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What Exactly Is A 'Sprout' Of Terror? - 93%

Larry6990, March 16th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak, Limited edition)

If you are unfamiliar with the sound of Serenity, as I was before picking this album up, it lies somewhere between the sticky-sweet melodies of Sonata Arctica, and the grandiose pomp of Epica. Certain tracks will tend to lean more one way than the other - but that's part of the charm of "Codex Atlanticus"; the fifth long-player from the Austrian quartet. Wait...fifth?! How did these guys manage to slip under the radar for so many albums?! Well I'm glad we crossed paths at this point in their career - because, as far as symphonic power metal goes, these guys are on par with the titans of the genre.

"Codex Atlanticus" is quite the journey. From emotionally deep ballads to full-blown symphonic gallops - this album covers a huge range of scenarios, proving how versatile a genre metal can be. The quality of the synthesized orchestra is incredibly high; enough to rival that of Staropoli himself. There is also a guest choir who add considerable gravitas to the texture when required. Of course, there's a metal band too...woven into the complex compositions at just the right balance. The powerful riffs of "Follow Me" and "Fate of Light" refuse to let this album be denied as a true 'metal' album - no matter how the skeptics may judge.

My previous comparison to our Finnish friends in Sonata Arctica is most prominent in George Neuhauser's smooth voice. He seems to echo the best moments of Tony Kakko himself, almost perfectly. Whereas their resemblance to Dutch heroes Epica lies in the enormity of the bright symphonics. There are many moments where the punchy brass section utterly bite through the wall of sound to accentuate certain beats (the verses to "Sprouts of Terror" in particular!). This is exactly the kind of back-and-forth play between metal band and orchestra that is severely lacking in most modern symphonic metal *cough*Avantasia*cough*.

The songs themselves are simultaneously complex and catchy. The layering of instrumentation is intricately planned, but the song structures are relatively simple. This keeps the affair memorable whilst providing the listener with enough substance for it to be a challenge. There are hard-hitting tracks like "Fate of Light", full of dramatic menace. There are moments of pure serenity (had to use that adjective somewhere!) like "My Final Chapter". There are even traversing compositions like "Spirit in the Flesh" and "The Perfect Woman" which wouldn't sound out of place in musical theatre! Not to mention the entirety of "Iniquity", which sounds so much like a Celesty track, it's not even funny!

Lyrically, this is surprisingly profound. Despite some grammar and syntax issues (they are Austrian, after all), they tap into some deep issues which tackle even what it means to be human! It's an impressive aspect of Serenity, to veer away from the typical cheesy fare brought to the table by most of their peers. In fact, in all aspects - the quality of these Europeans seems to be head and shoulders above most of the bigger names in symphonic metal. If you fancy picking up an epic, theatrical power metal album this year - skip the latest Blind Guardian in favour of "Codex Atlanticus". I promise you will not be disappointed.

"Caught in this myth of ourselves long ago,
It's time to break free.
Split body and soul.
The heart is no altar.
The ribs are no dome.
I take this for granted."

One hell of an emotional rollercoaster - 95%

PowerProg_Adam, February 26th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak, Limited edition)

For many bands it takes them a few albums to develop their own sound, but few have progressed by such leaps and bounds with each album as the Austrian symphonic metal powerhouse Serenity. With their debut their instrumentation and orchestration were not quite there yet, and their songs failed to be memorable for the most part. With each successive album they slowly began to add more and more elements and making their influences more prevalent. By War of Ages they had been at probably the heaviest point of their career. They began to add a lot of modern elements to their music while maintaining their symphonic roots and their choruses began to get more and more memorable on the album. By the time 2016 rolled around and I've heard about the release of their new album Codex Atlanticus I honestly became pretty excited. Few bands have been able to make me a bigger fan every time I listen to them.

From the very beginning the biggest standout of the band to me is singer Georg Nauhauser and his vocal delivery. The biggest comparison I can probably make would be a mix of Tony Kakko and Roy Khan in their prime. There are times where he becomes a bit of chameleon and you can't even really even tell that the vocals are performed by the same person. In the song Spirit in the Flesh he hits the highest note on the album towards the middle of the track and sounds pretty much exactly like classic Kakko. The band's orchestration ends up coming out very similar to Nightwish, though a bit toned back. Trumpets and unique keyboard settings are quite prevalent throughout, but not really so much that it overpowers everything else. The guitars also have quite a bit of dimension to them. There are a couple songs where there are really heavy and driving palmed muted riffs in the vein of bands like Evergrey and others where they have the really clean Nightwish Wishmaster-era catchiness to them.

There are a couple other songs such as Reason and Caught in a Myth where there are a few orchestrated sections, but for the most part the rhythm section and Georg's vocals drive them. Although the band in the past has received heavy comparison to Kamelot, the drum style on this album is much different and more laid back than previous work. There are a few songs with double kick drum parts, but for the most part stay very basic and not overpowering, and certainly not just a wall of skin blasting like Casey Grillo seems to constantly do in Kamelot.

Probably my favorite aspect of Codex Atlanticus is how many vocal key changes there are on the album. The last chorus of several songs are taken a key higher just adding so much more intensity to already well built up songs. My second favorite part about the album is that Serenity manages to make their influences well known without being a straight up copy cat band or by overdoing their orchestration. Sure, some Serenity songs are vaguely reminiscent to parts of more modern Sonata Arctica songs and they have areas where their guitar tone and keyboard settings are a bit similar to some newer Nightwish, but I don't believe it is intentional. There are quite a few more ballad-ish songs on this album than there have been in the past, which may bother some people, but I personally have zero problems with them pouring their hearts out through a nice ballad.

My favorite song on the album is The Perfect Woman which is a song about a painter creating himself the perfect woman in his own art. There are piano parts that actually remind me of Meat Loaf songs and some of the vocal rhythm reminds me of the song Listen to Your Heart by Roxette. There is just a lot of beauty and power to the song and it sounds like something that could have actually been a huge hit in an alternate universe. One of my only complaints about the album comes in the selection of bonus tracks, not that they are bad, but that I enjoy them quite a bit more than several songs on the album. Besides an orchestral version of a previous track, Forgive Me and Sail are both extremely memorable and light ballads. They actually almost sound like they could have been in Disney movies only with guitar solos. There is just a lot of power to the vocal delivery and they are just really nice songs, in fact two of my favorite songs on the album. Another complaint I have is that in the song The Order there is a really driving guitar riff that sounds like something that would fit on the Stratovarius album Visions and it is really the only song where the guitar has that sort of tone.

I would say that this is definitely my favorite Serenity album to date and that they are really coming into their own. I also have a feeling that it is going to be one of my top 10 albums of the year. There is just so much emotion to the music its really hard not to feel something listening to it.