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Stratovarius was founded in 1984 in Finland under the name Black Water. They went through a number of personal, style and name changes before the band found its own voice. The founding members were Tuomo Lassila, Staffan Stråhlman, and John Vihervä. By 1985, the name had changed to Stratovarius (a combination of Stratocaster and Stradivarius), and guitarist/vocalist Timo Tolkki entered the band, replacing Stråhlman.
Tolkki became the driving force and mastermind of the band, assuming relatively complete control of the song-writing. He brought along not only strong rock influences, but also a neo-classical tinge. The band released a demo to various record companies by 1987, finally being picked up by CBS Finland. In 1989, their debut album Fright Night was released, following two singles. After being dropped by CBS, the band went through several member changes, but they managed to release a second album on another label. In 1994 they released their third album, Dreamspace, featuring new bass player Jari Kainulainen, and after that, a full-time singer joined the band: Timo Kotipelto. The release of Fourth Dimension (featuring Kotipelto on vocals) in 1995 was a great success, but internal differences in the band, particularly about the future musical direction, prompted the departure of long-time drummer Tuomo Lassila and keyboardist Antti Ikonen.
Two new non-Finnish members were recruited: Swedish keyboardist Jens Johansson, of Yngwie Malmsteen fame; and German drummer Jörg Michael. With the fifth release Episode, Stratovarius had finally found its sound and had a strong, diverse line-up. Episode was a grand project, featuring a large choir and a string orchestra. It spawned some of the all-time greatest Stratovarius hits, such as Father Time and Will The Sun Rise. This line-up released three hugely successful albums over the years: Visions in 1997, Destiny in 1999, and Infinite in 2000. With every album, their fame and fan base expanded, and they started gaining a stronger following outside Scandinavia, particularly in Japan. In 2003, the band released its most epic project yet, the two album suite named Elements. With these albums, they reached a peak in their progressive and symphonic style of power-metal. The first album, Elements pt. 1, was released in early 2003, followed by a world tour. Elements pt. 1 was followed by Elements pt. 2, also released on Nuclear Blast records the same year. In late 2003, after signing with Sanctuary UK, Tolkki's behaviour rapidly began to become extremely strange. The band was in turmoil, nobody really understood the situation, and Tolkki's mental condition started to come into question. In April 2004, he was hospitalised following a breakdown, and after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder ("manic depression") and released from the hospital, negotiations and attempts at reconciliation with the rest of the band began. In January 2005, Stratovarius reunited. Tolkki was able to manage his illness and the band finished work on a new album, the self-titled Stratovarius. In June 2005, Jari Kainulainen left the band, and was replaced by Lauri Porra.
In the fall of 2005, Tolkki was back on his feet, Stratovarius had reconciled, and was on the road in the US, and the album Stratovarius was released by the label Sanctuary. Stratovarius was at times progressive and experimentally skewed, and a rather dark record, which is perhaps understandable given the circumstances under which it had been recorded. It was a daring and ambitious album which took the band in a new direction.
But, unfortunately, dark clouds were shadowing the band's path once again. In 2005, Sanctuary was starting to have severe financial problems and the whole label collapsed just as the record was released. Much of Sanctuary's staff was fired, the stock price plunged, and banks and other creditors circled the company like vultures. The band played over 100 shows without any support from their record company, appearing at numerous festivals, and a long period of extensive touring all over Europe, Japan and South America began. One highlight was the two-month Monster Metal Madness tour together with Shakra and HammerFall. It was a package of true power metal at its best, conquering Europe like an avalanche.
In the meantime, Sanctuary's financial troubles had really deepened. The band had to enter into a legal process with them to be able to release their next album. But the battle with this giant sinking multinational ship dragged on for more than a year, and it drained a lot of the spirit out of the band. In the end these tough times proved too much for Tolkki. In April 2008 he announced that he was not able to wait any more, he left Stratovarius and its debts and troubles behind, and gave the remaining members his blessing to do whatever they want with the band and the legal case, and formed a new band, Revolution Renaissance. The rest of Stratovarius' members found themselves in legal limbo and with a heavy legal debt, but they were without preconceptions also all working on new music.
The turning point came when a settlement with Sanctuary was finally achieved in late summer 2008. A burst of creative energy followed. The young and very talented Finnish lead guitarist, Matias Kupiainen, joined the band.
In September 2008, freed from many burdens of negativity, they found the freedom to go into seclusion for almost a month in a cottage by the sea in a Finnish forest to relax, laugh, write songs, be creative together, and record. And they found themselves being a band reborn. The result is a melodic, powerful, fresh, tight, and technically elaborate new album with the working title King of Nothing. It is a positive, powerful album that Stratovarius fans all over the world are certain to take to their hearts.
Stratovarius is presently looking for a new label partner and is preparing for their first live shows of 2009.