggest thing was Manowar, even though it was a really short gig at the House of Culture."

At the end of May Stratovarius will be going to a Spanish festival, which is headlined by again improved Rainbow. Timo is going to get to shake hands with his hero. Timo missed him at Dio -show, when he didn't believe that Dio would still be hanging backstage. Bandmate Kotipelto got to chat with the metal legend. In July Stratovarius will be touring South-America.

"Visions will be released here and there, also in the USA, where the markets have refreshed, and heavy metal is pretty big under the surface. The secret of our success is that we have fans in many metal fan groups. Aerial differences can be seen for example on Visions, where Japanese version has fast Black Diamond as opening track, and European version has The Kiss Of Judas. This record was made pretty quickly, because the songs were created easily. And they work well too. I don't think shit is worth releasing", emphasizes Tolkki.

Stratovarius thanks the well working distribution of their label Noise International, and Timo encourages [Finnish] metal bands to get to foreign labels. With local multi-national labels you don't get the same kind of attention. Stratovarius still has one option left. Master-deal has worked on the basis that they've done whatever they've wanted, and then given the finished stuff to be released. Live recording from the material of three latest albums has also been considered. The decision has been speeded up by four different bootlegs available in Japan.

"Some live cuts have been released on single. It's a little perverse, because that's where the band is most naked. You can make anyone sound good in studio, but you can be really good or really bad live. And I want to make live recording the traditional way, not improving it later in studio. We've already recorded one Tavastia -gig and on the next tour we'll be also recording a video", reveals Timo.

Timo doesn't consider himself really a guitar hero, but more like a movie director who has a "big picture" of the band to a certain limit. "We keep the style in certain frames. Inside it we storm as much as we want to, but we don't go outside! For studio albums I compose most of the stuff with drum machine and guitar, and sometimes I even sing. Others get tapes, learn songs, and then we'll arrange them together."

List by Timo Tolkki

1. DEEP PURPLE: Smoke On The Water

- This is where it all began for me. When I heard that magical riff, I immediately wanted an electric guitar, and I'm still on that road.


- My biggest role model. When I was 16 I spent days learning Ritchie's solos, and I could play even 10 hours a day. Technically restricted when compared with current guitarists, but did "some" classic songs and riffs.


- This man didn't make a bad piece of music. Very significant influence for myself. I think that there will never be another such musical genius as J. S. Bach was.


- Still the best singer in the world, despite current works. The album Holy Diver was very important for me, and now at Tavastia Club the circle was closed in many ways. I met my wife Anna-Maria 10 years ago at a gig on Dio's Dream Evil -tour.

5. QUEENSRYCHE: Operation Mindcrime

- Incredible band, incredible record, and incredible sounds! Pathetic that the band has later turned to make, surprise, trendy grunge-shit, which only proves how much power their and Metallica's Q Prime -management has. Queensryche is dead.


- I don't tap so much, but Eddie influenced my playing more on psychological level When I heard the song Eruption I nearly quitted playing, and for years I didn't understand how he did the trick. The music of Van Halen has always been too American, but I can't deny Eddie's skills as a guitarist.


- My favourites with Purple and Rainbow. Especially Number Of The Beast and Piece Of Mind are great stuff. Also Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, though everyone didn't quite get it. During the 80's they released killer albums every year, which proves my claim that current bands are two lazy, when there may be even five years between albums.

8. METALLICA: Black Album

- Incredibly excellent record. Production is incredible, and often in reference use in studio and on gigs. Pitiful that the band released Load (of shit) -album, which is weaker compared to even against other grunge-shit makers. I hate people, who run with the music trends and make the stuff that's on the top of the charts on their records. But it can't beat the power of the Black Album!!!


- I used to laugh at this band, until I saw them live at the House of Culture in 1990. It is still the best gig I've seen. Even though it's easy to laugh at the image of these guys, and the new record Louder Than Hell doesn't fully convince, Manowar deserves its place in the front row of metal bands, because of their music and playing skills.

10. MIKKO KARMILA: Good friend and excellent producer

- Several Finnish bands have gone abroad to make their records, and come back with for example drum sounds that could be made in any Finnish demo studio. It has cost another zero to the budget and the bands never see any royalties. Put Karmila, 200.000 marks and a band to the studio, and you'll get completely internationally comparable package out.


- I have no musical vices. I don't mess with different music styles, but trust in the power of classical music and melodic heavy. My friend Juho Juntunen could be a little vice. It's a kind of experience to see the man at 4am on the streets of Osaka shouting at every passing Japanese : Fuck Honda!!! Fuck Yamaha!!!

Text by Asko Alanen
Published in Soundi 5/97
Translation by Sami-Pekka Haavisto

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