Austria’s Serenity had a pretty good run over these last 10 years. Starting life as a progressive-minded power metal act, by the time 2013s War of Ages hit the streets they’d shifted to a more streamlined and grandiose style, sounding like Kamelot cross-bred with Sonata Arctica and Avantasia. The formula worked very well due to consistently solid, memorable songwriting and albums like Codex Atlanticus and Lionheart had a lot to offer fans of larger-than-life symphonic power metal. 2020s The Last Knight was a step backward, dumbing down their sound while trying to make it more poppy and accessible, with bright synths and borderline club beats underlying the usual pomp and circumstance. The end product was still Serenity but things sounded plastic, frail, and light on substance. Three years on we get their eighth album, Nemesis A.D. and I came in hoping for a return to the glory days while expecting boots and pants butt boogie with occasional sword rattling. Good news folks — Serenity are back defending the borders of Kamelot from all enemies of the realm! Nemesis A.D. finds them returning to the sweet spot that worked so well on War of Ages and Codex Atlaticus with uber-slick writing and bombastic hooks waiting to snag your puffy shirt at every turn. And what’s more fun than that?
After an appropriately regal intro, things kick off in grand fashion with “The Fall of Man” which is one of the best songs Serenity have ever written. With guest vocals by Roy Khan (Conception, ex-Kamelot) adding a next-level punch, the song rings all the bells fans of this style want rung, with exuberant, classy guitarwork and keys paving the way for Georg Neuhauser and Mr. Khan to sing their hearts out and hit a top-notch chorus along the way. This is the good stuff! And there’s more to pile on your golden plate. “Ritter, Tod und Teufel (Knightfall)” is energetic, stomping Kamelot-core with big vocal hooks strewn everywhere like LEGOs just waiting for the unsuspecting foot, and “Soldiers Under the Cross” is an emotionally charged, slow-simmering winner. Eight-minute album centerpiece “Reflections (of AD)” is like prime Avatasia written by Jim Steinman, and as the excessively vainglorious pageantry escalates quickly, you’ll find yourself expecting Meat Loaf himself to arrive and list the things he won’t do for love.1 Should I love this song? No. Do I? Yes. It’s so damn big and overblown but it’s impossible to resist and Tobias Sammet is kicking himself because he didn’t write it.
Elsewhere, “Sun of Justice” brings a harder, more aggressive sound to the harpsichord recital, and the extra grit is badly needed after the saccharine overload of “Reflections.” “Nemesis” keeps the harder edge while adding sweet Middle Eastern-accented guitarwork for a song that will make you gesticulate dramatically unless you are in body traction. Sadly, after the very solid “The End of Babylon,” Nemesis starts to trend downward. Things wind out with the catchy but super-sappy power ballad “Crowned by an Angel,” the merely decent “The Sky is Our Limit,” and a restrained reprise of “Fall of Man” as the closer, making the final third quite underwhelming and sleepy. If the album wrapped with “The End of Babylon,” this could threaten 4.0 territory, but the extra padding drags it down. That said, the 45-plus-minute runtime goes quickly and the decision to keep most songs in the 3-4 minute window makes for a lively listen.
As per usual, Serenity are carried by the quality vocals of Georg Neuhauser. He’s always sounded very similar to Sonata Arctica’s Tony Kakko, which works for some and not for others, but it’s undeniable that the man has quality pipes. With this hooky, oversized material to work with, Georg gets to flex his vocal cords and does it well, especially on “Reflections (of AD)”. Christian Hermsdörfer and Marco Pastorino are talented guitarists and they deliver some killer moments across Nemesis, but they are too often forced to play second fiddle to the overweening keyboards and canned orchestration. This is known as the “Kamelot effect” and it’s an insidious disorder that makes good songs sound less metal and more like chamber music. That’s to be expected with this kind of glossy, highly-polished power, and the duo still manages to decorate the album with beautiful, emotive solos and cram in a few beefy riffs.
It’s great to hear Serenity back in business and doing what they do best. With both Kamelot and Sonata Arctica down on their luck, this is an opportune time to deliver their fancy bepantsy power metal. Put on your best pirate shirt and strap on that ceremonial sword. We have gala balls and cotillions to attend!
DR: NA | Format Reviewed: STREAM
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: serenityaustria.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/serenityaustria
Releases Worldwide: November 3rd, 2023
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