Fantasy is a wonderful thing. The worlds, universes and stories derived from the urge to sail away to a better place (or a dystopic one) have a special place in humanity’s heart, and especially so if we are talking about metal fans. The aura provided by the music we love so much is a fit stage to show the geniality, creativity and ideas of fantasy creators, and there’s no better genre to house these contents than power metal. Serious Black, a band you should at least have heard of by now, shows a great amount of energy by diving into their third output since 2015 and actually try to go even deep this time around: to grace the world of metal with a fantasy-themed conceptual album.
If you read any of my reviews so far, you can tell that I’m a goddamn pain in the ass when it comes to my music, and I tend to penalize every small misstep with angry rants so, you see, when you say you’re going to deliver a conceptual album about something as mythical and mysterious as MAGIC, you better not mess it up. To some extent, Urban Breed (vocals) and his team of superstars manage to survive their journey in this dangerous path, but not without some beating and fighting to the goal. As ‘Magic’ – which will be released via AFM Records on August, 25th–intertwines and connects one track to the other, I’ll break my customary review protocol and do a song-by-song analysis, so here we go:[metalwani_content_ad]
‘Magic’ tells the story about Mr. Nighmist, a traveler seeking to learn the mysteries and hidden secrets of the universe. “With a Tip of the Hat” introduces the story and opens the way to “Binary Magic”, where Nightmist receives a letter and is compelled to reminisce his youth years and return to Caldwell Town. The chorus in this particular track is extremely catchy (which doesn’t mean it’s great), with Breed’s high notes shining as always and the duo Dominik Sebastian and Bob Katsionis (guitars) providing decent shredding. The mid-tempo accompanied by the faster chorus makes it a fun song.
“Burn! Witches Burn!” sees Nightmist losing something he always loved as soon as he returns to Caldwell Town. The faster tempo and the angry choirs illustrate well his feelings, while the last portion of the song – grimmer and darker – shows his pain and aggressiveness towards this newfound grief and the curse casted upon the now doomed town. “Lone Gunman Rule” has a more aggressive and heavier tone, as Nightmist is blinded by rage and moved by revenge, but he’s soon halted by a wise counselor, and chooses to leave the town instead.
“Now you’ll Never Now” serves as the main ballad of the album, mainly because of Nightmist’s memories of his lost true love and her striking beauty, as he fondly tells her tale to a fellow traveler. Unlike the previous tunes, however, this is far from being a good or memorable tune, which uninventive guitar lines, bland verses and over-dramatization.
“I Can do Magic” fast forwards three years in time, when some Caldwell Town children make a dangerous discovering, while Nightmist is far away, growing stronger by the day. One of the more melodic and radio-friendly tunes, the lyrics here fall short on being intelligent and the instrumental part – albeit decent – is too formulaic. Follow-up “Serious Black Magic”, overall, is as dumb as the name suggests; the children awake to magic while answering to the call of the witch, as Caldwell Towns’ folk shit their pants (figuratively, of course) at this event. This has to be the weakest song in the effort and you’re better off skipping it, even if it’s part of the whole story.
“Skeletons on Parade” picks up the pieces of the train wreck that was the previous tune and offers a better experience, with Alex Holzwarth (drums) and Jan Vacik (keyboards) providing great support fire from the background, while the mysterious aura is brilliantly sculpted in throughout the song length. Violent apparitions gather around Caldwell Town as the witch readies her vengeance. “Mr. Nightmist” returns the spotlight back to the main character. The upbeat tempo and groovy leads are fittingly inserted to illustrate the townsfolk’s need for aid, answered by the now-legendary Mr. Nightmist.
“The Witch of Caldwell Town”, best song of the album, is a classic Melodic Power Metal tune. Fast, ripping and urgent, the track shows Nightmist’s preparation to lift the curse by sailing to the unknown realm between life and death. The guitar duo provides once again a prolific performance, while the kitchen share glimpses of virtuosity.
“True Love Is Blind” marks the reunion between the hero and his long lost love in the other realm, making his resolve weaken and his will to help null. While the sorrowful atmosphere can clearly be grasped, musically-wise the song is yet another radio-friendly, superficial track that offers little to catch the listener’s attention. “Just Kill Me” is the realization that Nightmist is, in fact, not in the presence of his true love, being instead bewitched by a mere shadow of his muse; the need to go back and break the curse is imminent.[metalwani_content_ad]
“Newfound Freedom” is the happy ending, where the curse is broken and Nightmist finds a new take on life. Relying heavily on keyboards, the rhythm is blissful and encouraging, but – again – there’s nothing here except a decent track with formulaic choirs and simple melodies. “One Final Song” closes the story on a strange note, as it was somewhat constructed in a Queen-esque manner, but when it’s finally building itself up, it abruptly ends. Too over-the-top and theatrical, it feels kind of detached from the rest of the tracks.
‘Magic’ is hit or miss. Great passages are present, but so are mediocre and weak ones, so the ambiguity of the sound doesn’t quite do justice by what Serious Black was trying to achieve; this, and the fact that the lyrics are not that good (we get it, you guys know the word “magic”. Jesus Christ)hurt the final product a considerable bit. Meanwhile, the prowess and abilities of the members help to lift the spirits and masquerade the low points of the album. The guitars are stellar, Breed’s voice is killer and all the other instruments are played to perfection. But, this is a conceptual album and is bound to be the most important album on the band’s history (so far), so I can’t help but to think it could have fared better.
It’s a tricky thing when you try to write deep, competent and meaningful music. Serious Black strike gold once again in the performance and technical departments, but the whole concept falls short on being essential or even memorable, also because of its pretentious aura. It’s a good album overall, but I was expecting a rabbit to come out of a hat, and instead got a mice. I suspect that the band has more tricks up on their sleeve, though, so let’s wait for that.