Artist: Serious Black
Album Title: Magic
Label: AFM Records
Date Of Release: 25 August 2017
What do you get if you put together vocalist Urban Breed (Pyramaze, Tad Morose, Bloodbound) , guitarists Bob Katsionis (Firewind) and Dominik Sebastian (Edenbridge), bassist Mario Lochert (ex-Visions Of Atlantis), keyboardist Jan Vacik (ex-Dreamscape) and drummer Alex Holzwarth (ex-Rhapsody of Fire)? The simple answer is you get a damn good time and a great listening experience.
Let’s be honest, it isn’t really that surprising given the clientele involved, but sometimes it’s worth stating the bleeding obvious at the outset.
Mind you, this might not have been the case, because this is the band’s third full-length album in three years. That means that Serious Black have released a new album every year since 2015 on top of a busy touring schedule. That’s impressive but may have led to a dilution in quality or consistency from the six. But it didn’t.
Instead, ‘Magic’ is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, where the already fuzzy boundaries of melodic metal and power metal become ever-more indistinct. If you have a penchant for mid-to-up-tempo heavy metal with a bright and breezy feel, that’s big on melody and strong hook-filled choruses, then this could be the album for you. It is the kind of album that gets under your skin and will have you smiling broadly, in a similar fashion to many of the European greats out there.
Underpinning the music is a distinct concept, the first voyage into these waters by Serious Black. The story has been put together by Urban Breed and essentially, it follows the exploits of the central character, Mr Nightmist, as he tries to fathom out the mysteries of the universe. There’s more to it than that, but it gives you a flavour of what’s on offer. Personally, I can take or leave concepts because I’ve always been someone who generally pays little attention to lyrics. I like it when bands write deep and meaningful words that resonate but equally, I’ll not be put off by terrible, cheesy lyrics if the music behind it is worthy of listening to. I can’t abide poor vocalists, but they can sing about washing their socks if they have a good voice and sit atop strong music.
With ‘Magic’, the compositions are certainly strong enough to grab my attention. Despite being very melodic, I like the fact that the songs also have guts and a backbone. The guitarists Bob Katsionis and Dominik Sebastian deliver some nice, chunky riffs as well as some flamboyance and a touch of shred when required. And the rhythm section of drummer Alex Holzwarth and bassist Mario Lochert create a strong spine to the material. There are some syrupy moments, as is the trend with this style of music, but there is no doubt that ‘Magic’ is a heavy metal album.
I also like the fact that the keys of Jan Vacik are well-placed in the mix. As such, they rarely overpower the compositions, yet they are ever present and provide an added dimension that’s most welcome. There’s the occasional lead break or other moment of excess but in general, the keys are used in a supporting role, to add depth, atmosphere and to soften the edges whilst enhancing some of the melodies.
So, to the songs themselves, of which there are a weighty fourteen. In spite of this, the album concludes comfortably under the hour mark, meaning that none of the songs outstay their welcome. Aside from the six-minute ‘Skeletons On Parade’, nothing extends much beyond four minutes; each song delivers the goods with the minimum of fuss and with a pleasant succinctness. That said, there are a couple of songs that could have been dispensed with if I’m being overly picky and hyper-critical.
Nevertheless, there is an impressive level of consistency to the material on ‘Magic’. It means that it would be impossible to mention every track individually, as can be my normal verbose style. Instead, what follows is a precis of a few of my favourite moments within the album.
‘Binary Magic’ serves as the perfect introduction. It kicks off in urgent, up-tempo style with thunderous drumming and chugging riffs before quietening down into the verse, only to explode into one of my favourite hook-laden choruses on the record, led by the huge vocal prowess of the inimitable Urban Breed. At this point, you’ll know whether or not this is the album for you.
The combo of ‘Burn! Witches Burn!’ and ‘Lone Gunman Rule’ is irresistible also, thanks to further big choruses within both and thanks to the more pronounced keyboards, chunky riffing and cheeky swagger in the latter.
‘I Can Do Magic’ offers more of a moody hard rock vibe interspersed with a chorus that becomes impossible to ignore alongside an epic-sounding closing sequence that I love. ‘Mr Nightmist’ bounds along and features some cool lead guitar and keyboard solos, whilst ‘The Witch Of Caldwell Town’ is easily the most frantically-paced and urgent track on the record. Pure power metal in construction, the chorus is a bold and compelling affair, complete with a double-pedal drum attack to increase the overall impact.
I even like the closing track, ‘One Final Song’. It begins with a piano melody and some subtle vocals from Urban Breed, before turning into something much more theatrical and quirky, finally ending with one last burst of mid-tempo, epic power metal.
I must admit that I have fallen for the charms of Serious Black. ‘Magic’ is the product of six talented and seasoned musicians and it shows. The output may not be the most original you’ll ever hear but there is no doubting the quality. Finely honed, well-crafted and extremely professional, ‘Magic’ is a fun and highly infectious melodic power metal album that I am liable to listen to for some time to come.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day