Last year the full-length debut of Austrian Progressive Power Metallers SERENITY was definitely one of the nice surprises of 2007, and was one of those albums that marked the opening of Napalm Records to other styles. Now they are trying to prove with “Fallen Sanctuary” that they can keep up the good work and that it was not a one-off thing and I was very eager to hear, how they would compare up to the predecessor, especially as the expectations for the new disc were a lot higher than for their label debut.
The first thing that strikes is the cover artwork, where the (new) logo is featured a lot more prominently and I can’t shake off the image of a KAMELOT cover with more blue instead of dark red either, but that’s only the visual side, because musically the Austrians continue with their foundation of Melodic Metal with infusions of Progressive and Power Metal, borne by the always cohesive and catchy song writing and the excellent vocals of Georg Neuhauser, who has this expressiveness and clarity in his voice that manages to elevate the songs higher, but without sounding too slick and smooth and while still having a certain bombastic element in their songs, it is to enhance the compositions instead of being the focal point.
The opener “All Lights Reversed” is a great example for what to expect on SERENITY’s latest album, with variety, opulent orchestrations (courtesy of Lanvall of EDENBRIDGE), the very tasteful and effective use of choirs and the already mentioned great vocals and while everything is very grand and epic, there still is enough crunch in the guitars and drums to keep the song firmly rooted in Metal. A violin introduces the epic grandeur of “Coldness Kills”, where the orchestration plays a bigger role, but still does not get overbearing, as it takes a step back when needed and does not overwhelm the listener. Overall it is a slow-paced track, which lives off its great and sweeping chorus that conjures up images of a deeply snowed-in landscape, which goes hand in hand with the lyrical content.
With “To Stone She Turned” the Austrians show that they also can add a brick, as this song is a lot faster and also heavier, but just as catchy and well structured and here it struck me that Georg Neuhauser’s voice sounds a little like the Metal version of EVERON’s Oliver Philipps (in the vocal style) and that is a big compliment, as the German Progger manages to leave his very own distinct mark on his band’s sound. After taking a breather with the ballad “Fairytales” (which they also do very well, if I may say), another of my personal favourites is on the list: “The Heartblood Symphony”. This one is maybe a little more on the smooth and polished side, extremely catchy and what not, but somehow it touches a chord in me that endeared it right the first time I heard it.
Surely there will be a lot of people, who will criticize the at times quite extensive use of keyboards and orchestration, but to be honest, if the songs are as well-written and arranged as SERENITY’s on here, I could not care less. This band is one of the brightest stars of the Austrian Metal scene and they deserve every single point that is awarded to them, because they walk the fine line between kitsch and demand and prove to be true high-wire artists, point blank!
(Online December 27, 2008)