Serious Black – As Daylight Breaks

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Well, that’s shut me well and truly the fuck up

(You wish…)

It’s apt to begin a commentary on a release from one ex-Helloween guitarist (Roland Grapow) with reference to the man he succeeded in the pumpkin-obsessed kings of Power Metal, one Kai Hansen, who titled the third Gamma Ray album Insanity & Genius (Noise) and referenced in the lyrics how thin the line between the two is. Well, the line between generic and uninteresting pap and Power Metal Glory is even thinner, perhaps as thin as the hair-line on Herr Hansen’s fivehead these days. But with As Daylight Breaks (Nuclear Blast) Serious Black (contenders for best new band name – certainly best Harry Potter themed one) have released a debut that is so far over the line on the side of quality, the line is a dot to them (answers on a postcard if you get that reference).

Having written off Power Metal in my mind as a genre that, no matter how well its composite parts could be put together, was done, creatively redundant and in the type of artistic morass that Death Metal found itself in for twenty years, nevertheless, like the child poking the disembowelled frog with a stick and hoping for some twitch or reaction, with morbid curiosity I find myself drawn to it. See, when Power Metal is on it, there’s very little better for invigorating the mind and soul. And Grapow’s latest offering slapped me round the chops, leaving me with a fiendish grin, a rediscovered  enthusiasm for the genre and a frog named Lazarus.

The brainchild of Grapow and former Visions of Atlantis bassist Mario Lochert, with the rhythm section rounded out by former Blind Guardian tub thumper Thomen Stauch, Serious Black absolutely nail everything that is joyous about Power Metal infused hard rock, from the driving opening pair of ‘I Seek No Other Life’ and the simply massive ‘High And Low’ through to the theatre-y and slightly camp closing ‘Older and Wiser’.

The band is led by the underrated and under-celebrated vocal talents of former Tad Morose pipes, Urban breed who avoids being one of a million Kiske-clean wannabes by injecting power and tone; at times channelling Jon Oliva, particularly on the keys led title-track, at others Mike Howe (Metal Church), and able to carry a faster verse alongside the ubiquitous sizeable choruses.

Musically, you can bandy about names such as Kamelot (‘Akhenation’), Within Temptation (the uptempo rock romp of ‘Trail of Murder’), Savatage, Stratovarius, and Sonata Arctica if you like; there definite elements of Blind Guardian and Helloween,  and that’s absolutely fine, as Serious Black sit as a kind of summation of all that “is” from the polished end of Power Metal.

As Daylight Breaks benefits from a great, full, vibrant production and above all exudes the sensation of a band really enjoying their work. As they rightly should. I once incorrectly tagged Grapow as a Janick Gers figure who had ruined one of my favourite bands. He well and truly proved me wrong – I even quite like Pink Bubbles Go Ape now, and I’m one of the few people on the planet who love Chameleon (both EMI) – and with Serious Black he’s done it again, proving as Edguy did with last years’ Space Police (Nuclear Blast) that, when done well, Power Metal can be fulfilling rompy-pompy.

 

7.5/10

Serious Black on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

Sonata Arctica – Ecliptica – Revisited; 15th Anniversary Edition

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Considering Spinefarm released a re-mastered version of Ecliptica in 2008 resplendent with new packaging and bonus tracks, in order celebrate the 15th anniversary of their debut, Finnish melodic Power Metal masters Sonata Arctica had to do something different, so chose to head to the studio to re-record it. As you do. The intention seems honest enough, with only vocalist / mainman Tony Kakko and drummer Tommy Portimo playing on the original, and with songs from what is a genuine genre classic still featuring heavily in their set, the rest of the band wanted to pay tribute to the original.

So, where do we stand on re-recordings, people? Yep, thought so, that seems pretty unanimous to me… I’ve yet to come across a re-recording where the original has been improved upon too. While some are worthy curiosities worth a listen from time to time, the best example being Anthrax’s The Greater Of Two Evils (Sanctuary) – which was a compilation of older tracks with John Bush on vocals rather than a straight re-record – in the main, they are creatively redundant, futile efforts. And don’t get me started on Kings Of Metal MMXIV (Magic Circle).

The re-record is slicker and “sounds” better, with Kakko’s vocals less fresh-faced and more professional, it does lack the naivety and, well, charm, of an original that had a rawer guitar sound, less polished mix and more ‘oomph’ to it. The key of several of the songs, most notably opener ‘Blank File’, has shifted down a notch or two to better suit Kakko’s range, and some of the solos have switched between instruments.

But, minor aesthetics aside, it is pleasing to report that, at least, they haven’t fucked around with it and Ecliptica – Revisited; 15th Anniversary Edition (Nuclear Blast) is pretty much a straight re-record. Why is this pleasing? Surely you’d want the band to do something different? Nah, because different isn’t always better and this faithful re-imagining serves a reminder of just how good the songs are and just how promising a band Sonata Arctica were in their early days.

Ultimately, it must be said, this is a very, very respectable re-recording of a great album, and about as a good a job as could be done to stay true to the original, but as with all of these types of things, the original is the King. If the debut didn’t exist, I’d be reigning down recommendations on this from on high – Ecliptica is a classic for a reason, all in, a collection of great songs.

The 15th Anniversary Edition, I’m sure, was fun for all concerned, but if you’re interested in dipping into the Stratovarius influenced Power Metal world of Sonata Arctica at their peak, pick up the originals of the first three.

 

7.5/10

Sonata Arctica on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY