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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Review: Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Label: AFM Records

Date: February 25th, 2022

If the band pompously announces the album as the album of their life, how can you not be curious to check it out? Besides, a few more factors to listen and review this album are involved. First of all, I am a big fan of the band, and so far reviewed all their albums for different magazines (four in total). Second of all, turbulence during the creative process that led to personal changes. Third, or still the second, new vocalist comes from Serbia and we all know him well, so the question is how will he fit, what will he deliver, what will he change, how high expectations do we all have… To stop here, I have more than enough reasons to write a review. 

From the moment I received this album till the moment I am finally writing this review there are countless spins and each one leads to conclusion: yes, this might be the best album of the band. But I would add by now. I refuse to think this is the best album in their career because… We will talk about it later.

If you were following the news from Serious Black headquarters, specifically from the spring of 2021, I think no one of us who are familiar with Urban breed’s, let’s say, psychological profile, were not surprised when he left the band. Even in the middle of the recording process. The biggest question, or mystery, or call it however you want it was who will replace him. Here in Serbia we have one saying, that I am 100% sure I will not translate appropriately, but is 100% true: If someone isn’t here, the others still can live without him.

I must admit I was surprised as hell when I found out that the new vocalist will be Nikola Mijić (Alogia, Dreyelands, Eden’s Curse, Expedition Delta). Although I had to keep my mouth shut, I was patiently waiting for their first single and official presentation of the new vocalist. Speaking of the first single, on September 17th, 2021, Serious Black released “The Story”. Ballad, emotional, sincere, heart breaking.

“All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am.”

More than ever, Lochert opened his soul, and let emotions flow.

On October 22nd, 2021, Serious Black launched their second single, “Rock with Us Tonight”. At the same time, this song is an album opener. Immediately, after the first listening you can sign and seal, this is pure heavy metal anthem. If you ever wondered what is the life of a band about, and you have not realized by now, now you will:

“Sometimes it is hard
To be away from home
Living on the streets
Traveling on your own.”

Here I can draw the parallel with writing, being an owner, editor, photographer and hell knows what else in this magazine and many before. Yes, you travel a lot, so you sleep in public parks, on benches, bus stations, trams, sometimes you do not sleep at night because of short deadlines, no one has understanding if you are too tired to edit photos, or write a report from the show 500km far from home, in some smelly bus with low battery on your lap top, phone, camera, no Wi-Fi… But still, at the end of the day this is our passion, this is our game…

Next one was “Senso della vita” (sense of life), released on December 2nd, 2021, has great rhythm, melody, strong lyrics and clear message. Do not stop searching for the meaning of your life, because, the way I see it, once you find it, your life is over.

If we go back to the beginning of this review, I must admit, before I heard the album, I thought the vengeance was aimed mainly at the former singer. But “Out of the Ashes” that was released on January 14th, 2022, proved I was wrong. If I would be the main character to whom this song is dedicated I would crawl under the stone. The lyrics are sharp as razor, brutal to the core, painfully vindictive, I guess written in the moment of despair, but somehow I think it is not the right approach. I agree it is betrayal, I agree it hurts like hell, but public disgrace is just not my cup of tea. However, I think the strongest message, no matter how low you fall is to spread your wings and fly, like a phoenix in the sky, rising from the ashes so high.

Although I was disappointed after Urban left the band, at the same time I think that was the right decision because it was obvious that the band was struggling, losing the quality, especially on “Suite 226”. Urban’s departure brought back Bob Katsionis, album would not be as good as it is with a help of loyal friend Henning Basse (Hollentor, Legions of the Night, ex Firewind, ex Metalium, ex Mayan…) and in the end great choice for Urban’s replacement, Nikola Mijić.

Now, after a short course that I might call intro to “Vengeance Is Mine”, based on singles, let’s focus to the rest of the album.

“Fallen Hero”… I was torturing myself for weeks to remember to whom Nikola’s performance reminds me of here and finally remembered. His majesty, Mr. Bruce Dickinson and his solo albums “Accident of Birth” or “The Chemical Wedding”. Here the most I like is the attitude: “I am the best, better than a rest.” 

Another ballad on this album is “Ray of Light”, piano intro and guitars that cut calmness will catch your attention. This song is made for our old school fans who still remember lighters on the shows. But, this song also has growling parts that perfectly fit and break the monotony some ballads can be trapped in.

“Soul Divider” speeds up, pumps your blood, again great melody and dynamic. I always say I do not like keyboards that much, and there is always an alert when in my head when I hear it. Luckily, not just on this song, but the whole album, the band found the perfect measurement not to sound like all those crazy sweet metal bands I was listening back in the 90’s. 

The melody of “Tonight I’m Ready to Fight” reminds me a lot of Serbian circle dance characteristic for its Northern part (Banat). The melody, although very familiar to me, is so infectious that you just cannot get rid of it. In this song Ramy Ali simply dominates with his drumming more than on any other song. Creepy whisper parts emphasize atmosphere, and the tremendous guitar solo simply leaves you speechless, also the chorus is so powerful. One of my favorites on this album.

Another Bruce Dickinson’s vocal interpretation mixed with Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia moments made another great song. Playing with a variety of not just vocal range but tempo, with great choir support, “Just for you” is definitely one of the best songs of the album. 

If I already said any song is my favorite by now, forget it. “Soldiers of Eternal Light” with drumming, combat call, fist in the air moment, fluent melody, fascinating Dominik’s guitar solo, backing vocals, its composition, diversity is actually that one! The best! The one with anthem factor.

“Queen of Lies” starts with a movie like intro and hits hard with drums and guitar, mid tempo and again great melody and again deeply emotional lyrics.

Finally, “Album of Our Life”, shall we discover why? Ok, this one goes a bit in Stratovarius direction in the beginning, sincere words, god damn good melody, and since we are close to the end, yes, definitely, melodies are holders of this album.

I have been learning Latin language in high school for two years, and I remember our professor telling us: “If you want to play smart, just quote Latin proverbs”. And we had to learn a ton of those. Not to play smart, to have good marks. So, “Alea Iacta Est” (the die is cast), is the great song left at the end of the story of vengeance.

Band’s mastermind, Mario Lochert said:

“This time, I have allowed more insights into my emotions and private life than ever before, i.e. into how I think, how I feel, how I am, and how difficult it can be to keep a band going when you yourself aren’t well. The lyrics on ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ reflect the past four or five years. This, of course, has had an impact on the songwriting, which has become even more intense and emotional.

And I have to agree that introspection is the key. This is the most serious album by now, but I refuse to say the best or album of their life, because, simply, those guys have a lot to show in the future to come. Quality is proven, they are one step closer to perfection, but who needs perfection. If they reach it, it will be the end. From there you can only go down, not up. And if anyone remembers Serious Black were announced as a super group back in 2014. They still are. If we have extremely (super) talented musicians, already (super) proven in metal world, with numerous (super) projects behind and they are still young enough (do not laugh, yes, we 40+ are still young) to work at least for two decades, this can’t be the album of their lives. 

If we observe “Vengeance is Mine” as a part of the healing process, carefully interpreting lyrics, we can recognize denial, anger, depression, acceptance and the final product is simply relief. Looking from that perspective I might understand brutally exposed truth, public blasphemy and disgrace those who hurt you. You can call it vengeance, rare are those who have the privilege to overcome the situation simply creating a masterpiece.