Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: October 27th, 2017
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Georg Neuhauser – Vocals
Chris Hermsdörfer – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Fabio D’Amore – Bass, Backing Vocals
Andreas Schipflinger – Drums, Backing Vocals
1. Deus Lo Vault
5. Rising High
7. King’s Landing
8. Eternal Victory
9. Stand and Fight
10. The Fortress (of Blood and Sand)
12. My Fantasy
13. The Final Crusade
At this point, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of symphonic power metal, and it’s also no secret that out of all bands to play that style of music, Austrian band Serenity is easily my all-time favorite. Ever since I heard their third album Death & Legacy for the first time, I’ve been absolutely in love with their brand of epic, cinematic symphonic metal mixed with speedy power metal, and everything they’ve done before and after that album has left me almost as impressed as that release did. Their previous release Codex Atlanticus was perhaps their weakest release since their second album Fallen Sanctuary, which came before their current sound had fully developed, yet it still kept me thoroughly entertained, so obviously I was excited when I heard the band was planning on releasing their sixth full-length album, Lionheart, less than two years later. Well, that release is now almost here, and I can say once again the band has delivered in a big way! In fact, this time I’d say they’ve stepped up their game once again, delivering a more consistently impressive album than Codex Atlanticus, and even perhaps matching Death & Legacy (only time will tell on that one.)
One thing working in the band’s favor this time around is that Lionheart is actually their first release since Fallen Sanctuary to not feature any lineup changes, which has allowed more time for the current members to work together and build off what they had going on their previous release. In particular, guitarist Chris Hermsdörfer showed a lot of potential on Codex Atlanticus, throwing in some heavier riffs than expected at times, and also including some very nice solos, but throughout most of the tracks, it felt as if he was being limited a bit. This time around, while the orchestras and vocals are obviously still as important to the music as ever and remain the main focus, Chris has been given a ton of room to work with on most of the tracks, and he uses a thicker, more modernized guitar sound at times, which adds an extra edge to the music, and some of the riffs here are quite aggressive but they fit in with the songs perfectly, while his solo work is very beautiful and melodic, like it was on the previous album, except even better. It does make sense that the guitar work would be a bit heavier and have a more expanded role on this album, as the overall theme of the album tells the tale of Richard 1 (often known as Richard the Lionheart) and so a lot of the songs talk about epic battles and achievements, which allows room for the heavy guitars to come in, while the orchestras and vocal melodies are still as epic and ever, and also very much fit in with the tone of the lyrics.
Of course, this being a Serenity album, there’s also a softer side to the music, which comes through on many of the tracks, and there are some very emotional lyrics at times, especially on tracks like the ballad “Heaven”, the sort of power ballad “My Fantasy” and the epic closer “The Final Crusade”. These are all tracks where the vocals take the leading role, and of course, Georg Neuhauser delivers the goods as always. He has a warm, beautiful tone to his voice that works perfectly on the softer tracks, allowing the melodies to really shine through, and as always he sounds like a much calmer, smoother singing version of Tony Kakko. At the same time, he can put in a bit of extra power to fit in well during the heavier passages, and as always he does a fantastic job on the epic choruses, which are very much in full supply on this album. As always, though, he also gets a bit of extra help on a few tracks, both from bassist Fabio D’Amore, whose more aggressive, animated vocals fit in well on the heavier track “Stand and Fight”, as well as from two female guest vocalists, who both work very well with Georg and help provide some of the biggest highlights of the album.
As expected, the album kicks off with a brief but epic orchestral intro, which very much feels like it would fit in perfectly as part of a film score, with epic choir vocals used to add extra flavor. This feel carries over to the start of the opening song “United”, which opens softly with orchestras and keys, before the lead guitar kicks in with some nice melodic leads, and the album officially gets underway. Like some of Serenity’s classic openers, this is a more mid-paced affair, though the presence of heavy guitars during the verses helps add an extra layer to the music, to go along with the orchestras and Georg’s vocals, which are both as epic and amazing as ever. The heavy verses give way to the chorus, which is of course insanely epic and well sung as always, as well as being engaging and very catchy. The guitars actually get even heavier during the second verse and Georg sings a bit deeper and with more power than usual, which is pretty awesome. Towards the end of the track there’s an epic guitar solo, which really shows Chris’s skills off, and then we get an incredible final run through the chorus. All in all, it’s a perfect album opener, which at times brings back memories of when I first heard “New Horizon” from Death & Legacy, and was immediately blown away.
In case that song didn’t already set the bar high, the title track comes next and is an absolute masterpiece! It comes flying out of the gate with some nice folk melodies, and the verses keep the momentum going, charging along at a very fast pace, and overall it’s a track that very much feels like classic Euro power metal, complete with an epic, very speedy chorus that is of course as insanely catchy as one would expect from a Serenity single. Georg is in top form as always, the choir vocals are epic, and the guitar work is again heavy in bursts, and Chris once again delivers an excellent melodic solo in the middle. The end of the track is also a highlight, as the folk melodies return and we even get some epic marching drums to close out the track. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, though things hardly go downhill afterward. Next is “Hero”, another track where the guitar work really stands out. It kicks off with easily some of heaviest, most brutal sounding riffs I’ve ever heard on a Serenity album, and after a brief calmer section where Georg steals the show, the song continues moving at a fast pace, and is another instantly memorable track, where the orchestra, guitars, and vocals blend together to create something truly special. The chorus is once again a highlight, and the heavy riffs are used pretty much constantly throughout, especially in the middle right before giving way to an extended softer passage where the orchestra and vocals take over. After that is yet another speedy track in “Rising High”, though on this track the guitars are a bit softer and have more of a classic power metal sound. It’s another fast-paced track with energetic verses, complete with one of the catchiest choruses on the album, and another excellent guitar solo in the second half.
