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Walt Disney Pictures Presents: The Crusades! - 85%

LycanthropeMoon, December 18th, 2017

Serenity are essentially Austria's answer to Kamelot. While the vocalist doesn't sound particularly similar to Roy Khan or Tommy Karevik (he bares a much stronger resemblance to Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko), the music itself is strikingly similar. It's more simple and straight forward (on this album at least), but it's obvious who their major influence is. I suppose you can throw a little Queensryche and Crimson Glory in there too, but considering the fact that those bands had an impact on Kamelot's sound, there's a good chance that influence is indirect. However, they're certainly above average songwriters (most of the time anyway). Sometimes, a band can take a certain formula and do wonders with it. Simply having an excellent grasp on how to put together a song can help you stand out a little.

I honestly didn't expect another album so quickly after 2016's Codex Atlanticus, which was a thoroughly enjoyable album, my only major gripe being the completely awful duet The Perfect Woman, which sounds like a Jim Steinman throwaway. Every other song on that album was rock solid however, and showed just how much they excel at crafting short punchy power metal tunes. Georg Neuhauser's got a real ear for melody, that much I can tell ya. However, the fact that there was such a quick turnaround between this and the previous album had me worrying. Would they be able to recapture that magic from their previous release and War of Ages before it?

Luckily, they were able to put out a pretty damn solid follow up. Musically. Not lyrically. In fact, before I even dive into the music, I've just gotta question the intentions of the lyrics here. Why the hell would someone paint such a bright, happy portrait of the Crusades? Why talk about Richard I in such a seemingly positive light? While there are some hints of Richard questioning his morality (mostly in the obligatory ballad Heaven), this is bizarrely apologetic. Kamelot would have probably struck a much better balance between the light and dark than these guys did, considering the fact that they brilliantly pulled off two Faustian concept albums in both the music and lyric departments. The lyricism on display here is one sided as hell. Georg Neuhauser, you've got a degree in history my dude. You even said Richard wasn't a nice guy in some recent interviews - why didn't you portray that here? Ya gotta take the good with the bad, buddy.

What's most important, however, is the music itself. From the get go, you could tell this would be a little more stripped down compared to previous albums. The symphonic aspect has been trimmed a little, though it's certainly still present. After your standard orchestral intro in Deus Lo Vult, United comes storming out of the gate with epic power metal guitar riffage and a chorus most glorious. Even the most black hearted trve kvlt warriors will probably find themselves singing "FOR THE GLORY OF OUR GOD!" to themselves after hearing this, it's that much of a goddamn earworm. The album hardly lets up after this, bombarding the listener with track upon track of energetic, heroic anthems.

While it's most definitely fun to listen to, it does lead to one problem: a lack of variation. There are some moments where Lionheart switches things up a bit, mind you. One example of this would be the oriental-tinged The Fortress (of Blood and Sand), which wouldn't feel entirely out of place on a Myrath album. There's also previously mentioned ballad Heaven, which is their best ballad in a long time, no Leftover Meat Loaf sounds here (the amount of hatred I have for The Perfect Woman knows no bounds). Closing track The Final Crusade also dabbles in something this band very rarely does, harsh vocals. To be quite honest though, they seem a little pointless, almost as though they're there just to be there. They're competently performed, but why are they here? The real jewel of this song would be the breathtaking female vocals right at the end, provided by Frederica Lanna of symphonic/gothic metal newcomers Sleeping Romance - this is one of the best moments on the entire album. Other than these few side attractions, the songs are largely played in pretty much the same style. There isn't a whole hell of a lot of difference between United and the very next track Lionheart, for example - which one you prefer will likely entirely depend on which chorus sticks with you more (for me that would be United). That being said, these songs are mostly fun to listen to, it just takes a little time to get into due to how similar they sound to each other. Codex Atlanticus, despite that one horrific song, was a more diverse (and better) listen.

This isn't a perfect album. The lyrics are real headscratchers and a lot of it runs together on first listen, though it gets better the more you spin it. However, if you're a fan of this band's style, it should be pretty easy for you to get into. I know I spent two whole paragraphs complaining about certain aspects of this thing, but I do like it quite a bit. They've simply done better work in the past is all, especially on 2013's thoroughly awesome War of Ages. That being said, these songs are mostly catchy, fun and energetic. You could do a lot worse when it comes to power metal, that's for damn sure.

Eternal Victory - 80%

Larry6990, November 4th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Napalm Records (Digipak)

Though still reeling from the success of 2016’s Codex Atlanticus, I was at least pleased to hear news of another release from symphonic power metal stalwarts Serenity. Over the years the Austrians have carved a sound that is truly their own, among the often clone-ridden sub-genre. Despite having diluted the peripheral progressive elements somewhat, their brand of pompous anthemic Euro-power is possessed of a certain maturity, mainly due to both George Neuhauser’s vocals and his lyrical content. Here in 2017, the Austrians take on the story of Richard I of England with their new album, appropriately titled Lionheart on the legendary Napalm records. Though it may not innovate or push boundaries musically, fans of the band should have plenty to shout about.

The medieval theme positively drips over this album. The awesome artwork, and even the band’s make-up in the promo shoots, fit the historical vibe given off by the music. It may not cover all the details of the 12th century knight’s life, but song titles like “Empire” and “The Final Crusade” speak for themselves. Richard’s crusade in the Holy Land is well worth covering by a metal band of this stature, and the grandiose hymns of Serenity completely suit the concept. They even manage to bring some of that Eastern flavour through the menacing riffs in “The Fortress Of Blood And Sand”. Speaking of menacing riffs, that’s one of Serenity’s major selling points: the contrast between the grindingly heavy (e.g. the opening of “Hero”), and the delicately tender (e.g. “King’s Landing”).

That opening riff to “Hero” caught me off guard completely, but when paired with the equally stomping “My Fantasy”, the crunching riffage makes sense and isn’t jarring. Both “King’s Landing” and the token ballad “Heaven” are gorgeously touching and poignant, providing the halfway respite of the album, and showing off the band’s penchant for softer material. Neuhauser’s silky smooth vocals have always been a familiar trait of Serenity’s sound, and he appears to show no signs of slowing down. He’s always reminded me of Tony Kakko, except with actual charisma. While he commands the flowing melodies of Lionheart with aplomb, the harsh vocals in “The Final Crusade” are a welcome surprise, competently performed by guitarist Chris Hermsdörfer. I only wish more power metal bands would employ this tactic – it adds an extra dimension.

Some tracks on Lionheart phone in the quality a little, such as the forgettable “Empire” and moderately generic “Rising High” (Really, who needs another “whooooaaa” chorus?). But this record harbours some true gems. The first three tracks especially are a solid melodic punch to the face. The obligatory intro “Deus Lo Vult” builds up anticipation excellently with its tense martial symphonics, before the galloping “United” knocks you on your ass with a chunky guitar tone and driving pace. Naturally, it’s the grand, explosive anthems where the Austrians really revel, and the soaring “Eternal Victory” is a sheer delight, one of the best tracks from this band in recent years. But the jewel in Richard’s crown has to be the stunning title-track: a fiery and glorious slice of symphonic power metal with a chorus catchier than the plague. Seriously, I’ve been whistling that hooky melody for weeks! This LP doesn’t quite reach the heights of the sublimely orchestrated Codex Atlanticus, and it may suffer from being flabby (54 minutes!) – but it’s still a splendidly produced power metal album with some soon-to-be classics.

“Like a lion we fight. Together we will die.
For the glory of our God!
Justice on our side. This cross will lead the light.
Follow Richard: Lionheart!”