Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Album Review: Serious Black - Mirrorworld

If you asked me roughly two years ago who my favorite singers in the world of metal were, high on that list would have been Urban Breed. The eccentric singer's two most recent releases were one of my favorite albums of all time (Bloodbound's "Tabula Rasa"), and one of my favorite metal records of recent years (Trail Of Murder's "Shades Of Art"). Urban seemed to be in a place where he could get an amazing result out of any band, and I was primed to love whatever came next. Of course, expectations aren't everything, and while I enjoyed his next two projects, neither one of them came close to approaching what I was hoping for.

I say that because one of those projects was the debut of Serious Black, which was an album that was enjoyable to listen to, but that I haven't thought about whatsoever since its release. I still want to be a believer, so "Mirrorworld" has every opportunity to win me back.

There is a notable difference between this album and the debut. While the original lineup of Serious Black was a supergroup of 90s power metal, guitarist Roland Grapow has left the band to continue on with Masterplan. His absence isn't notably apparent. The remaining members of the band are more than capable of picking up the slack and writing power metal on their own. "Castor Skies" sounds so much like a song that could have come from his pen that the point is well proven early on in the record. It's the kind of song that I want to hear from Serious Black; heavy, with a bit of Eastern motif, and a solid chorus from Urban. I don't listen to a lot of power metal anymore, but it still puts a smile on my face when it's done well. That song is that, for sure.

Urban is one of those singers who falls under that old cliche about singing the phone book, which always makes it interesting to me when he produces a song that falls flat. It's annoying enough that the record starts with one of those useless instrumental introductions, but the first track we hear (also the first single) is a thoroughly underwhelming track that almost had me questioning whether to give the album a chance or not. I can chalk it up now to a terrible selection of a single, since it pales terribly in comparison to the more rock-oriented "Heartbroken Soul", which would have made a far better first impression for listeners.

The rest of the record is exactly what Serious Black sound be delivering. Their music has the steady hand of veterans, but they don't rely on rehashing the songs they made their names on. They also don't follow any formula. There are songs that are more traditionally power metal, some that throw more rock influences in, and there's also a heavier dose of neo-classical technicality in some of the riffs that separate this album from the debut.

The problem with "Mirrorworld" is that it doesn't feel like a whole record. The eight real songs (plus the intro) I was given access to add up to considerably less than forty minutes of music, and while that would have been a record thirty years ago, it leaves me wanting more, especially since not only will there be an edition of the album that comes with seven bonus tracks, but a member of the band has told me that they themselves don't consider this nine track version to be the complete album. I'm sorry, but trying to put out a product even the band says is incomplete is absurd, and insulting. It's a 'business decision', but it's one that puts the bottom line over the listeners. Yes, labels have to make money, but I don't see that as ever being an excuse for putting out an incomplete product. If you want to put out versions with various bonus tracks, that's fine. But to intentionally put one out that is not even what the band considers the full album is an affront to the idea that music is still an art.

But let's get back to the music. "Mirrorworld" is an album that does its job, but I'm not sure if that's enough. There are a handful of great songs here, and this very well might be a better record than the debut, but there also seems to be a little something missing from Serious Black. Urban sounds great, but he seldom shows off the power and range that makes him one of the most talented singers in the world. In fact, the whole band often feels like they're holding back ever so slightly. Pulling back on the speed is a good idea, as their mid-paced material is their best, but their attitude towards the record makes it feel to me like something incomplete. Look, these guys are too talented to ever make a record that's terrible, and I don't want to give the impression that this isn't still good to very good music. I just have high expectations for anything one of my favorites is involved in, and by that standard Serious Black didn't hit the mark. By the normal standard of what power metal has offered up this year, this is right at the top of the heap.

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