Serenity is an Austrian symphonic power metal that I’ve just recently learned our very own Steel Druhm has been fawning over, thus once again sullying my hard-earned reputation by rubber-stamping anything that reminds him of his wasted youth. In an effort to put a stop to this travesty, I decided to review Codex Antlanticus myself. Having never heard the band—certainly the facts pursuant to Druhm‘s overzealous ratings aren’t necessary in order to feel offended—I immersed myself in Serenity‘s 5th full length release bracing only for the worst. Hilarity, as one might expect, ensued.
I always assumed that Serenity had a female vocalist, to start. Five records into the tenure of this Austrian symphonic power metal band’s existence, I’ve learned that I was painfully mistaken in this assumption. Rather, the band is fronted by Georg Neuhauser—who also writes the music and has a range like a 2nd tenor and the diction of Arnold Schwarznegger. His style reminds me quite a lot of Roy Khan from Kamelot, and that’s not the only thing on Codex Antlanticus which reminds me of Kamelot. Serenity plays a style of power metal that owes a lot to that sound. The melodies are sickly sweet, sprinkled with major keys, and there’s a sense that they take themselves a tad more seriously than we should probably be comfortable with.
Not that there aren’t reasons to take Serenity seriously. One of the places where they excel is in the composition of orchestral pieces. Unlike a band like Rhapsody of Fire, where the orchestral pieces rest in an occasionally uncomfortable balance with the rest of the music, Serenity has the ability to balance their orchestrations with often chunky rhythm guitar lines. When at its best, like on “Iniquity,” french horns and choirs blare out counter melodies to the Neuhauser’s epic chorus. “Spirit in the Flesh” features a driving introduction—courtesy of Nightwish—that rates among the most addictive builds on the record. Even the obligatory intro track (“Codex Antlanticus”) amps up record’s feel with the excellent use of rhythm and orchestra.
Unfortunately, these excellent builds are usually teases. “Spirit in the Flesh” peaks and then gives way to a fairly banal verse part before taking a couple minutes to reach the same peak. “Codex Antlanticus” builds up to a fever pitch only to drop off suddenly to the tones of someone’s best ’80s synth rock ballad piano riff. Even when the band goes full on Jim Steinman rock musical—on the epically cheesy/awesome/terrible song “The Perfect Woman”—they can’t help but reach some sort of musical climax only a minute into the song only to… drop it off into piano ballad territory again. In a sense, songs like this give way too much space to Neuhauser’s voice, who despite being the singer, is not really the most interesting part of the band.
This is all produced and mastered precisely as you’d expect it to be: over-the-top, modern, with drums that are flat and everything so precise and clean that it robs the band of the intensity of heavy metal. At first blush, I just thought these guys were writing songs that weren’t very heavy. After a number of listens it becomes clear that there’s a core of good, honest German power/thrash on Codex Atlanticus. Drummer Andreas Schipflinger is a veritable human metronome, but he isn’t taking it easy on his drums and amps up the intensity throughout. The riffing from Cris Tían has its fair share of triplets and chunk, while bassist Fabio D’Amore rumbles alongside the drums. Tracks like “Sprouts of Terror”1 and “Fate of Light” aren’t alone in offering up this heavier side. But there’s something about the cleanliness of modern production and the density of the master that robs the edge that should be embodied by music containing riffs that would make any thrashtard headbang and enough machine gun double kick to scare your pets.
All this way into the review and you’re probably thinking I hate this album. The truth is, however, that I have trouble not liking Codex Antlanticus. While spending too much time with Serenity would certainly give the listener diabetes, it’s tough to deny slick, catchy, and honestly, talented songwriters and the wares they’re peddling. These guys hit the same sweet spot for me as bands like Sonata Arctica and Nightwish, the pure cheese—oh god “The Perfect Woman”—is close to pushing me off the bandwagon, but I can’t help but play it again. And yes, of course, Codex Antlanticus is hardly genre bending. the band borders on being more Kamelot than Kamelot at times. When all is said and done, the stuff I’m not as keen on here doesn’t really sully my enjoyment, but the good bits here—dat orchestra! dem chori! choruses!? chorucices?—are just too good to deny.