At this point in one’s metal-reviewing career, it’s common to cross paths with bands you’ve reviewed before. But, of all the bands I’ve covered so far, there’s one that I can’t seem to avoid each year. Which is surprising considering the busy bunch behind dream-team outfit Serious Black. Their catchy-as-fuck 2015 debut, As Daylight Breaks, was the first. Then, last year’s “meh” Mirrorworld. And, now, Magic. Math ain’t my strong-point, but that should make three albums in three years. Sure, Vardan releases a baker’s dozen on an annual basis, but groups like Serious Black? I didn’t think it was possible—nor should it be. But, by god, here it is. Unfortunately, the intense schedule for releasing full-length albums on a yearly basis is starting to show. Since the debut, quantity over quality has been the name of the game for Urban Breed and co. Which results in a Serious Black bummer.
Looking past this for a second, Magic does bring something new to the fold: an embracing of their critics’ unrelenting, cheese-flinging criticisms. First, this new record is not only called Magic, it’s entirely about magic (and, oddly enough, witches) Second, just look at Urban Breed. No, don’t blow me off. LOOK at that band photo. He’s become a freakish mix of top-hatted King Diamond and mascara-smothered Tuomas Holopainen. You know what they say: if you’re gonna play the part, you gotta look the part. And the “part” is made real upon opener “With a Tip of the Hat.” This eye-rolling, wannabe-Metalium introduction begins the dark tale into the minds of a band embracing the goofy and the cheesy. A band that just wants to have fun.
But “fun” comes with a price. In this case, convincing songwriting. Sure, songs like the smooth “Binary Magic,” the Dream Evil-esque “Burn! Witches Burn!,” the cheesy-as-fuck “Serious Black Magic,” and the Nightwish-inspired “Mr. Nightmist” have power-metal charm and hooking choruses. But, that’s pretty much it. It’s a step down from the unique flavorings of As Daylight Breaks. Hell, even Mirrorworld had, at times, a little more going on than this foursome. That said, all the big choruses and simplistic songwriting on Magic does give this album greater memorability than Mirrorworld.
The by-the-numbers power-metal tracks aside, the band does have a few gripping pieces on this disc. Just like As Daylight Breaks, the songs that catch me are the more melodic ones. This is due to the character Breed puts into these songs. “Now You’ll Never Know” and “True Love Is Blind” are a couple examples. The former is a simple piece but has great character and one of the best choruses on the album. The latter is as close as it gets to a ballad. Now, it ain’t nothing like “As Daylight Breaks,” but the sappiness is there (along with a chorus repeated approximately one hundred times). Other standouts would have to be the Blind Guardian-like guitar-squealing “Skeletons on Parade” and the blunt, love-averting “Just Kill Me.” Both have their melodic moments and more of Breed’s soaring vox. “Skeletons” is a more “epic” piece, with a six-minute runtime and wild guitar/key solos. “Just Kill Me,” on the other hand, is just a catchy piece. Nothing special, but its combination of attitude and melody keep me coming back.
In general, Magic is an enjoyable listen. Almost every chorus is engaging and the simpler they are, the more likely they get stuck in my head. But, Magic is missing… well, the magic they once had. There’s also a lot of unfortunate cheese-ball moments here. Like “I Can Do Magic,” “Serious Black Magic,” and closer “One Final Song” (what does this mean??). The first is what I imagine Phil Dunphy’s interview for a magician’s apprentice would sound like. It’s like Breed is trying to convince me that he can do magic. The chorus for “Serious Black Magic,” however, wins for cheesiest of them all. It’s so cringeworthy, it has to be heard (proceed to the bottom). The closer is, perhaps, the most original piece on the disc. But, it’s a theatrical song that feels like being in a freak circus with Dream Theater‘s “The Count of Tuscany” playing in the background.
The album’s biggest issue, though, is its length. With fourteen tracks and an hour long (their longest yet), the weaker tracks have a tendency to blend together. Even after the three dozen listens I’ve given this thing, only the handful I mentioned continue to stand out. While Mirrorworld‘s biggest issue was one of memorability, Magic‘s is one of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink. In the end, Magic is a more enjoyable album than Mirrorworld, but it’s about what you’d expect from any old power metal band. Which means power metal weenies will like it and everyone else won’t.