Artist: Serious Black
Album Title: Suite 226
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 31 January 2020
Revered and prolific melodic power metal band Serious Black have returned after an 18 month hiatus with ‘Suite 226’, their fifth full-length release in as many years. The German/American quartet comprised of Urban breed (Vocals), Dominik Sebastian (Guitar), Mario Lochert (Bass), Ramy Ali (Drums) are not ones to let the grass grow under their feet, pushing forward with an impressive work ethic and hunger for success.
According to the press bumph, ‘Suite 226’ is named after the cell in which the central character is held captive. Suffering with mental issues, in his mind, “…he is the mighty king who lives in his feudal castle surrounded by courtesans, good food and wine and commands an invincible army. Staggering between illusion and reality, he continues to be drawn into the maelstrom of madness, his life becomes a ride through purgatory accompanied by demons, anxiety attacks and paranoia.” You’ve got to love this genre for the colourful concepts.
I’ve never before reviewed a Serious Black album because I always found them to be a little hit and miss for my tastes. However, a new decade is as good a time as any to change one’s habits, so I checked out ‘Suite 226’ to see if my impressions of the band could be changed.
After listening to ‘Suite 226’ a large number of times over the past few days, I can only conclude that it is the very definition of frustrating. It is an album that demonstrates that Serious Black are seriously good at what they do when they are on fire. But it is also an album that represents a band that don’t seem capable of putting together a consistent body of work because the quality fluctuates quite a bit on ‘Suite 226’ if I’m being completely honest.
Opening track ‘Let It Go’ is a solid an highly energetic track that starts the record in a decent, if slightly unremarkable fashion. The chorus admittedly does grow with patience and Urban Breed’s vocals draw the listener in with his deliberately quirky delivery.
And then suddenly, we’re hit with a hat-trick of incredible compositions, the kind that make you sit up and take notice and which just get better with repetition. First, we have ‘When The Stars Are Right’ which delights with an urgent tempo, great riffs and a killer, hook-laden chorus led by some beautifully understated but melodic vocals from Urban Breed. With little time to breathe, ‘Solitude Etude’ kicks in with another great riff, commanding drumming courtesy of Ramy Ali and some clever theatrical synths. There’s a Kamelot vibe to the verse but again it is the chorus, an epic sprawling affair, that wins me over. If anything, it is even more glorious than its predecessor, especially with the wailing guitar embellishments from Dominik Sebastian that are inspired, and the smile that spreads over my face is large and genuine. Last of the three is ‘Fate Of All Humanity’. It is quite different from the last two tracks but it is equally compelling. It has an 80s melodic hard rock sheen thanks to the groove, tempo and the lashings of synths that bathe the whole song. The verses are as catchy as the chorus which turns quickly into a sing-along anthem, regardless of where you find yourself listening to it.
By this point, I’m beginning to think Serious Black have hit a home run with ‘Suite 226’. But (and it is a genuinely regretful ‘but’), in my opinion, the remaining six songs don’t ever hit the same level – at least, not consistently enough. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with any of the tracks but I don’t engage with them or fall in love with them in the same way. ‘Castiel’ benefits from a quality intro with the bass of Mario Lochert taking the majority of the plaudits here. But when the main part of the song kicks in, especially the chorus, I’m left feeling pretty underwhelmed, despite the odd great riff or two.
And then, despite listening to this record several times, I still had to listen again to the next few songs as I wrote this review because I honestly couldn’t recall what they sounded like. That’s never a good thing in my experience. Again, the songs aren’t bad per se, they are just a little nondescript and unremarkable. Or, to put it another way, they lack the magic that the three aforementioned songs delivered in spades. There are flashes of excellence, such as the intro to ‘Way Back Home’, arguably the best song of the bunch, but flashes are all they are.
‘Suite 226’ concludes with the title track, an epic that falls just shy of the nine-minute mark. Fittingly, it is a microcosm of the album in that it produces moments of brilliance but is ultimately incredibly frustrating. The Middle Eastern flavour to the opening is intriguing and there are some delicious melodies lurking at various points that I find irresistible, especially at the four-minute mark. I also like the clever use of light and shade to accentuate the many sides of the central character’s persona. And yet, I just find
There’s not much more that I can say that hasn’t already been said. ‘Suite 226’ is once again a patchy affair that could have been so much better in my humble view. There are moments of pure power metal bliss that could elevate Serious Black to the next level with ease. Unfortunately, these moments are ultimately hamstrung by other songs that simply don’t reach the same level. I’m genuinely frustrated, to the point that, had I any hair left, I’d be pulling it out right now.
The Score of Much Metal: 71%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here: