I can’t believe it’s already been a year since Serious Black‘s fantastic debut As Daylight Breaks. An album that proved dream teams can exist and can work. Not only that, but this supergroup achieved it via a style that rarely receives RotY nods from yours truly. Urban Breed, et al. even had El Cuervo singing along to tunes like “High and Low” and “Sealing My Fate” whilst leaving the AMG restrooms in terrible condition for the n00bs to clean up. And now, a year and change later, Serious Black is back with Mirrorworld. But it’s not the same old Serious Black. For one, Grapow and Staunch are gone. Replaced by guitarist Bob Katsionis (Constantine, Firewind) and drummer Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire, ex-Avantasia, ex-[Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire]). I don’t wan to bash these two chaps for being the “new guys,” but there’s always a chance things will be a-changin’ for a band when the lineup shifts. And things have changed. But is it for the better?
Perhaps this shift in quality is the result of releasing two albums in two years. Or, perhaps, it’s due to simple fate. Whatever the reason, the cohesiveness and songwriting on Mirrorworld is a big step down from As Daylight Breaks. The debut may have been a large platter of cheese. But it was a vastness of exotic, pricey cheese; each being unique in color, taste, and texture. I reviewed it, I adored it, I praised it, and I even gave it my #4 slot at the end of 2015. But Mirrorworld doesn’t come close to it.
And opener, “Breaking the Surface,” doesn’t dispel the fear that something is up. This two-minute instrumental is a full-orchestral piece straight from a Tolkien battle. It isn’t upsetting or unpleasant, but it is odd when compared to the rest of the material. It’s clear that the opener pushes the envelope and allows the band to spread its wings, but it has nothing else on the album that supports it. The only other track that comes close to it is the title track. “Mirrorworld” opens with a John Carpenter-esque introduction before transitioning into the “epic” number of the album. Though it has a nice Dio-like, ’80s metal feel to it, the song is a five-minute journey into bloated sappiness.
Actually, Mirrorworld has a decent amount of old-school metal seeping from its melodic/power-metal pores. The aisles of “As Long as I’m Alive” and closer “The Unborn Never Die” are littered with holy books from Metal Church and watched by the evil eyes of Dio. They have quick tempos, catchy choruses, and loads of nostalgia. But their simplicity makes them quite predictable. These songs also feel out-of-place on Mirrorworld; boxing-in cheesy numbers like “Heartbroken Soul,” “Dying Hearts,” and “State of My Despair”—three songs that feel more like Serious Black than anything else on the record.
“Heartbroken Soul” and “Dying Hearts” have that soft mozzarella-cheese quality to them that I loved from the debut. The former uses a classic, bass-led riff to frame the song’s verse before it unleashes a tree’s worth of sap into its high-soaring chorus. “Dying Hearts,” on the other hand, coats its guitar licks in loads of power-metal synths that builds into a chorus of pure dairy emotion. “State of My Despair” also skips down the same synth-paved roads as “Dying Hearts,” but Urban breed’s vocals and the heart-wrenching guitar leads make it my favorite of the three.
When you stack Mirrorworld up against your typical power-metal releases, it ain’t such a bad album. But when it goes one-on-one with As Daylight Breaks, this new outing is a bummer. Not only does the album lack flow and consistency, but even Urban breed’s vocals seem weak when compared to its predecessor. As far as production goes, Mirrorworld‘s master is what I expected. It’s loud (dropping more times than not into DR4 territory), but the balance in the mix is solid (sometimes pushing the guitars to the front in songs like the Symphony X-esque “Castor Skies”). You can tell the band set out to explore new territories, but Mirrorworld feels lost in its new surroundings.