Things settle down for a bit after that track, with the only full ballad on the album, “Heaven”. It’s the kind of epic, folk-infused ballad the band always does well, with some nice folk melodies throughout, which blend in well with the piano and orchestra, and of course, Georg’s beautiful vocals feel right at home on this kind of song. The chorus is again excellent, very catchy and very beautiful at the same time. There’s a nice guitar solo in between verses, before we get the first guest appearance on the album from Faun vocalist Katja Moslehner, who has a very soft and lovely voice that carries the second verse and chorus for a while, though the song gets, even more, epic when Georg comes back in and the two sing together for the final chorus. Serenity is always excellent at delivering ballads, and if anything this is one of their very best efforts to date. The following track may disappoint some folks, as the title “King’s Landing” is sure to make fans of the HBO series Game of Thrones excited, with that being the name of one of the show’s main settings, but in fact the song has nothing to do with that series at all, and is instead a simple, but very beautiful piano interlude that offers a slowed down take on some of the melodies found on the next track.
Which takes us into the second half, where “Eternal Victory” kicks things off at a high tempo once again, following another nice folk section at the beginning. It’s another very speedy track, with some excellent guitar leads to go along with the epic orchestras, and it has another fantastic, super catchy chorus, which uses choir vocals effectively, as well as some very fun verses, and another great guitar solo. The final run through the chorus dials the choir vocals up to an 11 and is simply incredible. Next, is “Stand and Fight”, perhaps the catchiest song on the entire album, and yet another speedy track that delivers the goods. It begins with a brief tease at the chorus before the guitars kick in and we get some heavy riffs during the verses, to go along with some very animated vocals performed by Fabio, before Georg takes over just in time for the chorus, and sings along with some epic choirs. The instrumental section is again brilliant, as first, we get an extended orchestral section where the symphonic elements are used in full force, and then we get another amazing guitar solo. Overall, it’s yet another major standout track and for sure one of my favorites on the album.
After that the track, the pace slows down a bit for the final four tracks, though the quality doesn’t let up at all. Next is “The Fortress (of Blood and Sand)”, the kind of hard-hitting mid-paced track the band had a ton of on their earlier albums, and here it’s done very effectively, with the verses offering a nice contrast between aggressive guitars and Georg’s soft vocals, while the chorus is melodic and very catchy as always, and of course the solo section gets heavier again and is pretty awesome. The following track “Empire” is slightly speedier and more melodic, though it’s still more mid-paced than many of the earlier tracks. It has some very epic vocal melodies as always and features another one of the stronger choruses on the album, especially the final run through. Though it’s a softer track, Chris is again given room to showcase his skills during the middle section, with some heavy riffs, and as always he adds an extra guitar presence that I felt was missing a bit from the previous three albums.
Things go softer again as we head towards the end, with “My Fantasy” starting off feeling like a ballad, with some nice piano work and soft male vocals. I can’t tell if these are performed by Fabio or someone else, but they”re definitely not done by Georg, as they sound different from him. Whoever is singing there, they do a nice job of setting the tone for the song, before the guitars kick in and the track turns into more of a power ballad, with Georg leading the way as always, providing some of his best vocals during the chorus. As always, there’s some great guitar work, later on, this time with a very emotional guitar solo, which leads the way to the final run through of the chorus, and ends the song on a high note. Last, but certainly not least, we have the epic closing track “The Final Crusade”. This is a lot calmer than most Serenity closing tracks, opening with some nice acoustic guitar work before settling into a mid-paced groove, and it stays at this tempo the whole way through, with some relaxing but fairly engaging verses, which give way to the most surprising section on the album, that being a brief extreme metal passage where some harsh vocals are included. The growls sound pretty cool and add extra flavor to the track, leading into a very emotional and exciting chorus, where Georg delivers some of the most powerful vocals I’ve ever heard from him. It’s a beautiful song the whole way through, but the highlight of the track, and perhaps even the entire album, comes in the final two minutes, as Sleeping Romance vocalist Federica Lanna comes in at first during a beautiful piano section, then sings with Georg during the chorus, and she closes out the album with an absolutely beautiful final run through of the chorus, along with some amazing guitar work in the background. Serenity has always delivered some amazing closing tracks, but I think this one may be their very best yet.
I always have very high expectations when I listen to a Serenity album, as they’re far and away my favorite symphonic power metal band in the world, and that happens to be my favorite genre of all, but once again the band has managed to blow me away with Lionheart, delivering one of their very best albums to date. It contains the kind of epic, orchestral symphonic metal fans of the band have come to expect, with some very melodic and emotional tracks, enhanced by excellent female vocals on a couple tracks, and it, of course, has the epic mid-paced tracks the band has always excelled at, but it also has some of their best speedier tracks to date, as well as an increased use of heavy guitar work to further enhance the songs. It’s easily the best album of its kind I’ve heard since Death & Legacy, even surpassing the two previous efforts from the band, Codex Atlanticus and War of Ages. Longtime fans of the band are sure to love it, and I’d highly recommend it to any fans of symphonic power metal as well, as the genre doesn’t get any better than this!
Written by: Travis Green