Serious Black – Magic (2017)

Serious Black


AFM Records

The third release from this international supergroup featuring members of bands like Rhapsody Of Fire, Bloodbound and Tad Morose are back with their third release, which Metal Archives reviewer Empyreal absolutely despised for some odd reason. The guy gave their last record a 73% and their debut a 67% even though the other reviewers on these albums have given them much higher scores. Unfortunately, he’s the only guy to cover this and he’s given an 18%. Well, I don’t really care who this twenty-six year old kid thinks he is, because from what I’ve heard, this disc is definitely not an 18%. As a matter of fact, it is filled with all of the things about this genre that I care about, like hard-hitting melodies and choruses that you just can’t get out of your head. Some of this even goes back to Helloween‘s early work as far as the keys n’ chug are concerned. Unfortunately, it doesn’t manage to keep that momentum up as it swirls into the realm of romantic pop-rock with dashes of metal and keyboards.

The disc really begins with “Binary Magic” where we’re treated to some dazzling intro melodies at the start from Dominik Sebastian. Alex Holzwarth begins to kick up the drums a little and then Urban Breed pounds out the chorus. There’s a distinctive eighties rock feel to this that literally made me melt, and I knew that I’d had a winner from the start. Next came the equally potent “Burn! Witches Burn!” which continues to share the same eighties influence that was prominent on the prior cut. Although the record has a definite thump, it manages to stay locked into it’s eighties influences and I’m praising it for that. On this track in particular, there’s an amazing solo break, which only serves to make a good song better. “Lone Gunman Rule” is decent in all of it’s keyboard theatrics, but it took a little while to grow on me, compared to some of the others. “Now You’ll Never Know” is a little bit of an outlier in the AOR vein, but I think it hits. It’s definitely pop, but I wouldn’t consider it unlistenable. I’d prefer it a great deal to the garbage that they call pop music these days, that is for sure. Next up we have “I Can Do Magic” which I at first thought was a little redundant, but it comes off with that classic eighties rock flair that has been present through the whole disc thus far. There are some notable leads here to boot, which makes it another standout. It really strikes me as a bit odd that the band didn’t cover any of the classic seventies/eighties tunes regarding magic. I’d really have loved to hear a cover of America‘s “You Can Do Magic” on here, and the album feels a little incomplete without it, because I think the band would have really delivered on it. Of course, these guys might not even be aware of the cut, and maybe if they had been; they may have decided to do it. Anyway, continuing the redundancy of “magic” on this album (don’t worry, it stops towards the latter half of the disc) we now have “Serious Black Magic” which there’s a video for, even though once again; I feel it was a terrible representation of the album compared to opener “Binary Magic” and “Burn! Witches Burn” which would have served as much better promotional singles for the disc. Why don’t they ever use the songs that actually get stuck in people’s heads? I mean, isn’t that the point? In any case, the song comes off a little catchy but doesn’t seem to deliver the same amount of potency as the aforementioned I’ve named. I wouldn’t want it to represent the album, had I been a member of the band.

Now that we’re on the post-magic part of the disc, we have “Skeletons On Parade” which has a good hard-rock feel, with some interesting lead riffs in play that I wouldn’t have expected from these guys. It’s not their strongest vocally, but I think there are more than a few interesting experimentations going on here, especially in the break where we’re treated to a mesmerizing keyboard solo by Jan Vacik (I’m a bit reminded of Vitalij Kuprij here) as Sebastian’s guitar finishes it up with a real bang. “Mr. Nightmist” came off a bit of a miss for me, despite it’s classically influenced leads. Sebastian and Vacik might deliver in the breakdown sections, but the track (which is now starting to sound a little Touhou to me) still doesn’t quite hit the mark as far as I’m concerned. Luckily, there’s a bit more piss and vingear to be found in “The Witch Of Caldwell Town” despite it’s sappy chorus line. Even so, there’s enough chug and keys here for me to enjoy. As expected, the piece delivers most in it’s breakdown where several tapestries are interwoven in order to bring out a bit more depth. It’s almost like a sort of prog jam and deviates from the guitar/keyboard solo that we’ve been hearing. “True Love Is Blind” is a bit of a heavy ballad, which kind of strikes me as odd, as the whole direction of the album seems to have changed a bit. It reminds me a little of some J-Rock acts that I’ve heard, where romantic cuts are quite common and popular. There might very well be some Japanese interest in this one, as with many power metal albums that get special editions especially for those fans. I’ll admit that the cut is quite catchy, and not something I would have expected Breed to sing on. “Just Kill Me” opens with a rather technical sort of class, but only manages to blossom in the chorus and lead riffs. There’s a section where Breed sings through keyboards, but they only seem to slightly drown him out. Vacik’s keys also manage to take a small portion of the breakdown, but this isn’t all that memorable in retrospect. The album is definitely waning down, with “Newfound Freedom” almost feeling like it comes from a disc that is wearing out it’s welcome. In fact, I don’t really have much to say about this particular cut, because I’m starting to feel that the disc should have ended a few tracks ago. It doesn’t help that the piece in particular is very short and forgettable aside from the rest of these cuts. I’ll give Sebastian the benefit of the doubt as far as the solo section is concerned, but I’m honestly getting tired of this now. Thankfully, there is only one song left on the disc and it is comically entitled “One Final Song.” The piece begins with a mixture of keys, violin and piano, so you should know what to expect from it. Then the piece begins to explore the theatrics of a rock opera. While I’ll commend this experimentation, it often comes off confusing. The hidden track confuses me even more, as it’s female fronted approach to the chorus of “Serious Black Magic” just doesn’t sound like something you’d expect from Serious Black at all.

In all honesty, I’m kind of torn on this one, because I loved the disc up until the latter half, where it more or less plummeted in value. To be honest, after the eighth track, “Skeletons On Parade” all of the songs just felt mediocre. If we take out the introduction, then there are really only seven out of fourteen cuts on the disc that are worth a listen. I’m not sure what happened here exactly, but you wouldn’t expect such a saccharine approach to this kind of heavy metal from Serious Black and I think I now understand why the kid proceeded to trash it with his score and review. Though, I still think he overreacted a little as the record isn’t “that bad.” Trust me, it could have been much more forgettable than this. As it stands, I think Magic is a decent effort and the enclosed bonus Live In Atlanta disc helps to soften the blow just a little, as the band perform several of their classics with an estatic audience. Maybe this one was a little different for the crowd, and not everyone will get it – but it still proves that these guys have at least some fire left in them. It’s only album number three, so there’s still a chance to sharpen the edges up for the fourth disc. If you love hard-hitting power metal and romance rock though, you’re probably going to love it. Though in my opinion, it should have just been ten cuts and a bonus America cover. That would have redeemed the performance a little, as it just began to grow weaker as the listen continued. Those are the worst kinds of discs that I review, and an unfortunate part of this business.

(14 Tracks, 60:00)


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