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Timo Tolkki - "Saana - Warrior Of Light Part 1: Journey To Crystal Island" (CD)

Timo Tolkki - "Saana - Warrior Of Light Part 1: Journey To Crystal Island" CD cover image

"Saana - Warrior Of Light Part 1: Journey To Crystal Island" track listing:

1. Saana Mountain (1:22)
2. Saana's Theme (0:40)
3. The End (2:59)
4. Sadness Of The World (3:33)
5. 3 At 7 (4:27)
6. Silence Of The Night (3:03)
7. Sunrise At Saana Mountain (1:49)
8. Journey To Crystal Island (1:57)
9. Crystal Island (2:38)
10. Freya's Theme (1:38)
11. You've Come A Long Way (2:22)
12. The Letter (4:28)
13. Who Am I? (1:30)
14. Freya's Teachings (3:21)
15. Warrior Of Light (3:28)
16. Journey To The Azores (4:47)

Reviewed by on January 22, 2011

"''Saana' is a masterpiece – a melodic, mostly classical piece that may not exactly fit in the metal niche, but will definitely satisfy those with an appreciation for more highbrow compositions.'"

Sometimes it seems the U.S. is the last to know about something good – such is the case with former Stratovarius guitarist Timo Tolkki's rock opera, the first installment of which is called "Saana – Warrior of Light Part 1: Journey To Crystal Island." Released in Europe nearly a year ago, and leaked on Youtube as early as 2008, this masterpiece is scheduled to hit the U.S. on February 22, 2011. And "Saana" is a masterpiece – a melodic, mostly classical piece that may not exactly fit in the metal niche, but will definitely satisfy those with an appreciation for more highbrow compositions.

One of the complaints I kept coming across while reading user comments on Youtube was that "Saana" was boring. Well, to those people I say that while "Saana" lacks the power metal guitar and drums typically associated with Stratovarius, the songs still have a familiar feel to them. Tolkki has simply amped up the symphonic side, bringing to the table woodwinds, brass and piano instead. And anyone who likes classical vocal style will be blown away by guest soprano Jennifer Sowle. Her role as the lead character Saana is mesmerizing, and I'd love to hear her pair up with some symphonic metal bands.

The first ten tracks of this installment center around Sowle's character, and as Tolkki has pointed out, they're all basically one song with breaks, much like a true opera. At least listening to it digitally, this makes for a few spots where the breaks between tracks don't quite work, but this is a minor flaw. Of this portion of the album, the best track is probably "3 At 7," a duet that finds piano and orchestral instruments providing the perfect backdrop. Hushed and calm until this point, there's a point in this song where the brass instruments enter with a big crescendo and then fade away again, but the moment will bring chills. "3 At 7" is truly a masterpiece.

At track eleven we finally meet Freya, who Saana will learn is actually her mother, though not necessarily biological. As a Norse goddess, all her followers are considered her children, and it becomes evident that Saana was a lost soul who perhaps had not learned the teachings of the goddess before now. Freya is played by Finnish female vocalist Heikki Poyhia, of the power metal band Twilightning, and her more mature, deeper voice is the perfect contrast to Sowle's pure first soprano.

With the appearance of Freya comes a little heavier sound, with a more pulsing tempo. "Freya’s Teachings" has a short-lived power metal feel with some chugging guitar, but the next song, "Warrior Of Light" should please power metal fans who maybe were disappointed with the rest of the opera. It's the turning point of the album, and though it's near the end, it promises that Part 2 will probably be more palatable to fans who favor a heavier sound.

When you reach the final note of the closing track "Journey To The Azores," you feel like you have to take a moment to take it all in, almost like watching a suspense movie and knowing you need to watch it again because there were parts you missed. Tolkki has created a true work of art with "Saana," and the most impressive part is that with the exception of guest vocalists and drums, he is solely responsible for all the other instruments, the mixing, and production. That alone makes this one of my top picks for album of the new year.

Highs: Almost everything about this album is stellar, but the guest performance by Jennifer Sowles is breathtaking.

Lows: Very minor flaws in transitions between tracks, but this is probably due to the fact that it's really one song with several parts.

Bottom line: Ex-Stratovarius guitarist Timo Tolkki wins big with this epic rock opera that leaves you hungry for part two.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)